How Pharma Companies are Using Twitter

twitter-logoBy Dan Bobear (@dbobear)

Twitter is the current “mot de jour and an increasing part of many companies marketing and corporate communications efforts. But like any media tool there are a number of “dos and donts that need to be observed in order to get the maximum benefit out of this exciting new tool. Luckily, for Pharma marketers, we can learn from other industrys examples and also from the pioneers in our own field.

Online pioneer and Twitter superstar, Guy Kawasaki breaks the process of successfully utilizing all that Twitter has to offer in to five steps. These are:

2. Sell
3. Support
4. Engage
5. Prospect

You can check out Kawasakis twitter script here.

The gist of Kawasakis arguments for using Twitter is that its an amazing tool for companies to carry on conversations with their consumers. And the important word here is conversation.

Twitter has had substantial problems with Spam since its inception and this has led to a very negative reaction to the use of autoresponders. Some companies have tried interesting solutions to the autoresponder dilemma. For example, AZ Helps is a twitter account that Astra Zeneca uses to communicate with customers who tweet about Nexium. A canned response provides an offer to help and invites the customer to dial a toll free number. While this provides some degree of comfort to a user, it doesnt encourage any sense of engagement with the brand. Novo Nordisks Racing With Insulin account has been more successful. This is a sponsored Twitter account where racecar driver Charlie Kimball provides updates about his career and struggles with diabetes.

Companies looking to monitor discussion regarding their offerings can easily use Twitter search to find posts related to individual products or services. The can also use the hash tag convention (using a “# sign before a phrase, e.g. #cancersurvivors) to find a series of posts or dialogue on a given subject. Monitoring is a good way to learn what is and isnt acceptable in the Twitter world and theres no better place to get started that Jonathan Richmans Pharma Social Media wiki. This helpful site aggregates information on Pharma companies and industry observers who are using Twitter (as well as a bunch of other social media tools). Another interesting example of Twitter aggregation is Ignite Healths website built around the #fdasm hash tag (a tag created to discuss the FDAs hearings on social media). Being aware of conventions and practices (as well as the current state of the discussion) is essential for effective tweeting.

Sales may not be something that Pharma can actively engage in (fair balance and adverse effects reporting regulations keep many companies away from this) but customer support and service is one of the things that Twitter is being widely used for. The industry standard is Comcastcares, a corporate account owned by the cable company that has been famously used by Comcast to address service issues. While originally a one-man effort by Frank Eliason, this customer outreach program has expanded to include several other Comcast representatives. To date, there hasnt been any breakout use of Twitter for customer service by Pharma companies (perhaps due to fears of adverse event reporting) but this seems like a natural use for this tool.

Engagement is an area where much of Pharmas current Twitter efforts have been focused. Johnson and Johnson have been successful in supplementing their popular JNJBTW blog with a Twitter feed, JNJComm, that has attracted a healthy number of followers. Their tweets feature a diverse array of content and are a good example of how a Pharma company can engage in a conversation with consumers while being aware of regulatory constraints. Other companies like Pfizer and GSK may have attracted more followers but are less respected in the “Twitterverse since their content consists almost entirely of links and re-tweets.

Overtly “Prospecting ” is not something thats really applicable to Pharma. But isnt it really the ultimate end of any marketing efforts. Were always looking to bring in new customers whether were providing a service, educating consumers or simply allowing the public to learn a little bit more about us.

The final (and perhaps most important) tip about Twitter is ¢‚Ǩ¬¶ you dont have to do it.

Twitter is a real time, online conversation, a tool that thrives and survives on multiple participants engaging in discussion about topics that are relevant to them. If you have a product that is not engaging to a wide base of people (say an orphan drug or little known brand) then Twitter may not be the right tool for you. Consider using Facebook or NIng or other social media to create a community. Or if you just want to let the world know whats happening in your company, ask yourself if a blog or e-newsletter (tools that have less of a time constraint on their content and thus are easier to put through a review process) might be a better way to communicate.

Whatever you decide to do, remember, “keep it real. After all, you want to be a trending topic because of the value you provide the community not because people are tweeting about how your company “doesnt get it.

Listen first. Engage with your potential followers. Then tweet away to your hearts content!




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