Do Normal People Follow Big Pharma On Twitter?

Do “normal” people – patients, doctors, nurses, pharmacists, life scientists, etc – follow Big Pharma on Twitter? I’ve long had a hunch that most of the followers (and by followers I mean people who are actually paying attention) of Pharma accounts are primarily consultants, marketers, PR pros, social media evangelists and others interested in Pharma’s use of the Web (including myself).

So I decided to gather the key words in the profiles of a select group of Pharma companies. I used the service TwitterSheep to generate tag clouds of these profiles. This isn’t a purely scientific approach, but it’s reasonable enough to provide some insight into whose following Pharma. My friends Silja Chouquet (@Whydotpharma) and Andrew Spong (@AndrewSpong) each provided great insight into Pharma and Twitter. You can read their posts here and here, respectively.

Based on the tag clouds, here are the top ten key words in the profiles of followers of selected Pharma companies:

  • Pharmaceutical
  • Medical
  • Healthcare
  • Time
  • Social
  • PR
  • Marketing
  • Research
  • Web
  • Health

“Normal” people don’t have words like Marketing or PR or Social or Pharmaceutical in their bios. Now, I don’t think this is a bad thing. Pharma’s adoption of Twitter is relatively recent. But I don’t think that Pharma’s providing the most value that it could with its primary audience being marketing professionals.

Here’s a slideshare of screenshots for each tag cloud of the eleven accounts I examined (if you can’t see the embed, check it out here):

Pharma’s core base – patients and physicians and pharmacists and health care organizations – are the most valuable followers. Pharma certainly can’t do things that non-regulated industries can do. Nonetheless, Twitter does have many diverse business values: dissemination of news, consumption of relevant content, engagement with followers who can spread positive sentiments within the community and many other practical uses.

Currently, it’s not clear what specific goals Pharma companies have with respect to Twitter. Each can have completely different goals – and most of these accounts are maintained by people whom I’ve met personally. But the concern here isn’t so much about how Pharma companies are using Twitter (that’s another discussion). For as much as Twitter is about the humanization of communications and the ability to converse, audience is still a critical thing to build.

I realize Twitter’s still a shiny new toy for some industries (it’s actually a staple of communications for many others), but Pharma needs focuses and purposes and goals as it matures from the unilateral broadcasting skills it honed in the last quarter of the 20th Century towards the pliant, two-way and multi-faceted characteristics of the kind of media which the Web is giving birth to every day. There’s no guarantee that all Pharma companies will learn these new skills and new ways of thinking. There will be winners. There will be losers. Hopefully, it’s the patients who win. (Which is a good thing for the industry.)

What audiences should Pharma focus its tweets on developing, cultivating and engaging? That’s an important question. I doubt the CEOs of Big Pharma companies are terribly interested in dazzling Social Medi Gurus and Marketers and PR Pros. 🙂

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