Top Ten Drug Companies in Social Media

What is the "social share of voice" among pharmaceutical companies online? While some drug companies have been reluctant to embrace social media for fear of running afoul of FDA regulations that govern the advertising and promotion of prescription drugs, others are embracing social networks to help brand and position their companies in a positive light with consumers and practitioners. Here are the TOP TEN Pharma companies that are presently useing social media to reach out to larger audiences.

1- Pfizer

Pfizer, maker of the well-known drugs of Viagra and Celebrex, is exploring social media by teaming up with Private Access to create a social networking site. that will bring together patients and clinical trial researchers. Once the site is up and running, patients will have the opportunity to confidentially post personal health information that will only be made available to researchers studying their particular condition. Trial sponsors can use the site to recruit patients and patients will have an opportunity to learn more about the studies that relate directly to them. Presently following 346 on Twitter, Pfizer currently has attracted 1150 followers (at the time of this posting). However not using their logo as an avatar on their Twitter profile is not an ingratiating way to communicate with fellow followers  I would recommend that this be updated as quickly as possible.

2- Johnson & Johnson

Johnson & Johnson has established a digital footprint in social media. The company's YouTube channel now has over 90 videos. Its corporate blog was Marc MonseauMarc Monseaubuilt around a simple question that serves as its premise - 'Everyone else is talking about our company, so why can't we?' Marc Monseau is the director of corporate communications and manages the company's corporate blog and its Twitter account.


Rob Halper is the company's director of video communications and produces videos that are based on human interest stories. When Cindy Mesaross pregnancy ran long, labor was induced and the baby suddenly began to bleed out from a rare and often undiagnosed condition. Fast action and an immediate blood transfusion saved baby Julia.

3- Novartis

While Novartis' interaction on Twitter is somewhat robotic in tone and it doesn't actively interact with its followers... has developed a community platform dedicated to Chronic Myeloid Leukemia or CML, which is an innovative Google-like  mash-up that interacts with patients, patient groups, and healthcare professionals from around the world.

4- Boehringer Ingelheim

Boehringer Ingelheim, differing from some of the other Pharma companies takes a much more aggressive role with its online Twitter conversations, where its just using it as a one-way PR feed.

On board with Twitter since November 2008, its account is managed by the director of global corporate communications, John Pugh. According to Pharmafocus, "Boehringer has incorporated Twitter into its wider communications strategy and is using the site regularly to engage with its stakeholders.  Along with posting press releases, Pugh uses Twitter to recommend other web-based information about disease areas, as well as articles he thinks followers might find interesting."

Pugh is British based at Boehringer's global headquarters in Germany. He says around 70% of his job responsibilities involves social media and the development of the company's presence in these new channels.

5- AstraZenecaUS

AstraZenecaUS has 266 following, 1613 followers and 1645updates.  However, unlike BI, all of its tweets are outgoing, one-way communications.

AstraZenecaUS' drug product Symbicort has its own presence on YouTube called 'My Asthma Story.'  Using a traditional Web site to complement a YouTube channel and drive their audiences bi-directionally between the two, its almost like the YouTube channel is an extension of their video-filled Web site.

On this channel, viewers hear stories from real people suffering from asthma and enduring the inherent challenges of the disease. It then demonstrates how Symbicort becomes an integral part of ones' asthma regime.

6- Bayer

Bayer enters the social media space in a unique way that differentiates itself from the pack. It recently launched a  new online community and blood glucose monitoring tool for young people living with diabetes in the United Kingdom.

The tool, named Didget, connects directly into the youth's Nintendo DS and rewards the user for building consistent blood glucose testing habits and meeting glucose targets.  The Nintendo DS tool is supported by 'Didget World', a password protected social network where kids can interact with other users and build their own profile. Based on the popularity of online 'gaming' with young people, this is an ingenious use of social media to help monitor a health condition.

Head of Bayer Medical Care, Sandra Peterson says, “The Didget meter is a revolutionary development in healthcare management.  Up until now, blood glucose monitors have been created with adults in mind.

However Bayer's presence on Twitter is somewhat lacking. When anyone, particularly a brand '' on Twitter, it raises doubt amongst followers whether the company really wants to use the microblogging platform for interactive purposes? By Bayer protecting its tweets, it is not allowing the public to review the types of messages Bayer is sending out across the Twitterverse. This definitely puts Bayer at a disadvantage compared to the transparency of other Pharma companies on this TOP TEN list.

7- Glaxo-Smith-Kline

GSK has several Twitter accounts, but @glaxosmithline appears to be held by a squatter. I'm assuming @GSKUS is their official profile since it points followers to posts on their blog.

The GSK blog, called More than Medicine, says that it is “expressly uninterested in promoting GSK brands” and will focus on creating a dialogue about the pressing issues facing the healthcare industry in the US," note Michael Fleming, senior director of social media at GSK.

“Our goal is to provide that opportunity to interact with us in a different way and also, at the same time, create that dialogue around healthcare and the pharmaceutical industry's role in it,” he noted. “We would like people to hear from our company and interact with our company in, perhaps, a less formal, less rigid way than they are used to hearing from us.”

8- Sanofi-Aventis

Sanofi-Aventis launched an interactive video news Web TV site on May 15 as part of its global effort to increase transparency and understanding of the pharmaceutical company's operations.


Geoffroy Bessaud, senior director for media relations and corporate communications at Sanofi-Aventis, said that the site is an extension of the company-wide initiative to transform Sanofi-Aventis into a global healthcare leader.

“We are setting up new tools for communicating, either within the company or outside of the company,” he said. “The Web TV is part of that.”

The site has six themed channels to best reach different stakeholder groups, like patients, healthcare professionals, employees, media, financial analysts, and shareholders. It is available in English and French, with the possibility of other languages being added in the future, said Bessaud.

9- Roche

On July 22-23, 2009, Roche Diabetes Care and manufacturer of blood glucose meters made a bold move by inviting 29 diabetes specialists and bloggers to what they called the "Social Media Summit." The intent of the workshops was for Roche to "listen and learn" to the opinions and feedback from the 'wisdom of crowds.'

Roche Social Media SummitRoche Social Media Summit

The objectives of the conference were as follows:

  • Help bloggers/online advocates craft a manifesto for working together in the interest of the patient community at large.
  • Facilitate an open discussion about Pharma’s engagement in diabetes social media; what are the Do’s and Dont’s?

The 'takeaways' at the end of the conference included:

  • Reaching out to the larger patient population that’s not yet plugged in to the world of online resources.
  • Regional outreach through Lions and Rotary Clubs, nursing homes, and community centers (possibly a Speakers’ Bureau?).
  • Creating a centralized web directory of all imaginable diabetes resources, so that patients and doctors would only have to remember a single URL to find all the good stuff.
  • Patient PR/changing the message; we prominent patients need to connect more closely with mainstream media to get the word out, and help change the image of diabetes from doom and gloom to something more positive.

10- Merck

While Merck has a presence on Twitter, most of its interaction on the microblogging platform has to do more with recruitment than communicating with practitioners and consumers.

Merck's Vaccine Safety Syringe Product Launch was just released on YouTube so there are no results yet of the video's effectiveness.

There is an old adage that there is no such thing as bad publicity. However when that pertains to pharmaceutical companies, the public is not always receptive. In two social media cases, Merck has gained notoriety on Twitter and YouTube regarding two products- namely Gardasil and Propecia.

A report in the Journal of the American Medical Association calls the science behind Gardasil sound, but notes it does not protect against all HPV viruses that might cause cancer, and that it’s tough to do a study linking such a vaccine to cancer rates 20-40 years later.

A CNN report hit YouTube that discussed Gardasil's negative side effects

Kevin NaltyKevin NaltySometimes social media can promote a company's employee more than the brand, particularly when that individual has a personality that overshadows the company's online presence. Such a case occurred with Merck's consumer product director. Kevin Nalty whose postings on YouTube drew too much attention. The move came after it became evident that he was “Nalts,” the creator of a YouTube video titled “Farting in Public” that to date has tallied more than 8.4 million views on YouTube. While damaging the brand 'by association', Nalty quit Merck to become a micro-celeb of sorts and a social media consultant.

With health reform legislature as top-of-the-mind awareness for all of the TOP TEN  pharmaceutical giants on this list, I think it is a wise move for all them to enter and embrace the social media space. As witnessed here, if a brand was to choose to ignore social media in today's world, they run the risk of not being able to counter negative publicity. Avoidance can often aggravate an already negative public opinion, as witnessed by the Merck examples above.

What do you think about this TOP TEN list? Which Pharma company do you think is doing the best job in branding themselves in the social media space? Take our poll and provide us with your feedback.


Sep 16, 2009
by Anonymous

Integrated Social Media Marketing anyone?

It is somehow stunning, that companies are having a hard time to create strategic concepts and use social media to interact with their target groups, convey messages and gather valuable opinions and information from their customers.
Isn't ist funny that 7 in 10 are experimenting with Twitter. But tweeting is not social media marketing.
Integrated Social Marketing Campaigns
- monitor social media activity
- optimize company information (content) and make it viral
- interact with target groups and customers
- receive valuable information from social media
- use it and answers the target groups questions
- integrate customers into product research and development.
and a lot more.