For a long time there was, and to a great extent there still is, a chill over the use of the Internet and social media over the pharmaceutical industry. That is due to the fact that it is a highly regulated sector, speech-wise and otherwise, and the body that regulates it has provided insight into the parameters of the environment in fits and starts and so far, focused on the micro-environment and not the macro-environment. Even more macro-guidance is apparently going to take the form of multiple guidances issued over a span of time. Meanwhile, the Internet waits not and as a means of communication, the Internet and social media are becoming our primary means of getting news, exchanging information and learning – particularly about health care.
Despite the chill, the medical products industry is increasingly drawn into the Internet and social media, as are the federal agencies that work in healthcare – for the simple reason that healthcare is one of the primary reasons people use the Internet. So to not be where they are necessarily degrades one's relevance and influence – and if you are say – the FDA, that would not be such a good thing, just as it would not be a good thing if you were a manufacturer of the health care products that are essential to people and to the public health.
Some social media platforms have not been readily embraced by the pharmaceutical industry – blogging comes to mind – with only four currently active pharma blogs. But others are growing – rapidly. Which brings us to Twitter.
By my count on the Eye on FDA pharma Twitter list, there are about 45 companies now using Twitter for corporate communications. These communicate everything from job openings to company news such as philanthropy announcements or events. In addition, Jonathan Richman on his Dose of Digital Social Media Wiki notes that there are also feeds begun by companies related to disease-specific areas, or cause-related.
But not only are numbers beginning to proliferate, so is strategy. How do you measure the impact of strategy?
The tools by which to measure Twitter influence are somewhat spotty and sometimes difficult to use or inconsistent. One, however, is Tweetreach, which speaks in terms many in the communications industry understand – the number of impressions. Tweetreach looks at recent tweets made by a feed and looks to see what the reach was – or how many people saw how many tweets. The reach is achieved when people re-tweet you and the tweet gains currency by getting exposed to others.
One way to get reach is to send out tweets that are so irresistible to a huge following that nearly all of your followers, who themselves are very influential, re-tweet the tweet and their followers re-tweet that. That is tweetastic.
But what if you don't have a lot of followers on a single twitter feed? Here is a secret you may have heard before. Size doesn't necessarily matter. Below I analyzed the several twitter feeds of the DFA to see how they were doing on reach and number of impressions. What you can see is that while some feeds have more followers, the number of people reached can be obtained by those with fewer followers, though even when reaching more people, you may not gain as many audience impressions. For example, FDAcdrhIndustry has more followers, reached more people, but made fewer impressions than FDADeviceInfo.
How does that fit into a pharma corporate strategy?
Many companies have begun multiple twitter feeds aimed at narrow subject matter audiences, under the umbrella of an overall corporate twitter feed. When they do this, the corporate feed could re-tweet its own smaller feeds, increasing the reach of a more narrow twitter feed considerably.
If you look above at the FDA stats, you will see that a feed like the Office of Women's Health is anemic in its reach when compared to FDA_Drug_Info. But if FDA_Drug_Info would re-tweet FDAWomen, then the reach would rise correspondingly.
In short, multiple feeds are a good idea to strategically target a specific subject matter audience. However, by introducing that audience to off-subject matter feeds on occasion, you can raise your reach – all boats rise, in other words. That is especially true if you have one feed that is much larger than another. So if you have a jobs twitter feed and a corporate twitter feed, the corporate twitter feed should ALWAYS re-tweet the jobs tweets. Looking at FDA's feeds, none of the other FDA feeds were listed by TweetReach as being instrumental in spreading the news. If, on the other hand, FDA feeds all re-tweeted one another, all reach would rise as would the number of impressions and the agency could boost awareness and reach of the Office of Women's Health, for example.
For companies considering Twitter, re-tweeting one's own feeds will only spell greater reach. That isn't rocket science, but sometimes the obvious escapes us in favor of the more complex.
Forgive me for saying "tweetastic".