Twitter is now over seven years old. It is hard to believe that the emergence of a media platform that allows expressions only 140 characters long would transcended to become a major force in media today. Yet, as we have seen, as a media platform Twitter has mainstreamed. There has been no shortage of events over the past few years where Twitter has not been an extremely essential means for finding out what is happening under circumstances where events are unfolding quickly on the ground. As a result, traditional media outlets find themselves reporting news that has been picked up on Twitter. And during a crisis situation, it tends to be Twitter where the communications plays out. The importance of Twitter as a medium for journalism became apparent in early 2009 with the landing of a jet in the Hudson River – pictures of which went out over Twitter.
For journalists, Twitter offers more than immediacy, it offers a level of granularity that may not have been available without this medium. For someone who puts together one story a day for print or broadcast, Twitter offers the ability to report on many, many smaller aspects of a story or many smaller stories that would never make it into the one big story. In other words, Twitter offers a means of on-going relevance to reporting.
And of course, many companies are have embraced Twitter as an extension of their own communications efforts. That is even true of the highly regulated pharmaceutical industry, despite the fact that there has been a long wait for regulatory guidance from FDA on the matter of social media. Over the past year, I have been working on a continuing project that tracks and catalogs social media efforts by pharmaceutical companies. It will always be a work in progress, adding to it social media assets as I become aware of them. For Twitter, I am now aware of about 230 different Twitter feeds being run by about 50 or so different companies. Those feeds have hundreds of thousands of followers and companies have cumulatively sent thousands and thousands of tweets.
As I examine different companies to see if they have a Twitter feed, I am struck not only by the number that do, but the number that do not. Many companies have stayed away from this media platform – and indeed, all social media platforms, despite the fact that top tier healthcare and investor journalists are here. That is presumably because they either do not see the value or because they do not see the guidance and have regulatory concerns. However an examination of the track record should add clarity.
The value is evident given (1) the nearly universal involvement of journalists in Twitter and (2) its role during a crisis. It is not, after all, an asset one can build in the midst of a crisis. And a comparison of regulatory action letters by FDA of Twitter versus a Website (something no company would be without) yields perhaps some valuable insight. Comparing the time period since 2006 (when Twitter came into being) – one finds that a web page or web site has been cited by FDA’s Office of Prescription Drug Promotion 42 times. The number of instances involving Twitter – zero (0).
In the end, I think that the “ROI” on social media – particularly Twitter – like that of a web site – is not only a consideration about the value it brings a result of having it – but the value that is missed because one doesn’t.