Can Pharma Use Twitter to Effectively Engage Consumers?

There is much debate about whether pharmaceutical companies will be able to harness the exponential growth of social media.

Most savvy businesses now have a presence on Facebook and Twitter, but drug manufacturers find their hands bound by privacy and advertising restrictions.  No doubt they are searching for breakout, attention-grabbing efforts beyond the usual bland self-promotion.

Surely they know that consumers most desire helpful information and value.  But can they deliver it?

Tonight at 8PM EST AstraZeneca (@AstraZenecaUS) is hosting a chat on Twitter to “raise awareness about helping patients save money through prescription savings programs.”

This is notable.  I am not aware of another pharmaceutical company having venturing into these waters.  Even if not a first, it is definitely not commonplace.

For those of you who have not yet participated in a Twitter chat, you can post to the conversation by including the #rxsave hashtag in your tweets.  To follow the conversation, simply use the #rxsave hashtag as your Twitter search term.  TweetDeck and similar programs/apps can make the process easier.

As for me, I am particularly interested in the chat for the proposed content–helping people with the cost of their medications.

However, I am also curious to see how @AstraZenecaUS moderates the discussion:

  • Will they focus only on their AZ&Me program, or will they invite a broader conversation?
  • How will they handle the tweet of a participant who mentions the medical indication of one of their products?
  • What if anti-pharma sentiments pop up?

It will also be interesting to see how much activity this one-hour event generates.  Some Twitter chats with numerous participants can be difficult to keep up with. 

In addition to those contributing to the discourse, one can readily expect many quiet lurkers tonight: @LillyPad, @Boehringer, @GSK and @Pfizer_news, among others.

And the silent muscular guy in the back of the room?  That’s @US_FDA.

Stephen Meyers, MD



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5 responses to “Can Pharma Use Twitter to Effectively Engage Consumers?

  1. Hi Stephen

    I’m kind of interested too. Having started two of these kinds of chats for nurses and doctors, and knowing what it takes to run the behind the scenes, I’m curious to see what Astra’s experience will be.

    Twitter’s an interesting medium for these kinds of communications. But it can also be rather complex, especially if the chat gets trolled or otherwise disrupted.

    I just hope for Astra’s sake they fully understand the nature of the Web, that they understand not only their own culture but the culture of the Internet – which can be pretty wild and unyielding.

    Hopefully, this will be useful to patients and that even if only a few patients benefit from it they’ll keep it up.

    On the other hand, I could see a lot of consultants and bloggers jump in and drown out any utility. In which case, Astra will get a lot of buzz for the next 24-72 hours and then the whole thing will disintegrate.

    We’ll see what happens, if it happens.


    • MedSavingsDoc

      Hey Phil,

      Have you seen anything come of this chat? I haven’t seen any subsequent efforts or engagement.

  2. Stan

    “What if anti-pharma sentiments pop up?”

    It would be nice if SM blogs would not use these derogatory descriptions of concerned consumers. Anti-pharma or hijaker terminology places a negative public cogitation upon those that are neither anti-pharma (we all use medications at some point or another) or hijackers ( as if asking pointed questions that are relevant to a corporations practices is considered hijacking).

    I see a lot of smoke being blown about how wonderful AstraZeneca is for having this rxsave chat. Shall we forget they have been involved in some of the most egregious and far reaching corporate behaviors in the history of this industry.

    Shall we just forget they are guilty of fraud, off label promotion of drugs, hiding side effects to get drugs approved, have tens of thousands of lawsuit currently against for avoidable harm their products have caused ( to just barely touch surface of their unscrupulous actions).

    I find it personally & morally offensive that many thousands are suffering in anguish or have died by the direct hand of AstraZeneca’s profiteering practices.

    I guess in theory this chat is supposed to giving consumers a voice with a format of open dialogue: but as i read SM pundits and see how AstraZeneca has placed such strict limitations upon this forum; I have serious doubts that this will amount to anything more than just a PR/Marketing promotion stunt that gets a lot of media attention and does nothing to change the horrendous track this industry has been on for decades, both concerning consumers and patient safety.. ..

    If pharma really wants openness and dialogue they must come to terms and communicate with the 1000 lb gorilla sitting in the room; the disgruntled, damaged, and betrayed consumers.

    Just an opinion for you to ponder

  3. I’m one of a number of diabetes bloggers that have now met with Roche Pharma three times in the last two years. We are working together to show Roche how to effectively and truthfully engage in social media conversations. Together we’re also brainstorming on ways to improve the DOC (Diabetes Online Community) and make it more accessible to folks living with diabetes who have not yet found it.

    This learning is not trivial. Conversing ‘properly’ on social media is evolving at about the same pace as the medium itself. One thing we’ve found after three meetings is that Roche is learning about some of its mistakes with customers and is already trying to right some of them. The lesson here, if any, is that pharma has to engage with those of us who are using social media daily. As partial representatives of the entire online conversation we can guide them into learning what feels right and what doesn’t. We are not simply trying to teach them how to sell more effectively. We’re helping them engage effectively with the customers and truly help them.

    • MedSavingsDoc


      Your efforts sound great. Hopefully you will help Roche and other pharmaceutical organizations learn to engage others in ways that are more helpful.

      Of note, I’m not sure that the Twitter chat prompting this article provided much benefit, as I don’t believe it was repeated, and I have not seen any follow up.

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