Twitter awareness/engagement ratio: a pillory or a pedestal for pharma?

I was riffing with Mike Baldwin yesterday about how social media is impacting upon the dynamics of the relationship between awareness and engagement. Mike has said he will blog about this topic at some point, and I look forward to reading it.

Our conversation reminded me of a post by David Bradley on SciScoop last November shortly after the launch of Twitter lists wherein David divided the number of lists leading science tweeters were featured in by their follower count in order to derive a ‘Twitter respect ratio for science’.

I thought it would be fun to do something similar for pharma.

Firstly, the caveats.

  • As the numerical fumbling below ably demonstrates, I am not a statistician. In fact, it’s as much as I can do to turn on a calculator. This is raw data with no weightings applied. However, you are most welcome to cut it again any way you wish, and perhaps post your further ruminations as a comment.
  • Follower counts signify very little. Someone, somewhere (and I happen to know who, as a matter of fact 🙂 ) is busily sifting the wheat from the chaff of pharma Twitter followers in order to refine the demographics and help us to better understand the constituencies that pharma is actually reaching with the help of our favourite status updating platform. I think the results are going to make interesting reading. I hope you haven’t got that FY11 strategic plan signed off yet.

I am describing the product of dividing pharma’s Twitter list citations by its follower count as an awareness / engagement ratio, which I have expressed a percentage. Here are the data (there is a downloadable version here which may be easier to read):

Company Twitter Username


Followers Lists A/E (%) Updates


AstraZeneca AZhelps 0 93 21 22.6 63 17/08/09
MedImmune medibiologics 53 217 27 12.4 48 04/09/09
Elan elanplc 50 84 10 11.9 8 07/08/09
Bayer Bayer 50 227 25 11.0 N/A* 11/01/09
Lilly LlyOncOnCanvas 0 180 18 10.0 18 26/08/09
Bristol-Myers Squibb bmsinfo 0 84 8 9.5 0 21/05/09
sanofi aventis sanofivoices 145 276 26 9.4 82 18/03/09
Bayer MensHealthCare 8 65 6 9.2 11 22/05/09
Novartis NVSOncoCareers 16 33 3 9.0 17 30/9/09
Roche RocheAppliedSci 39 332 28 8.4 36 20/03/09
Sanofi Pasteur sanofipasteur 3 737 59 8.0 36 16/05/09
RitaBiotech RitaBiotech 93 270 21 7.8 446 12/08/09
AstraZeneca AstraZeneca 97 931 72 7.7 82 03/08/09
Boehringer Ingehleim BoehringerUS 516 921 69 7.5 68 28/07/09
sanofi aventis sanofiaventisTV 769 792 57 7.2 106 27/05/09
Daiichi Sankyo daiichisankyo 0 199 14 7.0 0 19/02/09
Astellas AstellasUS 188 734 51 6.9 90 31/03/09
Astra Zeneca AstraZenecaJobs 60 395 25 6.3 691 10/07/09
sanofi aventis AF_stat 76 116 7 6.0 44 29/07/09
Novo Nordisk RaceWithInsulin 23 883 52 5.9 231 01/05/09
Merck merckcareers1 0 535 31 5.8 890 30/03/09
Novartis NovartisBehring 4 209 12 5.7 379 27/05/09
AstraZeneca AstraZenecaUS 337 2315 133 5.7 300 07/01/09
Roche Roche_com 405 2666 152 5.7 549 13/02/09
Shire ADHDSupport 0 286 16 5.6 18 27/3/09
Novartis sandozbrasil 8 305 16 5.2 141 10/07/09
GlaxoSmithKline GSKUS 95 2636 136 5.2 192 03/03/09
Amgen Amgen 0 1839 92 5.0 93 02/04/09
Pfizer Pfizer_news 1371 4094 204 5.0 83 13/07/09
Johnson & Johnson JNJComm 1349 2841 139 4.9 650 09/02/09
GE Healthcare GEHealthcare 2272 2213 103 4.7 147 10/07/08
Novartis NovartisDx 0 432 20 4.6 0 17/02/09
Bristol-Myers Squibb Bristol_Myers 1 159 7 4.4 0 04/05/09
Novartis NovartisTrials 0 482 21 4.4 N/A 17/05/09
Genentech Genentechnews 78 2425 103 4.2 69 05/09/08
Boehringer Ingelheim Boehringer 2285 3347 134 4.0 390 17/11/08
Bristol-Myers Squibb bmsnews 0 546 21 3.8 0 21/05/09
Novartis Novartis 11 3941 149 3.8 133 07/11/08
Allergan Allergan 0 859 31 3.7 0 08/04/08
Azco Biotech AzcoBiotech 232 340 12 3.5 31 28/04/09
Cell Therapeutics CellTherapeutic 290 359 12 3.3 365 16/04/08
Invitek Invitek_INC 132 131 4 3.1 22 26/05/09
Ganeden GanedenBiotech 10 201 6 3.0 46 11/03/09
Medtronic MDT_Diabetes 0 1294 36 2.8 0 04/12/08
Bioasis Technologies Bioasis 679 406 11 2.7 260 09/02/09
EMD EMD_Chemicals 1748 953 24 2.5 252 11/05/09
PhysioGenix PhysioGenix 396 308 7 2.3 56 27/03/09
DaVinci Biosciences DaVinciBio 46 360 7 1.9 12 30/03/09
Elekta Elekta 689 652 10 1.5 1168 26/01/09
Actavis actavis 9 139 2 1.4 20 17/02/09
Osteologix Osteologix 400 294 4 1.4 371 09/09/09
Access Pharma Accesspharma 1919 1881 24 1.3 969 10/05/09

It is worth noting at this point the fact that Twitter does not require a user to follow a given account in order to add them to one of the lists they may be curating.

Therefore, those users who have chosen to signify their awareness of a given account to their community by adding it to a Twitter list need not be a subset of those users who have chosen to engage with the same Twitter account by following it.

This observation merits a little unpacking.

When the UK constabulary place a police aware sticker on an abandoned car, they are not thereby denoting their admiration for whoever left it there.

In the same way, it should not be assumed that the act of adding a Twitter account to a list in some way either confers approval or indicates respect.

What a high awareness/engagement ratio could be said to signify is the fact that a particular account is generating a significant level of interest within Twitter relative to the number of followers it has.

Hence AZHelps currently appears to be particularly good at creating awareness of its activity.

Of course, whether or not this is a good thing is contingent upon the sort of interest and comment an account’s activity has elicited. A community’s sensibilities, as represented by the awareness/engagement ratio, could just as easily come to confer the characteristics of a pillory as it could those of a pedestal upon a given account.

What are the lessons here?

A new follower is not necessarily expecting that you will follow them, but having engaged with you, they are rather hoping that you will reciprocate.

If you share common interests, don’t disappoint them.

A new list entry need not be a pat on the back for you.

Maintain a high level of self-awareness as to how your activity is being received. Undertake as many self-diagnostic checks as you can. This doesn’t mean harvesting data from your expensive sentiment analysis dashboard so much as it means trusting the opinion of your peers. Take the time to ask them ‘how am I doing?’ then listen, adjust, and grow.


8 thoughts on “Twitter awareness/engagement ratio: a pillory or a pedestal for pharma?

  1. Thanks for the shout out Andrew. Glad to have inspired your post interesting to see such a neat list of pharmas on Twitter.

    As to engaging with new followers…it gets very hard to keep up if you’re getting dozens every day. I’m being forced to ignore the vast majority unless I see immediately that we have mutual interests or they retweet me.

  2. Great article! Our company made the list (PhysioGenix) and we appreciate the recognition. We do need to engage more with our followers, as right now our Twitter is mostly a bull horn, and not a telephone.

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  4. Fascinating post, Andrew. It is true that twitter engagement has many dimensions to it. The cold, hard facts of numbers of following, followers, updates and lists only give indicators. They are all part of the puzzle, but do not tell the story.

    What I have witnessed though, over and over again, that there are little surprises, if you do follow the path of engagement, it shows.

    In the next couple of days, I will release analysis on who is following pharma at the moment, by size of their following, segment and how many other pharma accounts they follow… we will see if this hypothesis holds, if pharmaco’s that engage have a different quality of audience than those that don’t.

    It seems to me that twitter has been an experiment more than a concrete strategic initiative to engage with x or y stakeholder for most pharmacos so far.

    The quality though of the audience you manage to engage with will be the true indicator of pharma’s success on twitter. We all know this, but now we have to make it visible, prove it, make the case. Thanks for this attempt. It is definately one further step in that direction. 🙂

    • Hi Silja

      Thanks for stopping by to leave a comment. We should do some work together. 😉

      The analysis you are doing of the pharma Twittersphere is great, and I am very much looking forward to part 2.

      I’m predicting that the second part of your analysis will reveal that pharma accounts are currently mostly being followed by pharma employees, the agencies and ancillaries that work with them, pundits and analysts. Perhaps the occasional healthcare professional, but scant numbers, and only those who take an adjacent interest in Health 2.0 which may have little to do with their day job.

      What I do not expect to see are scores of people-patients or patient community accounts hanging on pharma’s every word.

      From this speculative perspective, pharma’s Twitter activities to date have been an unmitigated failure. If all they want to do is engage the communities they already work with and know, they may as well pick up the phone.

      So, we’re back to basics, namely:

      Why is pharma using Twitter?
      What does it want to achieve?
      Which communities is pharma trying to reach?
      How is pharma measuring its success, and what is it measuring?
      How is it going to adapt its activity in order to improve on the above?
      What’s next?

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