Top pharma companies in social media: whose opinion are we polling?

PatientView pharma corporate reputation 2012 vs. 2011: final rankings (reproduced with permission)

PatientView pharma corporate reputation 2012 vs. 2011: final rankings (reproduced with permission)

Millions of words have been written over recent years across media channels about the relative performance of pharmaceutical companies in social environments. This site has contributed a few thousand of its own, it should probably be noted at the outset.

No aspect of the management of the portfolio of presences of companies has been deemed to be too small to analyse in detail.


As the novelty wore off, we have for the most part managed to emerge collectively from the pleasure palace of social with our sanity intact, our humanity undiminished, and our sights firmly set on using social technologies to do things differently.

As an aside: if you’ve never watched Mike Cadogan explain why it’s important to use social technologies without continually referring to them, take the time to watch this very special film describing why showing trumps telling in health communications every time. Oh, and add #FOAMed to your feed while you’re at it.

Somewhere along the way, a pharma social hegemony appears to have been established.

A shared understanding seemed to coalesce around the question of which pharma companies were utilising social technologies most effectively. Looking back, I not only bought into that myth, I actively propagated aspects of it.

That’s why I found PatientView‘s recently published report ‘The Corporate Reputation Of Pharma: The Patient Perspective‘ so fascinating.

Logically, if connecting with, responding to, and aiming to anticipate the needs of patients is increasingly powering pharma’s activities, and social technologies are driving digital health, then those companies who are performing most effectively in the leading social environments online should also be those whom patient communities, patient advocates, and the most audible patient voices hold in the highest esteem, right?


PatientView asked 600 international, national and regional patient groups to consider whether 29 leading pharma companies were individually better than the others considered in the study with regard to their:

  • Having a patient-centred strategy
  • Providing high-quality information to patients
  • Having a good record on patient safety
  • Providing high-quality, useful products
  • Being transparent with external stakeholders
  • Acting with integrity

The collated results are presented in the image at the top of this post.

Charitably, I’d suggest that it would come as a shock for the majority of observers of pharma within digital environments to read at least half of the names in the top ten. Other companies that are considered to be leaders within social have failed to make the top 20.

Lundbeck US‘s (#1 in 2012; #3 in 2011) genial but rather less than inspiring Twitter feed is probably not going to set your world on fire. Likewise, with a mere 89 tweets, a sporadic publication programme, and a ‘Following’ count jammed on zero, Gilead Sciences (#2 in 2012; #10 in 2011) could hardly be said to be a model of best practice. They are not companies getting a lot of coverage on industry pundit blogs and agency websites.

Yet this is a matter of supreme irrelevance if patients think these companies (who by other measures may be deemed to be under-performing) are great, and that they feel they are improving the quality of their lives through the better health outcomes that they have presumably supported.

Those pharma companies that have seen small or significant drops in patient opinion of their work during 2012 against prior year in the PatientView report may wish to review the top 10 companies’ activities across channels, online and offline, in order to be able to identify why it is that patients are disposed to view them so favourably.

They should probably ask some patients, too 😉

‘Truth,’ Walter Benjamin wrote, ‘is the death of intention’:

A science in conflict with the language of its own investigations is an absurdity[…] Every proof of origin must be prepared to face up to the question of its authenticity. If it cannot establish this, then it does not merit the name.

The jarring results of the PatientView report should remind us, as Leibniz’s writings reminded Benjamin, that the idea of pharma’s performance in social environments driving real-world outcomes is a monad, for in the last instance ‘every idea contains the image of the world.’ It is beholden upon us to remember that the world may look very different to others, and through others.

Citations: Walter Benjamin, The Origin Of German Tragic Drama (1963; London: Verso, 2009) pp. 36, 42, 46, 48

16 thoughts on “Top pharma companies in social media: whose opinion are we polling?

  1. Until pharma is ready to embrace words like transparency and openness their social media efforts are not what social media is about. Right now only 32% of brands in CPG respond to consumers via Twitter and pharma is downright scared of talking to anyone in pharma because regulatory and legal people are too damn frightened

    • Thanks for stopping by, Rich. I am increasingly convinced that even those companies that have begun to overcome the inertia that continues to shackle the industry overall are asking the wrong questions of themselves.

      Culture, corporate strategy, and evolved customer expectation frequently seem to be at odds, too.

      Nevertheless, opportunity is everywhere for those who choose to see it, with mitigatable risk. We need to iterate what the issues are that are preventing companies from evolving socially across their enterprises. Game theory may need to be brought into play; the problems the industry faces are not identifiable in their totality, and strategic reforms will reveal fresh ongoing challenges — and so it will continue.

      However, if the impact that social technologies are having on the expectations and behaviours of communities of interest can begin to inform aspects of corporate strategy across entire companies and affiliates, the perhaps progress may be a little quicker.

    • I agree. Companies need to understand that it’s not just having a social media presence, but engaging with customers and responding to their needs. There needs to be a shift in thinking, from outbound marketing to inbound marketing. Trying to do outbound marketing with social media won’t work.

      • We may also need to entertain the possibility that outbound marketing won’t work anywhere ever again, and that we have already entered a postmarketing age — we just haven’t realised it yet.

  2. Insightful post Andrew, however, have you taken into consideration that in a great number of the 52 countries from which answers to the survey were received, pharma does not have social media accounts? For this reason, in my opinion the results of the survey reflect what patients think about these companies. Moreover, as the majority of patient groups in Europe make little use of social media, I would exclude any influence of social media presence of pharma in the opinion of the patients

    • Hi Kathi

      Thanks for taking the time to leave a comment and for being such a stalwart supporter of this blog. I appreciate it 🙂

      I haven’t done the maths, nor have I undertaken a detailed investigation as to whether there are no local language pharma accounts within social environments in the majority of the 52 countries. It would be interesting to plot trends describing their growth over the past five years. My impression is that regional presences are burgeoning, and I am constantly discovering new ones through the contributions to the communities we are part of.

      However, if we set aside this query and considered your observation to reflect actually existing states of affairs (i.e. accepting the hypothesis that many of the 52 countries do not have local language presences) if anything, I think your observation advances rather than refutes the proposition that received wisdom regarding which companies are performing well in digital environments needs to be urgently challenged with regard to their overall performance in the eyes of the only constituency whose opinion matters in the last instance, namely patients.

  3. Pingback: Top pharma companies in social media: whose opinion are we polling? « E-santé, m-santé & quantified self

  4. The important part of this survey to note is that it is patient organisations, not patients who were surveyed. If nothing else the online revolution in health has been the connectivity it has enabled through social technologies between individuals: individuals who form communities of practice, support networks, campaigning groups and disseminate information in a way unimaginable 10 years ago.

    In truth while there are a good number of patient organisations who have understood the changing nature and shifting sands of patient representation in a socially connected world, many others struggle.

    Is the future of patient engagement to be judged and funneled through the same routes they were in the old mediated world? Or can people group together or speak and disseminate information for themselves without need for representation by a body which may or may not have their interests at heart?

    Trust and reputation is complex and multifaceted and social media presence is likely to be a visible demonstration of a philosophy rather that a determining factor, however I would be careful how surveys of this nature are interpreted.

    • From the perspective of the patient associations, you’re absolutely right to add a further layer of complexity to this issue, which I have driven a narrative line through for the sake of argument.

      At all the touch points we’d care to identify along the line from a single patient to a patient collective to an international patient organisation we’re going to encounter examples of effective use of contemporary online communication on the one hand, and the total absence of the same on the other.

      In one sense, none of this really matters in the long term. The deck is being shuffled; some patient associations will collapse or be superseded as a consequence of their failing to connect effectively with the communities they are supposed to be representing as other collectives rise to pre-eminence (cf. the many successful patient-focused tweet chats tracked by Symplur).

      On the other hand, it matters acutely — right now. If patient associations fail to provide the discoverable information regarding symptoms, diagnosis and treatment of the diseases they focus on that they are in possession of and are expert in, patient outcomes are impaired, and people may die needlessly.

  5. Pingback: Top pharma companies in social media: whose opinion are we polling? | [ ]

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