Tuesday, September 07, 2010

@AZHelps: Is This a Good Model for Pharma Use of Social Media?

Recently, @jilliantate (Jullian Tate), Director, digital strategy, for Integrated Media Solutions in Los Angeles, and someone I follow on Twitter, tweeted this:

"Wow. Great article on how @astrazeneca is using Twitter to monitor mentions of products, and respond. #socpharm #fdasm http://bit.ly/crk3K8"

Naturally, I had to have a look and see what all the fuss was about. In the blog post that @jillintate referred to, Bruce Grant was said to have pointed to AstraZeneca as "one company with a solid grasp of the social-media realm. The company has used its Twitter account to monitor any tweets about its products, so that it can respond to consumers directly."

The Twitter account Grant was undoubtedly referring to is @AZHelps and NOT @Astrazenca (AZ has several Twitter accounts). Practically every tweet made by @AZHelps is similar to these:

"@redban Saw your tweet about access to NEXIUM® (esomeprazole magnesium) AstraZeneca may be able to help. Call us @ 800-236-9933"


"@busterwilson Saw your tweet about access to or the cost of ZOMIG® (zolmitriptan) AstraZeneca may be able to help. Call us @ 800-236-9933"

@AZHelps averages less than one tweet per month! The latest tweet -- to @redban, a husband, father, grandfather, media personality, Sheriff's Chaplain, motorcycle rider, and lover of Jesus! -- was made on July 7, 2010. It was in response to this tweet made by @busterwilson on July 5:

"Almost home. Pat drove most the way. Second day of the trip w/extensive migraine! NO Zomig cause Obamacare made insur. Not wiiling 2pay4 it!"

It seems to me that this is a very inefficient way for AZ to use social media resources. First of all, taking two days to respond to a tweet is an eternity in today's social media world. I hardly remember what I was talking about 2 hours ago, let alone 2 days ago!

It's also interesting that @AZHelps suggests that @busterwilson call 800-236-9933 rather than visiting the AZandMe.com Web site, which is what was recommended to me when I called the number.

I am not sure, however, that AZ can help people like @busterwilson. When I visit AZandMe.com, it informs me right up front "If you are an individual making $30,000 or less or a family of four making $60,000 or less you may qualify for an AZ&Me™ Prescription Savings Program." I doubt that a media personality and Sheriff's Chaplain such as @busterwilson would qualify.

Although the people answering that AZ number were very friendly and competent, I spent about 15 minutes on the phone before I got the information I needed. Wouldn't it be much better for @AZHelps to refer people to the Web site rather than the 1-800 number?

The only advantage I would see in calling the 1-800 number is the opportunity for AZ to have a real person to answer your questions. In this case, my experience with call center people was positive.

Still, I don't find this a very "Wow" use of social media. What do you think?


  1. Anonymous3:41 PM

    John, my "wow" was a reaction to a pharma company actually monitoring the Internet and acknowledging that they do so. In my experience, pharma companies do not want to monitor user generated content, because the lack of clarity in the FDA guidelines suggests they would then be responsible for reporting any adverse events that they come across. The FDA has said that they don't expect pharma companies to monitor and take responsbility for the entire Internet, does that apply when a company publicly announces that they are reading Twitter? I think it's a big step for AZ to monitor Twitter for mentions of their brands, and reply even with a poor canned message.

    Granted, this campaign could have been executed far better. I would have recommended reviewing existing posts across Twitter and other channels, and devising many more pre-written tweets for legal approval. If the copy in a tweet was pre-approved, then it would be easy to develop a "response path" chart and have someone at AZ APPROPRIATELY with the right paths. I totally agree that calling a 1-800 isn't the right answer for everyone...if someone wanted to call a 1-800, they'd have called it already. But I also don't know what goes on in AZ's legal department, or what the rationale was for this approach. It seems like every pharma company's legal department interprets guidelines differently, and convincing them of the benefits & risks of a campaign can be difficult.

    My hypothesis is that AZ wants to track all the users they reach out to, and that's why they've asked them to phone in, as opposed to just visiting the site. That way, they can be sure the conversation continues in an environment AZ is more comfortable in, which can be monitored and answered by trained AZ people. Directing patients to the phone may also be their way of guaranteeing that any adverse events are duly and appropriately recorded and reported.

    Still, I think this whole thing is better than the GSK approach to Avandia (ie. ignorance). Yes, @AZHelps is dropping the ball in responses - but they may be monitoring on the back-end, and gathering critical patient questions & input for their product. I would sincerely hope that the questions & mentions they are picking up on Twitter are going towards future product site copy. Now that they know what questions & statements people are making about their product, they have more ability to re-do sites like AZandMe.com to be actually relevant to the users who need a reliable information source in the first place.

    Jillian Tate
    Director, Digital Strategy
    Integrated Media Solutions

  2. Jillian,

    Thanks for clarifying what you meant about "wow." I guess every other company just monitors the Internet surreptitiously or should I say they are not very transparent about their monitoring activities?

  3. Anonymous4:24 PM

    Again, I can only speak from my experience...but I've only seen pharma companies monitor for market research purposes. It may be just my agency perspective though. When my group is asked to do some social media monitoring, we're usually doing it to prove that the campaign is working. We report on general product sentiment, but not necessarily individual statements. I don't think most pharma companies are transparent about their monitoring activities because it could open up a can of privacy/HIPAA/FDA legal worms. But again, that's just IMHO.

    BTW, thank you for the mention & shout-out!

  4. Anonymous12:51 PM

    I like how in the past few years, "social media" and "pharma" have become such a hot topic. To the tune of all these companies popping up, these so-called experts, and the like.

    Social media, blogs, etc. are good for one thing only: reading John Mack's commentary about what else pharma is royally screwing up. Oh, and dating and getting laid (internet has done wonders for many a sex life).

    But consider this: how many of your parents or grandparents - or anyone else that you know for that matter - go home and tweet about their freaking medicine?

    Social media + pharma is about as interesting a topic as dust collection + vinyl records.

    Pharma will catch up eventually, but like anything else, will take far longer than other industries.

    But until then, good luck to everyone trying to make a mint off of selling their expertise to the people at these companies tasked with the impossible job of changing a gigantic industry.

    And John - keep up the great work. Maybe next post can be about ED drugs and the porn sites they sustain? :)

  5. This comment from was @zachwoodward inadvertently deleted from the moderation queue, so I am adding myself:

    Hey John,

    While I agree that that posting once or twice a month isn’t exactly what the twitter community considers engaging... I think it’s a step in the right direction.

    Jillian commented on the FDA having strict guidelines when it comes to reporting. With that being said these companies are just starting to dabble into the monitoring space and I can see why they would want to remain somewhat discreet.

    However, the pharmaceutical companies aren’t the only ones who try to keep their monitoring under wraps. Some clients will often ask to be left off their agencies “Here are some of our clients” or “portfolio” pages so that competitors don’t know they are listening to what’s being said within the social web.

    Community Engagement Specialist

  6. John,

    Fair questions in your post. I think I can address a few having spoken with some folks at AZ in the past about this.

    First, I agree that this isn't the most innovative use of social media the world has ever seen. However, who cares? It's not supposed to be. It's supposed to work and I think that it does.

    This entire @AZhelps concept is still (as far as I can tell) still a bit of a pilot. It started out only covering Nexium and has slowly added more products. I do know that this is managed by one person (or was at last I spoke with someone) who has a filter set up looking for tweets about AZ products. When something relevant comes up, these pre-approved tweets get sent in response.

    Not to make an excuse for anyone, but I'm guessing this is why it might have taken a couple of days for the one response. It's still just one person. This certainly could be improved, don't get me wrong, but it's still a program in development.

    Regarding the number of tweets, @azhelps only responds when someone mentions their drug AND something about cost or an adverse event. If you do a cursory search of Twitter, you'll see a lot of drug mentions, but most of these are bots and spam. Finding the real people in the rough is the challenge.

    My guess about having people call in instead of going to the website is because there is (or should be) better service than the website. You saw on your trip to the site that immediately you wouldn't qualify. AZ, like others, has brand-level co-pay programs for many of their drugs too. These aren't on the AZandme.com site (but should be), so the best, most up to date info comes from calling the AZ 800 number.

    Bottom line: is it ideal? No. Is it the best customer service via social media in pharma today? Yes...by a long way. Who else is responding to individuals (unsolicited) to try to help them with issues? It's a nice start that sets a really strong example for other companies. You can engage via social media. It might not be perfect, but there's always something you can do if you're willing to try some different things.

    You know I'm like you and looking to punch holes in pharma programs where I can, but this one stands up for me. Again, not ideal, but a good start.

    Dose of Digital

  7. Jonathan,

    Thanks for your comments.

    I should praise the effort, but I view it as unsustainable -- ie, having a real person respond with a canned message can not stand for long. Some bean counter at AZ will see this and say "Whaaa! How many man-hours are we devoting to this that could be put to much better use? Let's automate the damn thing!"

    How do they even measure the effectiveness of this effort? Are we to ignore ROI altogether for the sake of "engaging" in social media? I almost think they do it to get some recognition by people like us -- even if it's critical recognition :-)

    Q: How is social media like helping your wife deal with a problem?

    A: It's been my experience that when my wife complains about something, she is not looking for me to give her a "solution," but for me to listen to her and understand her problem. The same may be true for helping patients who complain about products. Before you offer a solution --- ie call this number -- have a conversation and make sure you get to what the real problem is. In the case I cited here, the guy was spouting off about "Obamacare" and no amount of free ZOMIG was going to put him at ease about that.

  8. Well, AstraZeneca uses many ways to monitor its market base, via hidden V-Fluence that monitors blogs and tweets such as mine who write about Seroquel, and most of the time AZ reads my blog via twitter account, and directly from the V-fluence group of ppl and directly from the company site. My opinion of "helping"? via social media? I wouldn't bother listening to it, or using it as a savvy consumer of any product that way.

    It's just another way to promote the sale of their products, so if that's what the goal of pharma in social media is, to monitor who writes negatively about their products or promote sales via "help lines", then they are spot on target.


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