Wednesday, August 15, 2012

How Johnson & Johnson Uses Twitter for Patient Support: A-plus for Effort, D-minus for Sharing

Every day, I get a synopsis of tweets and newsfeeds from selected pharma companies that I am following (see "News Direct from the Pharma Industry"). Lately, I've been noticing a number of tweets from Johnson and Johnson (@JNJComm) that are direct responses to complaints from consumers about its products. In some cases, complainants have had an extended conversation with JNJ.

However, you won't find these conversations if you look at the @JNJComm Twitter timeline here but you can find them in the PMN Forum archives here. More on this later. Right now I'd like to focus on one of these conversations.

@hiltmon (Hilton Lipschitz) complained about an Acuvue contact lens problem in a tweet posted to @JNJComm. @hiltmon said: "@JNJComm, could you please fwd this to Acuvue team: See the hole in the lens (top right), happened twice now. Thanks." The link leads to this photo:

Whether or not this could be classified as a legitimate "adverse event," is a matter for debate, but JNJ responded as if it were: "thanks for alerting use. Please call us at 800-843-2020. It's important that we fully understand what occurred. Thanks! ^DE" Here's a screen shot of the full exchange:

I am not sure what "^DE" means. It appears that JNJComm uses it only at the end of responses to these sorts of complaints. I assume it allows some kind of tracking or followup. [Actually, it indicates the author - in this case Devon Eyer; see UPDATE at the end of this post.] In any case, the end result was one happy (I assume) customer.

I cannot find a legitimate Acuvue Twitter account, although the brand does have a Facebook page. After a quick scan through the Acuvue FB page, I can find no consumer complaints or conversations like the above. It's all good brand "conversations" over there on the Acuvue FB page :-)

The above Twitter conversation might be considered a "brand conversation," which is what brand marketers would like to see (although they would like positive rather than negative conversations about their products). So, JNJ corporate communications people are having these brand support conversations via Twitter, but the brand people -- who presumably manage the FB page -- do not. That's telling in respect to the question I asked in a previous post: "Who's Your Social Media Daddy?"

This conversation is somewhat hidden from most of the nearly 20,000 @JNJComm followers. As I mentioned above, it does not appear in @JNJComm's Twitter timeline because each tweet begins with "@". That makes it a personal conversation in Twitter. Unless you access @JNJComm's Twitter RSS feed as I do, you won't see these tweets. That's unfortunate, IMHO, because it means that the power of social media (e.g., sharing content with followers) is sidestepped. In this case, other consumers may not learn about important safety and other information about Acuvue lenses. Public health would be better served if everyone could learn from the conversation (e.g., the batch number of the faulty lenses).

Of course, it also means that these conversations may not be picked up by the media -- presumably the main audience for @JNJComm and other pharma corporate Twitter accounts -- or by regulators who may like more information about faulty medical products.

UPDATE: ^DE indicates that the @JNJComm posts were written by Devon Eyer, Director, Corporate Communications, Social Media at Johnson & Johnson (see her LinkedIn profile here).

I have included Devon in my list of contenders for the 3rd Annual Pharmaguy Social Media Award. You can learn more about this award here and/or vote for your favorite here.


  1. J&J responded appropriately. Just because you can broadcast the conversation to every follower doesn't mean you should.

    I suspect concern over negative exposure for the brand may be the key driver, but, as a thought experiment, let's remove that concern. In my book, J&J still did the right thing because this is a commonplace event involving a delicate disposable non–life-saving product. Cluttering up followers' streams with this kind of trivia is not respectful treatment of those followers, and is a great way to lose them!

    If J&J have progressed in their thinking on social media beyond the "damage control first" mindset that you appear to ascribe to them, then they have certainly formulated policies that respect their followers and adhere to accepted community norms as far as possible.

    1. Yes, J&J DID respond in an appropriate fashion. That's why I gave them an "A" for effort. However, there are other -- perhaps more appropriate -- ways to use Twitter or share the information with your entire audience without "cluttering" the stream as you say (see following comments).

  2. Devon Eyer, Johnson & Johnson11:46 AM

    Thanks for the post, John. I wanted to stop by and help clear up a few things for you and your readers.

    Twitter is a great medium, and we use it to ensure that our consumers have a quick and effective way to ask us questions and get information. We aim to do that as transparently as we can while remaining focused on the individual who needs our help. In some cases, we ask people to call us because we want to have a robust conversation and ask follow up questions for a more meaningful response. We start our responses with the @[handle] because these are direct conversations answering a question sent to us by an individual user. This mechanism doesn’t broadcast the tweets to all of our followers, but is visible on our timeline, as you noted. We do this for two reasons: first, because we think a direct question should receive a direct answer; and second, in most cases, our followers, who span a range of interests, don’t want to see every comment we send out. If there were important information about the safety of our products, we would broadcast it to our entire follower base.

    Appreciate the opportunity to weigh in on how we are using Twitter to serve our customers (and the award nod!)

    1. Devon,

      Thanks for your input. Of course, we all use the personal reply feature of Twitter. The way I handle this is to maintain a Web archive of all my tweets. I only break them down into tweets made in any given quarter. You can see an example here:

      There may be technologies that would allow such archives to be better organized for a better user experience.

      I am sure pharma companies like J&J keep everything that is published in the public domain. I wonder, therefore, if J&J, for example, would consider making these archives available to the public on the Web? Do you think that would be helpful?


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