Tuesday, February 15, 2011

AstraZeneca to Host First-Ever Pharma-Sponsored Twitter Chat!

Back in November, 2010, I asked "Will a Pharma Company Ever 'Host' a Chat on Twitter?" (see here). I just learned that AstraZeneca (US) will be the first pharma company (that I know of) to do so according to this @AstraZeneca Twitter post:
AstraZeneca to host Twitter chat on Rx savings. 8p EDT Wednesday. Details here http://ow.ly/3W3G7 #rxsave #socpharm
Here are the relevant details:
AstraZeneca (@AstraZenecaUS) will host a one-hour chat on Twitter at 8 p.m. EDT on Wednesday, February 16 to raise awareness about helping patients save money through prescription savings programs.

The chat will be led by Jennifer McGovern, the director of the AZ&Me prescription savings programs. She will answer questions while offering ideas about how patient assistance needs are evolving and how social media can be used to reach eligible patients.

To join the discussion, participants just need to use their Twitter account - and follow the discussion through the #rxsave hashtag.
 This is quite gutsy of AZ considering that anyone can "join" the chat simply by posting a message containing the #rxsave hashtag.  And anyone can post messages about AZ drugs and mention side effects too even though AZ might say that it will not respond to questions about specific drugs.

In fact, the details provided so far by AZ do NOT include any "ground rules" about topics that it considers out of bounds. The AZ Health Connections Blog, for example, has an extensive "Comment Policy" (see here) that says, for example, "This blog is not the place for your questions or comments about our specific products and we will not publish comments about AstraZeneca products." It also says "We reserve the right to edit or even to not publish comments that are off-topic, obscene, inflammatory, disrespectful, contain profanity, or that we deem are otherwise inappropriate. We may not publish comments that could be misleading or confusing, or thinly disguised sales pitches for other products or services."

In a Twitter chat it is not possible to "edit" or "not publish" comments made by participants. And the conversation can actually be hijacked by "disgruntled" patients or employees. I hope that doesn't happen.

But it is a fact of life for pharmaceutical companies that they are not well-liked by the general public, especially when the price of drugs is a topic for discussion.

So, it will be interesting to see how this chat unfolds Wednesday night with regard to the above.

As I mentioned in the above cited post, there can be several reasons why I haven't seen Twitter chats hosted by pharma companies:
  • There are no guidelines from the FDA regarding how that agency will regulate Twitter chats hosted and/or "moderated" by pharma companies. A "moderated" Twitter chat is one where the discussion is lead by a person who sets the agenda (see, for example, "On Being Voted Off the Social Media Island").
  • Pharma companies are concerned about being overwhelmed by adverse events that may pop up in tweets during a chat session that they host and/or moderate.
  • Pharma companies are concerned about "off-label" promotion that may be made by chat participants.
  • Organizing and moderating a chat requires too much effort and is too risky.
  • Once you start a chat, it's very hard to control the message.
  • Consumers don't really want to chat with pharma companies.
It seems AZ has confidence it can overcome or avoid most of these problems. What remains to be seen, however, is if consumers actually participate. But perhaps AZ is not really trying to get consumers to participate. Rather, they may be more interested in getting patient advocates, bloggers, news reporters, etc. to participate. That way the messages it puts out via the chat can be filtered by these people and/or passed along to their followers. That viral aspect of Twitter hashtag chatting is valuable.

P.S. Having found out about this a bit late, I notice that there already has been quite a number of Twitter comments posted using the #rxsave hashtag! Here are a couple of posts that give us an idea of how the conversation may be hijacked:
Twitter chat 16th led by @AstraZenecaUS take a look at retired doctor's opinion of Seroquel http://tinyurl.com/4lw47wk @TonyJewell #rxsave [That doctor doesn't have anything good to say - JM]

Why AstraZeneca's white paper on social media is a crock! #rxsave http://bit.ly/ghoa6D #pharma @astrazeneca @astrazenecaus #MDchat #bioceo
P.P.S. Tony Jewel, Editor of AZ Health Connections Blog, sent me this message:
John -

Thanks much for the notice of the Twitter chat.

We decided to sponsor this discussion for a simple reason: We believe it
is important to spread the word about the availability of our
prescription savings programs. Today, Twitter and other social media
channels are invaluable tools to do so.

We will, however, be limited as to what we can respond to during the
chat. For example, we will be unable to discuss specific medicines
and/or diseases on this chat to ensure all communications are
appropriate and meet current regulations (an issue you have covered

If others would like to discuss different issues with the company,
AstraZeneca can be reached at 1-800-236-9933 Monday through Friday 8
a.m. to 6 p.m.

We look forward to an engaging conversation on prescription savings
programs and, hopefully, other issues in the future.


  1. Can't wait to discuss AZ's products:

    Nexium: "a triumph of marketing over science" said a Kaiser Permanente physician.

    Seroquel: http://1boringoldman.com/index.php/2011/02/14/seroquel-xii-an-opinionated-postscript/

    But I won't say more and spoil the fun!

  2. 8 PM Eastern US is 01:00 GMT. Isn't that past your bed time?

  3. Happy to stay up for this - just like I did for the Superbowl! ;-)

  4. I suppose you are happy that the Green Bay Packers beat Pittsburgh Steelers.


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