Friday, August 05, 2011

Pharma Tweets: Followers Trump Content. Pfizer vs. Sanofi Case Study

Everyone is tracking how the pharmaceutical industry uses Twitter and other social media. Jonathan Richman maintains the Pharma and Healthcare Social Media Wiki, which lists dozens of Twitter accounts (no rankings, although Jonathan does give out awards). EyeOnFDA Blog maintains its TWANK! Pharma Twitter Rankings, which is ALL about numbers, especially followers. And I maintain the Pharmaguy Twitter Pioneer list (see here).

None of these compilations says much about the quality of the content (ie, Tweets) pushed out by these sites. Some include 3rd-party measures such as Klout scores. But Klout is a poor barometer of how well pharma tweeters ENGAGE in conversation via social media. To demonstrate this, I compare recent tweets from @Pfizer_news ("The official site for Pfizer Inc., where we apply science and our global resources to improve health and well-being at every stage of life. I'm Jen Kokell, GMR") and @SanofiUS ("The official Twitter feed for Sanofi US. Tweets on news, updates, and other info come from Jack Cox and Stacy Burch. Intended for U.S. audiences only").

I picked these two because my friend @AndrewSpong posted this in today's #hcsmeu Twitter chat:
"despite only having been active since Jan '11, @SanofiUS has published nearly twice as many tweets as @pfizer_news"
To which @rohal responded:
"number of tweets is not a measure for effectivity of comm, quality of perception and understanding is!"
Sometimes marketers say "communication" when they really mean "messaging" or "marketing," which is one-way communication. By now social media should have changed what we all mean by communication; ie, two-way conversations. It would be interesting to measure this aspect of Pfizer's and Sanofi's Twitter accounts.

Before I do that, let's look at the numbers:

  • Followers: 17,705
  • Follows: 2,078
  • Tweets: 487
  • Klout score: 51
  • Followers: 1,728
  • Follows: 1,676
  • Tweets: 891
  • Klout score: 46
Except for tweets sent, Pfizer beats Sanofi hands down in this numbers game -- although I am amazed that the Klout scores are relatively close considering that Pfizer has TEN TIMES the number of followers than does Sanofi. I am on record questioning how Pfizer obtained all these followers. It boosted its number of followers by about 3-4,000 in just a few days around Christmas 2009 How Did Pfizer Get So Many Twitter Followers?.

Since then, I've heard that Newt Gingrich has been paying to get fake Twitter followers (Gawker received a tip from a former staffer, saying that Gingrich had paid firms to create fake Twitter followers; search company PeekYou analysed his follower list, and found that 92% of them were dummy accounts. Adding insult to injury, PeekYou added that Gingrich's percentage of real followers was "the lowest we had ever seen"; see story here).

I'm not saying that Pfizer did this, but it would interesting if someone analyzed its Twitter follower list and other pharmaco Twitter follower lists.

For my case study, I merely compared 20 of the latest tweets from @Pfizer_news and @SanofiUS to see what was different about them (find my list here).

Here's what I learned:

Self-serving Tweets: 60% of Pfizer's Tweets (12 out 20) were self-serving in that they referred back to Pfizer press releases, blog posts, etc. The tone is overtly NON-CONVERSATIONAL; eg, "Pfizer did this...", "Pfizer did that.." as in "Positive top-line results for Pfizer’s Lyrica in Phase 3 study of patients with fibromyalgia in Japan" (there's a tweet FDA should take a look at!). In contrast, I found only 1 self-serving Tweet among Sanofi's last 20 Tweets (5%). If I met Pfizer_news at a cocktail party, I would find any excuse to run away! (Note: Whenever I meet Jen Kokell at conference receptions, however, I look for excuses to stay put!)

Retweets: Retweeting is usually a good measure of "conversation" vs. "communication" in Twitterdom. @Pfizer_news's Tweet stream did not include a SINGLE RT, whereas Sanofi's included 13 (65%). I did not include one RT that retweeted from another Sanofi account. An example of a Sanofi RT: "RT @andrewspong How do we achieve equality for patients with rare diseases? | pharmaphorum #rarecare #hcsmeu #hcsm" Not only does Sanofi RT, but it adds hash tags, another indication that it engages in conversation rather than one-way communications.

Hash Tags: Use of hash tags is another good indicator of how well a company engages in conversations via Twitter. Eight out of 20 (40%) of Sanofi's tweets included one or more hash tags, whereas only 2 (10%) of Pfizer's tweets included a hash tag.

Klout may or may not look at these things when computing a score for Twitter accounts. If it does, then IMHO Sanofi's score should be MUCH higher than Pfizer's. But I think the numbers still outweigh the relevance for Klout and even for industry pundits; ie, Followers trump Content!

In the old days of Web 1.0 the the adage was "content, content, content". Today, in the social media Web era, it appears the NEW adage is "numbers, numbers, numbers." It's a shame.


  1. John: I'm confused. Your analysis seems to suggest that Sanofi's Twitter account is more effective given the engagement level versus Pfizer's. However, you conclude that followers trump content. Can you clarify?

  2. John,

    First off, let me say that as far as the use of Twitter goes, I'd say that @sanofiUS is light years ahead of Pfizer. I don't think you're looking at the right things when you're comparing them.

    First, the Pfizer account has been around more than twice as long as the Sanofi account (753 days v. 345 days). So, you'd expect Pfizer to have more followers and more tweets.

    Second, regarding Klout, you're not looking at the important numbers. Klout scores the number of followers as only a fraction of the overall score. Engagement with the account as measured by the number of retweeters, mentioners, and retweets is the critical part. That is, the score is much more affected by people interacting with the account. Pfizer has 257 mentioners, 347 retweeters, and 593 RTs. This comes from 18,000 followers. This means that less than 2% of all of Pfizer's followers have actually retweeted one of their tweets.

    Contrast this to Sanofi. They have 108 mentioners, 179 retweeters, and 312 RTs. This comes from only 1,700 followers (and in half the time in existence). This means that just over 10% of their followers have retweeted one of their tweets. To compare this to Pfizer, you could say that followers of SanofiUS are 5-6 times more likely to RT one of SanofiUS' tweets compared to a Pfizer follower RTing one of Pfizer's tweets.

    This is why the Pfizer and Sanofi Klout scores are so close. The score is based less on follower count and more on engagement measures. Part of Klout's scoring is based on milestones. That is, you get an increase in score when you get to 250 unique retweeters. Getting to this milestone is a function of time and number of followers (more followers and a longer time with an account means a greater chance of getting to the milestone).

    Sanofi will very quickly be passing Pfizer in terms of Klout and it's remarkable that their scores are even close considering Pfizer has more than 10 times the number of followers and an account that's been around twice as long.

    So, take all of this together and you'll see that followers aren't the critical factor. Content is. But the way Klout works, it rewards volume of engagement (total number of RTs for example) versus relative engagement (RTs as a percent of followers). If it did the latter, Sanofi would blow away Pfizer. In time, they'll catch up though. Klout isn't perfect, but it serves at least some purpose.

    Incidently, Peerindex ( which has different factors compared to Klout, but the same general idea, has Sanofi at 49 and Pfizer at 30.

    Dose of Digital

  3. Hello Fard,

    I think I'm expressing what everyone THINKS is the PRIMARY measure of success in Twitterdom. Obviously, having a large number of followers is a good thing and, in may case, worth money. The premise is that good content wins you followers, so the number of followers is supposed to be a good indicator of content value. But it's only a SECONDARY indicator -- ie, dependent on something else (eg, content, conversation, etc.) that is PRIMARY.

    It's surprising that Pfizer can get so many followers based on such lousy and infrequent content and poor SM conversational skills. As I noted, some people (eg, Gingrich) game the system with fake followers. I'm not saying Pfizer has done this, but ...

  4. Jonathan,

    Thanks for the analysis of how Klout measures conversation. It's interesting that Klout puts emphasis on RTs from Sanofi followers whereas I placed emphasis on RTs Sanofi has made. I don't think my way is the "wrong" way or that I am not looking at the "right things." RTing other tweets and using hash tags is, IMHO, a good Twitter practice that gets you more klout (lowercase "k") among your followers.

  5. John:

    Thanks for this clarification. You might be interested in an article we posted on the Path of the Blue Eye Project wiki focusing on social media influence and the impact of followers on potential content spread and impact here:

    Good conversation. . .

  6. Fard,

    Thanks. I'll have to take a look at that.

  7. PeerIndex is also an alternative to Klout...

  8. Jason Smith5:54 AM

    Pfizer’s sustainability profile has been published, detailing Pfizer’s environmental record and strategy, including carbon emissions, water usage and lethal gas emissions. check it out at:

  9. Jason,

    Thanks for contributing to the "conversation". NOT! Think how this would go over if was the first thing out of your mouth when meeting me at a cocktail party.


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