Twitter habits of pharmaceutical companies

As more and more pharmaceutical companies dip their toes into social media, one of the issues that surfaces regularly is this: do you put someONE in charge of a blog and/or Twitter account, or do you make it more anonymous? Or something else?

I’ve always advocated that pharma companies should use social networks to humanize their companies, which means employing human faces and voices – having real, authentic, and effective communicators working these channels. People. Folks you can relate to meet, meet at a conference, carry on backchannel discussions with, etc.

J&J has been very effective with this; Marc Monseau has served effectively as the “voice” of J&J in the socialsphere. Recently, Pfizer (@pfizer_news on Twitter) has updated its Twitter account to include a face and a name – Jennifer Kokell, self-identified as tweeting from Global Corporate Media Relations in NYC. Jennifer works with Ray Kerins, who has been aggressively shaking up the Communications practices at Pfizer, including a healthy push into social media.

But the question comes up – what if a company’s social media presence is too dependent on one person? And here the fine line must be walked – on the one hand, social media is all about individuals and personality and dialogue between people – but companies are not one person. And people move on.

By and large, people don’t want another nameless, faceless monolithic channel in social media – some unnamed drone churning out one-way communications in the name of “the company” who has about as much relational value as a dead fish. So – how to strike the balance?

Here’s one idea for larger companies – have a team presence for your blog and Twitter account. Multiple people – say, 3 or 4 – who contribute posts and tweets about a cross-section of the company’s activities. These would be real people with names, pictures, and off-line appearances – but the team approach would reflect the reality that a company IS made up of diverse individuals, and would also make the social media presence less dependent on a solo individual (reflecting the hit-by-a-bus reality of the non-expendable individual). While J&J’s social presence is spearheaded by Marc Monseau, their corporate blog actually has other contributing authors.

That would be one approach for an “official” social media presence. What about “unofficial” social media representatives? I like what is happening at Novartis, where various individuals such as Brad Pendergraph, Colin Foster, Mark Davis, Erik Hawkinson, Ben Atkins and others tweet as professional and accessible human beings who work at Novartis (thus achieving some humanizing of the company) but who have a unique presence reflecting their personal interests and professional perspectives. In fact, with Novartis, the “unofficial” social media presence has far outstripped progress on its “official” corporate social media footprint.

We’re all still on the learning curve with this stuff and companies are experimenting and evolving. What’s your take? One? Many? None? How can a company project humanity and authenticity without too much solo-representative risk?

Steve Woodruff is Founder and President of Impactiviti.

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