What does Twitter's 280 characters mean for pharma?

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Photo credit: @GSKUS

Look up the hashtag #twitter280, and you will see that Twitter's new character limit from 140 to 280 characters has its enthusiasts and critics, to put it mildly. Italian football club AS Roma exclaimed that it could finally list all the seasons Francesco Totti played for their club, while Indy car driver Spencer Pigot commented that the change makes him feel like he's reading a novel on the platform. Others said that they'd prefer an “edit” function more than anything else.

Pharma was similarly split on the pros and cons. GSK, for its part, tweeted, “Some of us here at #GSK are excited about #twitter280. Others? Not so much. (Fingers crossed for an edit option in the future...).”

Potential benefits include better organization and classification through the use of more hashtags, extra real estate for fair balance, and the ability to provide more personable customer service.

See also: Twitter launches DM cards for brands

“People expect an answer within 30 minutes and pharma often is not there, and they can only offer short answers,” said Ryan Billings, senior director of digital innovation at Amag Pharmaceuticals.

Added Andrew Grojean, social media manager at Intouch Solutions, “Increased characters allows pharma more freedom to use the platform and remain compliant, while allowing for a better user experience.”

Branded handles such as @GILENYAGoUSOnly,  @COSENTYXUSOnly, and @ELOCTATE offer customer service via Twitter, but longer conversations are often moved to their call centers, noted Mary Ann Belliveau, Twitter's national health and wellness director.

See also: 8 ways for pharma to improve the way it uses Twitter

Amag currently does not have a corporate handle on Twitter, but is present on the platform via CEO William Heiden's Twitter account, its subsidiary Cord Blood Registry, and the utilization of “Ads Without Profiles,” which allows companies to reach their Twitter audiences without managing a Twitter page. Thus to Billings, what's most essential is having the right infrastructure in place, especially community-management processes and monitoring guidelines.

The drugmaker, which has transitioned from being HCP-facing to more consumer-facing through its acquisition of retail products in women's therapy, is evaluating the right channels to reach post-menopausal women and expectant mothers - both highly active audiences on digital platforms. Still, as Billings noted, these audiences tend to be more active on Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest.

“From an HCP perspective, there's so much potential there,” he explained. “A lot of our speakers and KOLs that we engage with have active Twitter presences. But while the physicians are there, the industry has been reluctant to utilize them as thought leaders on the platform.” That, he added, has more to do with getting clear and regular guidance from the FDA, which has proven a challenge.

See also: Which drugmakers have the healthiest presence on social media?

Belliveau added that drugmakers remain most likely to incorporate video, images, and website cards in their Twitter dispatches.“Customers are not really promoting text tweets per se, so the additional characters won't really have much of an impact as far as I can tell,” she said.

Twitter still might not be an ideal platform for many pharma brands, but the additional characters should allow users to include more information (such as fair balance and sponsor information) and provide more customer service.

“This is exciting for the industry, but I'm kind of worried about Twitter because what makes it different is the brevity, the quick back-and-forth,” Billings said. “Is Twitter going to become more of a Tumblr medium? Is this going to inhibit conversation, because there's less reason for someone to ask a follow-up question? I'm interested in how it will help in terms of engagement.”

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