Pfizer has the strongest social media presence of any pharma, a WEGO Health/Digital Health Coalition poll suggests.

WEGO surveyed 356 of its Health Activists on health social media, and when asked to name a drug company they were aware of that used social media to engage patients, Pfizer got 32 mentions. It was followed by J&J (14 mentions), Novartis (13) and Sanofi (10).

Sanofi drew lavish praise for its efforts in diabetes through social media. One Health Activist commented that the company “is actively trying to involve the diabetes community through a fantastic social media manager.” WEGO CEO Jack Barrette said the company’s Twitter efforts were a model for the industry which is lagging on that front.

“With a company like Bank of America, all you have to do is hashtag something and you’ll get a response,” says Barrette. “We all know there’s reasons pharmas don’t respond, but then there’s companies like Sanofi that are doing a great job of it. For two years now, Sanofi has been having an active conversation with the community and the community is pointing at that, saying ‘Sanofi is doing what we’re asking you to do.’”

Another Health Activist commented that “You see Novartis pretty much everywhere – particularly in cancer-related discussions.” A third cited Endo’s as “a fantastic online community” with “articles, lessons, personal stories, self checks, tools, pain library of communication skills, knowledgeable base, self management skills, emotional coping, med safety.”

But in general, WEGO’s Health Activists, patients who are highly active online, said pharmas are falling down on patient engagement. The survey found concern about bad medical info online, with 61% agreeing that “there are many misconceptions, and a great deal of misinformation, about healthcare companies’ products” on general social media sites, and 47% agreeing with that statement for dedicated health social media sites. Eighty-two percent agreed that companies have a responsibility to correct misinformation in social media if they become aware of it, though 80% said that while companies should be held responsible for comments they make in social media, they shouldn’t be held responsible for others’ comments. Majorities agreed that healthcare company participation in social media should be regulated when firms leave comments on third-party sites (57%), sponsor social networking sites for a condition (58%), have editorial authority to change, alter and edit health and medical content (62%), pay bloggers to create content (64%) and pay for the creation of health and medical content to place in social media (66%).

Negative impressions of pharmas in online health communities outweighed positives 47% to 30%, but 23% said they were neutral on the question.

“It’s a little like a presidential race where there’s a substantial undecided vote,” said Barrette. In this contest, the drug industry is well behind, but could still close the gap.

The results of the survey were presented at yesterday’s Digital Pharma East conference.