Social Media Trends in the Pharmaceutical Industry

7 Social Media Trends in the Pharmaceutical Industry

Many pharmaceutical companies have been cautious about their social media presence. However, that’s no surprise given the advertising restrictions and potential minefields of discussing prescription medicine in an uncontrolled environment. This report looks at how 16 companies have embraced social media and the trends that have emerged in the industry over the last five years.

The companies analyzed in this report across Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, LinkedIn and Pinterest are:

All data and charts have been sourced from the Unmetric Analyze Social Intelligence Platform

Pharmaceutical Landscape on Social Media

Due to the restrictions imposed upon the industry by the FDA, we found that pharmaceutical companies have split their social media presence into four independent silos:

Where is the Growth?

On Facebook, pharmaceutical companies saw growth from both Corporate pages and Career pages. The high growth of the Careers pages is perhaps an indicator of the low number of total Fans these pages have. As for the Corporate pages, the high growth rate suggests that this silo was a very important channel for pharma brands in 2016.

On Twitter, pharmaceutical companies struggled to increase Follower growth throughout 2016. The Branded portals’ handles were the biggest drivers of Follower growth mostly due to the comparatively low number of Followers. Just like on Facebook, the OTC Brand handles didn’t register any significant growth. This could be due to companies refocusing their efforts in other silos.

Where’s the Effort and Return?

On Unmetric Discover, a searchable database of over 500,000,000 pieces of brand content, the following topics surfaced as the most popular talking points for pharmaceutical companies.


113,000 Posts, Tweets & Pins

GSK’s promoted post about meningococcal disease was the most shared healthcare-related post by the 16 pharmaceutical companies in this report.


95,500 Posts, Tweets & Pins

MerckEngage’s promoted post about a healthy recipe was the most shared nutrition-related post out of the 16 pharmaceutical companies included in this report.


What You Need to Know About the Pharmaceutical Industry on Social Media

1. Pharmaceutical Companies are Producing Less Content

Across social networks, pharmaceutical companies have been publishing less social media content. Since 2014, there has been a 36% drop in the amount of content published.

  1. Pharmaceutical Career portals bucked the trend and published 37% more content in 2016 compared to 2013
  2. Pfizer published 332% more content on its Corporate Facebook page in 2016 when compared to 2013

2. Video Content is on the Rise

Videos now account for 16% of all content published by pharmaceutical companies on Facebook. This transition mirrors what is happening in other industries across Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. As brands compete for attention, videos provide the means to capture it.

  1. Boehringer Ingelheim published the most videos in 2016 on Facebook, 134 in total
  2. OTC Brand Facebook pages accounted for the highest percentage of video content with 20% of posts being videos

3. Facebook Engagement is on the Rise

Though the volume of content published by pharma companies on Facebook has fallen year-on-year, the average interactions per post has been increasing. The biggest driver of this growth has been from Likes, which suggests paid promotion is largely responsible for the increase.

Note – This analysis doesn’t include dark posts. Only publicly viewable posts were considered for the study.

  1. There is zero correlation between more posts and higher engagement. Novo Nordisk posted the second least amount of posts but had the second highest total interactions
  2. Pfizer published more than twice the amount of content on Facebook than all other pharmaceutical companies in 2016 but had lower total interactions than most other companies

4. More Content is Being Promoted on Facebook

The percentage of Facebook posts being promoted by pharmaceutical companies increased from 10% to 14% from Q1 to Q4 in 2016. This, in addition to the rise in the number of videos being published, has helped the pharmaceutical industry generate higher engagement from fewer posts.

  1. Novo Nordisk was the most likely to promote its content – 36% of its posts were promoted. Pfizer promoted less than 1% of their content
  2. Branded portals were most likely to promote their content with an average of 40% of content being promoted. Career profiles were least likely to have promoted content

5. OTC Brand Profiles are Declining

In 2013 and 2014, pharmaceutical companies appeared to pin their hopes of a strong social media presence on OTC brands. However, in 2016, there was a steep decline in the amount of public content being produced by these profiles along with a similar drop in engagement.

The decline in content could be due to the increase in ‘dark posts’ that brands can publish on Facebook. These posts do not appear on the brand’s Facebook page and were not considered for this analysis.

  1. Some OTC brands that bucked the trend are Tums (GSK), Flonase (GSK) and NEXIUM (AstraZeneca). Together these brands accounted for 72% of all OTC Brand interactions
  2. Motrin (J&J) published less than one post per month on average in 2016 but still managed to generate 13 times more engagement than Midol (Bayer)

6. Companies Reply to Fewer Tweets than Ever

Pharmaceutical companies appear to be more reluctant than ever to get involved in conversations on Twitter. The largest decline has come from the OTC brand handles where brands are now highly unlikely to reply to user tweets.

  1. Eli Lilly remains one of the only brands to actively engage its audience with more than double the number of replies compared to any other brand
  2. Allergan and Sanofi are the least likely to reply to any tweet, Allergan replied to just two tweets in the whole of 2016

7. Companies were Active Across Social Networks

Pharmaceutical companies are active on five out of six social networks with the vast majority of companies preferring Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook and YouTube. Twitter and LinkedIn are the most preferred social networks with a 100% presence. Only seven out of 16 companies have a presence on Instagram, making it the least preferred social network.

  1. Bayer & Boehringer Ingelheim are the most social pharmaceutical companies with an active presence across all six social networks
  2. Allergan is the least active pharmaceutical company on social media with its presence limited to just Twitter and LinkedIn