Want to score on social, pharma? Follow Sanofi's lead, experts say

With a quick and witty tweet response to an accusation by actress Roseanne Barr, Sanofi lept into a cultural conversation, earning praise from both consumers and the industry. (Sanofi)

Sanofi could have just let it go. When actress Roseanne Barr blamed its sleep aid Ambien for a racist post, the pharma company could have simply ignored it and let the Twitterverse call out the inaccuracy. Instead, Sanofi seized the moment and responded with a pithy, yet relevant and product-accurate tweet response that wryly noted: “While all pharmaceutical treatments have side effects, racism is not a known side effect of any Sanofi medication.”

That sort of real-time social media response isn't easy to pull off effectively. Consumer brands like Moon Pie, Wendy's and Oreo do it regularly, but there are also plenty of big brand social media flops to make companies think twice about going for the clever retort.

Which makes Sanofi’s leap even more significant: It's a regulated pharma company that has to send its messaging through compliance reviews. But Sanofi’s U.S. communication team moved fast enough to write, vet and post the response within hours of the original tweet, stepping into the cultural conversation as it happened.

Social media experts applauded and consumers responded—the post has been retweeted 68,800 times and liked by 186,000 accounts. It also garnered more than 6,100 comments with many people replying  “thank you,” “well done” or posting congratulatory memes. The previous top performing post from @SanofiUS garnered 78 retweets and 241 likes.

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Pharma marketing insiders, meanwhile, praised Sanofi for its message, timing and boost to pharma social media credibility overall.

Julie Hurvitz Aliaga, vice president of social media at CMI/Compas said via email, “They tackled it before it had an opportunity to be an issue, educated about their drug and what it does not do, and won praise for doing so—as being a company who is not going to sit back and watch—but take action to educate.”

The balance of humor and seriousness was important, noted Klick Health’s senior director of social practice Brad Einarsen in a blog post: “The dry wit that infuses the tweet itself is fantastically balanced. There are many very serious issues surrounding these events, and we cannot lose sight of that, but the understated facts really pull off the corporate message and provide just the right amount of spark for others on Twitter to carry it along.”

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Wendy Blackburn, vice president at healthcare and pharma agency Intouch Solutions, added her own kudos and hope for the industry: “Good for Sanofi for standing up and speaking out. I applaud their ability to react with swift action. Done the right way, we’d all like to see more of this from pharma.”

For pharma companies that might be interested in doing that, she offered a few tips. Companies should listen especially for well-known people or celebrity mentions of their brands because whether positive or negative, those get a lot of attention on social media. She also advised setting up an action plan so that the company can act quickly in those moments. And finally, just do it.

“Respond as immediately as possible. Current events move too quickly. Tomorrow is too late,” Blackburn said.