What’s in a tweet? Sanofi's viral Roseanne retort draws kudos, followers and flak

Sanofi's tweet reply to comedian and actress Roseanne Barr blaming Ambien for her racist tweet went viral, earning the company both kudos and complaints. (Stand-Up Sucks)

Sanofi scored plenty of attention with its Twitter pushback against actress Roseanne Barr, who blamed its sleep aid Ambien for her own racist post. 187,000 likes, almost 70,000 retweets and hundreds of media mentions, for starters. But did that viral tweet boost Sanofi and the Ambien brand?

That's the postmortem question almost two weeks after @SanofiUS' retort, which featured the wry kicker, "racism is not a known side effect of any Sanofi medications."

To find some answers, WeGo Health queried its patient expert, influencer and advocate community on behalf of FiercePharma, and within a few days, WeGo got more than a dozen responses from a cross section of patient leaders. The verdict? Most gave the Sanofi post the thumbs up. In some cases, Sanofi even gained followers.

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“I think their response was perfect. I am now following Sanofi on Twitter,” said Christine, a patient leader in lupus.

She wasn’t the only one. David Goldsmith, chief strategy officer at WeGo, also used social listening tools to analyze Sanofi social media followers and sentiment pre- and post-tweet.

On Tuesday, May 29, the day before the tweet, @SanofiUS had 60,924 followers. By the end of the day Thursday, it had 64,049, a net gain of 3,125 followers. By comparison, the Sanofi U.S. handle gained a total of 467 followers in the entire month of April.

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The tweet also got people talking. On a typical day the Sanofi brand gets about 20 mentions on Twitter, Goldsmith said. On the day the tweet posted and the day after, Sanofi got 76 and 83 mentions, respectively.

“It’s tough to sum up what the (patient leader) responses mean, but what I found most notable is how passionate patient leaders are about how pharma companies convey their corporate values,” Goldsmith said in an email.

“Many patients viewed Sanofi’s tweet as a welcome departure from the standard, play-it-safe pablum they typically see out of the PR department," Goldsmith said, adding, "For some, it made Sanofi, a corporate behemoth, seem refreshingly human, at a time when corporations need to take a moral stand even at the risk of affecting their bottom line.”

The tweet also seemed to help people connect Sanofi to the Ambien brand, which several of the WeGo patient leaders noted in their comments.

Kerry, a patient leader in rare disease said, “Honestly, I think most of us had never even heard of Sanofi before this (we had heard of Ambien, though), so it gave name recognition to the company, not just the product (in a good way).”

Not every mention was positive, though WeGo noted the negatives were outliers. One patient said, while he didn’t see the connection himself, his conservative friends had told him the tweet was a way for pharma to get political and “assured (me) pharma was bashing traditional values.” Another patient, Tracy, a leader in rare disease, told WeGo thought it was a “bad move” by Sanofi, adding, “Patients take medicine because they have to, not because of the manufacturer’s ethical and political statements.”

About the negative comments, Goldsmith noted that pharma companies have to swim upstream against the industry's less-than-stellar public image overall. "[M]any patients remain deeply skeptical of pharma, which suggests that no matter how clever a company may be in seizing the moment, they still have not earned the trust of consumers,” he said.

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Public opinion and data tracker YouGov also picked up positive and negative associations for the Ambien brand after Sanofi’s tweet. On Tuesday, before Barr’s Ambien tweet, 6% of U.S. adults recalled talking about the prescription drug with friends or family members in the past two weeks. One week later, that increased to 15%.

But Barr’s negativity had another impact—negative association with the brand. When YouGov asked people if they had “heard anything positive or negative about the brand in the past two weeks—either through news, advertising, or word of mouth,” Ambien got a Buzz score of -15, which was notably lower than Ambien’s average of -1.

“Although the social media chatter was positive, and people praised Sanofi’s response, consumers likely associate Ambien with the overall negative story about Roseanne Barr’s racist tweets, hence the drop in Buzz (score),” said Estefania Sanchez, public relations specialist at YouGov, via email.