Pharma's getting savvier about social, with Boehringer, Bayer leading the pack

Bigger isn't necessarily better when it comes to social media. But bigger is certainly better than drugmakers were doing a couple of years ago. Some companies are actually getting it right now, Ogilvy Healthworld says.

A small group of drugmakers are "connecting the dots," according to Ogilvy's latest audit of pharma's social media efforts. They're getting patients, doctors and the media interested, delivering relevant info, inspiring actual conversations.

A very small group, actually. Just 5 companies out of 14 that Ogilvy investigated. We'll get to those later. First, let's consider the fact that pharma's social media presence has grown--a lot. Drugmakers have 1.3 million Facebook followers, Ogilvy says. The average number of pharma tweets per week has gone up by 530% since 2013. The number of Twitter followers has tripled, to 790,000. Four companies even have Vine accounts.

"We know that some pharma companies have been cautious in their approach to social media, but our report clearly demonstrates a dramatic and successful increase in activity," Rebecca Canvin, social media manager at Ogilvy Healthworld, said in a release.

Some have been more successful than others, of course. To go from size to success, Ogilvy looked at more stats--how many followers, how frequent the updates, how many social accounts, how often posts or tweets were shared. The auditors also gauged interest--how much did followers care about a company's social chatter?

Which company came out on top won't be a surprise to those who keep an eye on such things: Boehringer Ingelheim, already a leading presence in 2013, took that lead much further. The German drugmaker's score almost doubled that of its closest rival, Bayer. And Bayer, in turn, bested third-place Novartis ($NVS) by an easy margin.

The remaining two companies "connecting the dots" were Merck ($MRK) and Johnson & Johnson ($JNJ), both of which made big leaps from 2013. In fact, all of the top 5 multiplied their social presences significantly.

Four other drugmakers have made some strides and some connections since Ogilvy's last audit. The rest are still doing the social thing at a beginner level--broadcasting content without engaging much at all, the audit showed.

It's a good thing for them that Ogilvy analyzed their successful peers to come up with some tips for improvement. "[I]t's time to be brave, get personal, educate and integrate social media into their wider marketing strategy," Canvin said.

But why? As the current experts at Boehringer told Ogilvy, the conversation is already out there. "People are talking about you, whether you're active or not," said Patricia Alves, Boehringer's social media and community manager. "Social media gives you the opportunity to engage in that conversation, to give your position and your statement, and maybe then hopefully change the opinion of one person or two."

- check out the Ogilvy Healthworld statement

Special Report: Top 10 pharma companies in social media - Boehringer - Bayer - Novartis - Merck - J&J