Merck ($MRK) launched itself into social media in September 2011 and within two months had a controversy on its hands. Apparently, when it began posting on facebook.com/Merck, the company had inadvertently taken over a Facebook page run by the German company Merck KGaA. The latter had inked a deal for the page in 2010, but Facebook let Merck & Co. move in. Facebook ($FB) later apologized for its "administrative error" and eventually, the two Mercks came to an agreement. The U.S.-based drugmaker moved off to another home, facebook.com/MerckBeWell.
|This screenshot from Merck's Facebook page invites visitors to learn more about clinical trials on Merck's website.|
Overall, Merck & Co. is a relative latecomer to social media. Its first YouTube video went up just 9 months ago, and with just a bit over two years on Facebook and Twitter, the company has built up a small audience so far. So, it's no surprise that IMS Health found Merck commands a smaller audience and has less reach on social media. With a smaller number of fans and followers, there are fewer people to share on Facebook--just 8.2 per post, on average--and fewer to click the site's ubiquitous "Like" button (37.3 per).
Merck does better on Twitter ($TWTR), with 5.9 retweets per tweet, a result topped only by Johnson & Johnson ($JNJ). It's getting into the conversation on Twitter, too, at least somewhat, with 0.3 replies per tweet. The company faces a conundrum, however, because its Twitter stream has attracted a few scoffers. Compassionate-use campaigners and disgruntled patients are jumping in, too, and replying to their tweets can be a touchy business. The company's Merck for Mothers Facebook page has a better time of it, with more conversation and less trolling.
Merck seems most comfortable using social media for business purposes rather than for communicating with the public. Its LinkedIn ($LNKD) page has more than a quarter of a million followers, and they're engaged. The company's messages touch off conversation, and it's a rare post that doesn't garner 100-plus likes. In 2012, the company teamed up with PatientsLikeMe, a self-contained network for patients with various conditions, to collect and analyze information from patients with psoriasis. The hope is to better understand patients' needs so that researchers can better target their development projects.
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