Johnson & Johnson on Twitter

As some pharmaceutical companies wonder whether they should be using new tools like Twitter to engage with customers and stakeholders online, there is one communications pioneer who continues to lead the way in digital engagement.

Last year we wrote about Johnson & Johnson’s corporate blog JNJBTW and Marc Monseau, a director of communications with Johnson & Johnson, shared how important he felt it was to continue to develop relationships with those you engage online.

Active engagement?

It’s no surprise then to find that Marc is now well ahead of many other communicators in the world of pharmaceuticals when it comes to developing new digital channels. His Twitter profile, @JNJComm, is followed by over 2,000 people.

JNJComm on Twitter

But it’s not just follower numbers that indicate the level of engagement on Twitter (most of the major pharmaceuticals that are on Twitter have a similar number of followers). What’s different (for pharma) about Marc’s Twitter profile is his active engagement with other Twitter users. Marc’s tweets (the short bursts of conversation amongst Twitter users) are seasoned with ‘@’ (messages sent publicly to another person on Twitter) and ‘RT’ (‘re-tweeting’ or sharing another Twitter user’s comments).

Now, if you are a business leader or communicator in a pharmaceutical company you might be unnerved by what are clearly public, two-way conversations between pharma and stakeholders anywhere in the world, online.

In the highly-regulated world of pharmaceutical communications, how does Marc Monseau sleep at night? Does he worry about adverse event reporting? I recently had a conversation with Marc and he told me why Twitter has not changed the way Johnson & Johnson communicates.

The human face of Johnson & Johnson

One of the unique aspects about Marc’s Twitter profile is that he openly represents Johnson & Johnson without losing his personal identity. This might not sound particularly groundbreaking; yet most pharmaceutical corporate Twitter profiles are stripped of personal identity, whilst most pharmaceutical communicators use Twitter for personal, non-corporate communication only and are cautious about mentioning their pharmaceutical employer.

Handling Adverse Events in Twitter

I suggested to Marc that his personal approach to Johnson & Johnson’s Twitter profile could make him the recipient of adverse event reporting, and I wondered whether he worries about that. His response was refreshingly simple, pointing out that that the way adverse events would be handled via Twitter is no different to any other communications channel.

“If you were to reply to me or tweet me with an adverse event, or something similar, I would treat it in the same way as if you called me, or sent me a letter, or email. I would report it in the same way as we have always done.

“At Johnson & Johnson we have had a website allowing people to respond, and we collect those responses and plug them in to our adverse event reporting system.

“What I do do as well, if I’m tracking or watching Twitter and I come across something that could be perceived to be an adverse event with one of our products, just like if I was reading the newspaper I would funnel that to people in our organisation who handle adverse event reporting.

“It’s something we’re trying to come to grips with overall but where I sit we’re treating this just like any other medium.”

A public conversation

This sounds simple enough. But I still wondered whether Marc felt nervous about the fact that thanks to Twitter, all this could happen in public? When I commented that with Twitter, there’s a public conversation happening, Marc explained how he would handle adverse event reporting in Twitter. Interestingly, he also pointed out that he has not yet received a direct adverse event report by tweet:

“I have to tell you that that’s not happened to me yet, where someone tweeted me with an adverse event. If that did, I would either DM them [a private Direct Message sent to another Twitter user], or openly tweet them and refer them back to our reporting system.”

A duty to be where people are communicating

If this sounds like a simple approach, it is. Marc doesn’t see Twitter as something that has changed the rules of communication:

“We’ve just tried to apply some of the same standards and practices we’ve always had in place.”

But Marc does feel that tools like Twitter have to change the way those rules are applied – that Johnson & Johnson have a duty to evolve their channels:

“There’s a wider net that’s been cast; there’s a public conversation. We have an obligation to be in a place where people are communicating.”

Lessons from outside of pharma?

Marc pointed out to me that whilst many people see Johnson & Johnson as a pharmaceutical company, pharmaceuticals is just one piece of the whole business. He said that along with other areas such as their consumer business and medical devices business, there is an interesting mix in the company as a whole. I asked him if this has helped Johnson & Johnson to see things in a different way to pure pharmaceutical companies. I’ll leave the last words to Marc:

“Well our focus has always been on the consumer,
perhaps that’s why.”

Daniel Ghinn

Daniel Ghinn is Editor of Healthcare Engagement Strategy and CEO of Creation Healthcare, the online market research consultancy for healthcare. He is a prolific writer and speaker on emerging trends healthcare engagement in the digital age.