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Big Pharma companies have poor online presence in local markets

The news: The world’s 25 largest pharmaceutical companies all have global corporate websites, but many are lacking country-specific sites and their use of social media outside of Facebook is subpar, per the 2023 Worldcom Digital Health Monitor report.

  • This is the third global pharma report from Worldcom Public Relations Group, which ran similar studies in 2018 and 2020. Changes in methodology prevent direct comparisons with earlier findings.
  • 25 companies were selected based on their global reputation, size, and geographic presence in 25 countries, from Australia and China to the US and Vietnam.

Cut to the chase: Companies were ranked across 11 digital channels, including apps, blogs, corporate and local company websites, and social media sites.

  • The top five companies in 2023 are Sanofi, Novartis, Roche, Bayer (pharmaceuticals division), and Pfizer.
  • The bottom five companies are Organon, UCB, Eisai, Gilead Sciences, and Lonza.

Topline findings:

  • Websites: All 25 companies have a global corporate website, but they don’t have a local online presence in every country. The average number of local sites per company is 20 out of the 25 countries examined.
  • Blogs: All but two companies have a global blog, but local blogs are hard to find. Sanofi had the most local blogs while Lonza had none.
  • Apps: All companies have international apps, while fewer have country-specific apps. Pfizer, Janssen, Novartis, Novo Nordisk, AbbVie, and Takeda Pharmaceuticals have at least 11 local apps available.

Social media channels:

  • Facebook: All companies but two (Astellas and Merck) have international FB accounts. But the lack of many local FB accounts led Worldcom to say that the channel is only being used to 10% of its potential.
  • Twitter: All companies but Astellas have international Twitter accounts.
  • LinkedIn: Every company has a global account but country-specific pages and local language content isn’t common.
  • YouTube: Local YouTube accounts are available in just a few countries and the same is true for other channels with a visual focus, like Instagram and Pinterest.
  • TikTok: “TikTok isn’t used at all,” per the report, which adds that pharma companies may be missing opportunities to engage younger generations.

Our take: We’re taking these findings with a grain of salt.

Big Pharma companies aren’t very different from other multinationals, in that their global presence online is essential. Building trust is key for these sites, blogs, and apps.

But country-specific websites and social media efforts require local staff and constant attention to keep local audiences engaged. And local sites must adhere to local regulations around consumer and patient data privacy, among other issues.

As for social media usage, Big Pharma has been burned before. Last fall, Eli Lilly was the target of a fake Twitter account that sent its stock price tumbling. Since Elon Musk’s takeover as CEO, brands and advertisers across all industries are weighing the pros and cons of keeping a presence there. TikTok presents similar challenges, as bans are spreading worldwide.

This article originally appeared in Insider Intelligence's Digital Health Briefing—a daily recap of top stories reshaping the healthcare industry. Subscribe to have more hard-hitting takeaways delivered to your inbox daily.