Thursday, April 22, 2010

The Impact of “Tweetvertising” on the ePharma Space

by Ross Fetterolf
SVP, Brand Strategy and Channel Innovation, Ignite Health

Advertising has come to Twitter in the form of “promoted tweets,” and copywriters everywhere will now set their sights on new 140 character messages that drive consumers to action. We’ll examine what the experts think this means for the future of advertising, as well as the basic rules and potential limitations of this new medium, and then turn our attention to what impact this could have on the ePharma space. Ultimately, we’ll reveal that this new, streamlined successor to the mighty PPC ad could be the breakthrough format that makes our brands part of the dialogue.


A wide range of pundits has weighed in on what Tweetvertising could mean for the popular start-up. From the New York Times, who highlights the advertisers who will be part of this inaugural crew (it’s no coincidence that the initial list is made up mostly of hip retailers and caffeine purveyors) and the concept of letting businesses, “insert themselves into the stream of real-life conversations of Twitter,” to
the business community, that gets to the heart of why companies advertise (to “help them achieve business objectives”), to Twitter itself, where we learn about how this advertising model came to be, why it’s happening now (it was their mission to “optimize for value before profit”), and the rules of this “simple service.”

The above “promoted tweet” from Starbucks, which is being offered up as the standard, speaks volumes in terms of the actual potential for this medium. In the span of a simple tweet, they manage to encapsulate the essence of advertising while providing a strong message (ditch your paper cup), an equally strong offer (free coffee on 4/15), and a link for more info (with the capability for every click to be measured). Better still, this ad manages to transcend even the untouchable PPC ad in its ability to, with one click of the “retweet” feature, be infinitely sharable within your extended network. The future of advertising has been distilled down to its purest and most actionable form.

Key Findings

Here are some key details about promoted tweets from this wide spectrum of sources:

  • “Promoted tweets” will initially appear when people search for particular terms and be clearly labeled as “promoted”

  • A single promoted tweet will appear alongside search results

  • The tweet will appear as long as it demonstrates “resonance” with the audience by being clicked on or re-tweeted

  • Twitter won’t charge companies whose sponsored tweets don’t generate high resonance, but tweets with high resonance scores will likely pay price premiums

  • Later these promoted tweets will find their way into user feeds both on and a vast number of services that access Twitter (like TweetDeck, TwitterBerry, and Tweetie)

Based on this basic list of details, here are a few potential limitations that could impact Pharma’s adoption of this new medium:

  • One Click Rule 2.0
    o Not again – another medium that will try the boundaries of this now infamous “guideline.” Who is going to be the first Pharma to test the compliance of branded tweets run on disease search terms?

  • Establishing Your Brand’s Twitter Voice
    o Tweets showcase a person’s voice, while many PPC ads just showcase a call to action. Are you ready to decide what your brand’s voice should be in this medium? Starbucks clearly is….

Promoted Tweets vs. Comprehensive Twitter Strategy
We’ve gotten comfortable with the PPC ad over the past decade, and the reality is nobody is following the dramatic arc of your PPC efforts on Google. Do you just want to test the unexplored waters with a tweet or two, or are you committed to creating a larger communication plan for your messages, and Twitter in general?

Potential Actions for Pharma

Given the details and potential limitations of this new ad model, what’s an ePharma marketer to do next? Here are a few considerations regarding how this offering could transform the future of Pharma brand and social media planning:

1) Utilize promoted tweets as a way to get brand offers and information out to your users

This concept of the “resonance” of promoted tweets is a novel one, which I will simplify as follows: create offers that provide value to your potential customers, or your offers go away. While I know the concept of a “free trial offer” or “free device” doesn’t apply to all brands, this approach alone could make Pharma sponsored tweets popular. Product offers would have a great opportunity to be re-tweeted, since it’s clear that everyone likes to pass on the savings. (Note to my Ignite colleagues, please stop sending me e-mail discounts for Starwood Hotels. So what if I travel a lot?) And they could even result in the fulfillment of offers via the Smartphone device (where we know a lot of users are interacting with Twitter), as users can click through to coupon codes that could be presented at the point of sale.

To follow through on this concept, imagine the simplicity and impact of seeing this statement when you picked up your next prescription or visited the website of a product you are taking: “follow us on Twitter for money saving offers.” This platform could be utilized to power the next opportunity:

2) Launch a Twitter account for your brand

Brand Twitter accounts, traditionally ignored by Pharma in favor of corporate accounts or disease education efforts, would now gain relevance and could utilize “promoted tweets” as a way to build a strong following. Someday I will find the time to do an analysis of Pharma Twitter account followers, and I’m guessing that this will reveal that many followers of Pharma Twitter accounts are actually Pharma and Agency people, not the patients at whom a lot of these efforts are aimed. If a brand Twitter account is utilized to push out coupons and offers, it also presents the opportunity to present education and resources to an engaged audience, thereby helping users be more successful with your brand (new term – Twitter Relationship Management, TRM?). And yes, of course you could throw in the occasional safety-focused tweet to provide a healthy sense of balance and FDA friendliness.

3) Leverage promoted tweets to help your ranking on search engines

While I consider myself a pretty avid Twitter user (check out @DigitalBulldog to judge for yourself), I can probably count on one hand the amount of times I have actually used the Twitter search feature to find something. But recent information [link to:] from Twitter’s Chrip development conference tells us that there are almost 600 million searches per day on Twitter. Top Twitter search lists
reveal that a large portion of this search activity is dedicated to celebrities, gossip, and entertainment (evidenced by “Twilight” being the top searched term about one year ago).

My instincts tell me that for more serious business like health, people will use Google (sorry Bing) to search for information; a real opportunity for Pharma therefore will be for their “promoted tweets” to start making their way into true Google search results listings, which seem to be pulling in tweets with much more regularity. This appears to be entirely achievable through the principles of the retweet, and when performing a search for “Starbucks” on Google you still see people tweeting about the 4/15 free coffee offer being indexed in the Twitter feed that is pulled into search results. Well, what if coffee didn’t really do it for you as much as an alertness agent like Nuvigil; couldn’t this same offer permanently embed itself within the “latest results” section of a search on “sleepiness”?


Like all new technologies, the “promoted tweets” we have seen starting to show up recently within search results are but a 1.0 version of what will likely evolve over time. These new tweets have the potential to change the way we view Twitter in the same way that AdWords transformed Google from a stark search site with a cool logo to one of the most powerful companies in the world. For Pharma this represents another unique opportunity for consumers to develop a relationship with our brands, be it in the form of brand offers that serve up savings and education, a branded Twitter outpost that provides critical brand updates, or simply as another method for getting brand information to show up on the first page of classic search results. All these directions deliver us one step closer to the new goal of advertising in the Web 2.0 world - having our brands be an important part of the dialogue.

buzz this