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First in Class

The pharma industry has been a slow adopter of social media – an issue The Medicine Maker covered back in 2014 (1). Now, two pharma companies, GlaxoSmithKline and Bayer, have come first and second, respectively, in a ranking of online corporate performance. What happened?

The annual Index of Online Excellence, produced by Bowen Craggs & Co, a research and consultancy group specializing in corporate communications, for the last 12 years, covers all online corporate communications channels – websites, social media, and apps. The final list is drawn from the Bowen Craggs subscriber database, and contains scores and best practice from more than 100 global companies.

“We created this ranking for one clear reason: to identify best practice in all areas of online corporate communications, so companies can learn from it,” says Scott Payton, Managing Partner of Bowen Craggs & Co.

The last time a pharma company came in at number one was almost 10 years ago – Roche in 2009. And Roche remains a strong contender, making number eight in 2018. Does this mean the tide is turning for pharma? The authors of the Bowen Craggs report think so; signs point to a change in larger companies who have historically failed to allocate adequate resources to their online presence – a mistake, says Payton.

“I believe that a corporate website is the most powerful and important ‘publication’ that any company has in terms of readership, global reach, size and influence. For pharma companies, reputation management is a business-critical issue. And a strong online presence is the most powerful tool for safeguarding and boosting a pharma company’s reputation in the world at large,” says Payton. “As a general rule, companies that take reputation management seriously invest time, thought and money into online corporate communications – and have the best online estates.”

So what makes for a truly excellent online presence? Bowen Craggs judges companies across eight metrics:

  1. Construction: covering navigation, ease of user orientation, integration, quality of internal search engine and Google visibility
  2. Message: covering strength of home page, visual impact, internationalism and quality of company information
  3. Contact provisions: covering the prominence and quality of phone, email and social media contact points for all audience groups online – as well as “self-service provisions” like FAQs 
  4. Serving society: covering corporate governance information, service for CSR professionals and reputation-building material as a whole
  5. Serving investors: covering service for analysts who follow the company, service for those researching it, and private investors
  6. Serving media professionals: covering quality of the press release provision, press contacts, press briefing materials and image library
  7. Serving jobseekers
  8. Serving customers

Twenty-six sub-metrics are also taken into account. And to be in with a chance of a top spot on the final list, companies must excel in all areas – easier said than done. According to Bowen Craggs, for large multinational companies, including those in the pharma sector, the key to an effective online presence is to have a well-resourced central web and social media team with the mandate – and budget – to coordinate global online corporate communications across all the channels used.

“One common mistake is to invest a load of money into a corporate website redesign, and then fail to manage and refine the shiny new site properly on an ongoing basis,” explains Payton. “Another common mistake is to fail to manage the corporate website and social media channels in a joined-up way. Many companies have one team managing their corporate website, and a separate one managing social media channels. This is a recipe for fragmentation and duplication. Messages become garbled and money is wasted.”

Download the full ranking.

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  1. S Sutton, C Barker, “Liking Social Pharma”, The Medicine Maker, 0214, 21–27 (2014). Available at:
  2. Bowen Craggs & Co., “Index of Online Excellence 2018”, (2018). Available at: Accessed March 8, 2018.
About the Author
Roisin McGuigan

I have an extensive academic background in the life sciences, having studied forensic biology and human medical genetics in my time at Strathclyde and Glasgow Universities. My research, data presentation and bioinformatics skills plus my ‘wet lab’ experience have been a superb grounding for my role as a Deputy Editor at Texere Publishing. The job allows me to utilize my hard-learned academic skills and experience in my current position within an exciting and contemporary publishing company.

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