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Communicating CSR on Social Media: The Case of Pfizer’s Social Media Communications in Europe

Corporate Social Responsibility in the Digital Age

ISBN: 978-1-78441-582-2, eISBN: 978-1-78441-581-5

Publication date: 28 March 2015



Social media usage is becoming ubiquitous across the world and communicators, either corporate, independent or activist are increasingly adopting the new medium. This chapter focuses on the uses of social media for marketing communications, in particular for public relations and corporate social responsibility (CSR) by Pfizer’s European offices. In doing so it evaluates the relationship between public relations and CSR as well as reviews some of the uses of social media for healthcare communications and CSR.


Using a deductive approach and a methodology that combines qualitative content analysis aimed at identifying communication themes and social media audits on brand integration and communication coherence, this chapter aims to identify how Pfizer’s European offices use social media to communicate online.

To establish the corporate line and branding general guidelines for Pfizer, we have recorded from the company’s official website ( its corporate overview and corporate responsibility information, embedded into the ‘About us’ section of the website. From the home page, social media links were then sought. To ensure all links were recorded the researchers used two gateways, one using the social media links on the website and one through each country’s website and their social media links on their home page. The Pfizer official accounts were excluded from this analysis, the interest being on the country uses of social media and not Pfizer’s official general channels.

General traffic and engagement data automatically reported by each social media platforms such as number of tweets, followers, fans, and number of views were recorded manually. For more insight into Twitter activity FollerMe was then used to capture and record each account’s most recent activity as it enabled the discovery of each account’s creation date and the most frequently used words and hashtags in its tweets. It also helped assess the levels of performance of each country on Twitter by looking at the reported ratios of replies, mentions, tweets with links, hashtags or media to the last 100 tweets sent from the each account. For Facebook and YouTube data, only the publicly reported data was recorded. The text in the Twitter bios and about sections was also recorded and compared with the company’s corporate and CSR descriptions included on the main website.


Out of the 20 countries that do have a Pfizer country office, only 10 of them have a social media presence. Turkey and Spain have four social media channels each and Belgium has three. All the other countries are present on only one social media platform. They show an overall integration and coordination of messages with themes mirrored from one platform to another. The channels also show an overall compliance and consistency with the brand, most of them displaying bespoke backgrounds, bios and links to the country website.

When it comes to social media integration, the accounts are poorly integrated and interlinked. Moreover, although social media provides a platform for dialogue, two out of the three platforms analysed have very little user interaction. This high concern for message control can be indicative of a variety of elements: a lack of certainty/security in handling social media, a risk-averse attitude towards social media, a lack of training of staff about how to handle social media or perhaps a lack of resources.

The platforms used have all different functions and address different target audiences. YouTube proves to excel as a public information/CSR medium for the general public, the most popular content fitting into those categories. Twitter is a corporate communications environment by excellence, a true mouth-piece of the organization. Finally, Facebook is Pfizer’s user engagement environment but within Pfizer’s own comfort and rules, the presence of a policy document making the boundaries of communication very clear.

Research limitations/implications

Although looking only at one company and its social media communication practices and although it uses only publicly reported data, this chapter raises a variety of questions about the use of social media by big, multinational corporations, the resources they allocate and the amount to which they perceive these channels as anything more than just another company mouth-piece. It also raises questions about how companies choose to portray themselves on social media in comparison to joining conversations, commenting on current trends and celebrating their partners and employees. Perhaps future research could explore these aspects in more depth.

Practical implications and originality/value

Pfizer who declares itself the ‘world’s largest research-based pharmaceutical company’ is currently among the most influential companies in the world, occupying currently the 148th position in the Global Fortune 500 list. Due to its position within the industry, Pfizer has been the subject of previous research materials including marketing and health communications; however, no study yet has analysed Pfizer’s uses of social media. By analysing the social media communications of Pfizer in Europe and by pointing to the inconsistencies between country accounts, this chapter raises further questions about social media strategy and its implementation by corporations.


Adi, A. and Grigore, G. (2015), "Communicating CSR on Social Media: The Case of Pfizer’s Social Media Communications in Europe", Corporate Social Responsibility in the Digital Age (Developments in Corporate Governance and Responsibility, Vol. 7), Emerald Group Publishing Limited, Leeds, pp. 143-163.



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