Senate HELP Committee Hearing on Moderna Vaccine Pricing: Defining and Scoring Participants in the Social Conversation

img featured Senate HELP Committee Hearing on Moderna Vaccine Pricing Defining and Scoring Participants in the Social Conversation r1

Members of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) questioned Moderna CEO Stephane Bancel on Wednesday, March 22 about the company’s plan to increase the price of its COVID-19 vaccine. As is typical of pharma hearings, Bancel’s testimony generated numerous attention-grabbing headlines in traditional media from a variety of high-profile sources: “Democrats blast Moderna CEO over plans to quadruple price of COVID-19 vaccine” (The Hill), “Sanders slams ‘corporate greed’ as Moderna CEO won’t commit to lower Covid-19 vaccine cost” (CNN), and “Senators grilled Moderna’s CEO about spiking the price of its COVID-19 vaccine” (NPR), among others. Hearing coverage on social was no less noteworthy, with multiple Influencer Groups (i.e., Journalist, Academic, Think-Tank, etc.) commenting on the interactions between Bancel and the committee members, with many posts concentrating on Sen. Bernie Sanders’ (I-VT) Q&A. Measuring the true impact of each Influencer Group and identifying the most impactful voices within each group is key to assessing the potential reputational damage to Moderna’s brand. Placing these findings in the context of each group’s social media characteristics will help determine who should be monitored closely during future hearings and/or congressional reports on vaccine pricing and whether any post-hearing PR efforts are needed to redefine the narrative on the company’s vaccine pricing.

Not surprisingly, reporters earned the largest share of voice by volume among Influencer Groups, garnering 58% of total posts1. Although Journalists will often engage in in-depth conversation with other Influencers, some of their group-leading volume is indicative of their tendency to repetitively post quotes from hearing participants. While their cumulative audience is smaller than that of Federal Policymakers and Patient Advocacy Groups that participated in the discussion, Journalists were among the groups with the highest collective engagement rate. Federal Policymakers, on the other hand, have the greatest share of voice by cumulative followers among Influencer Groups, accounting for 85% of the total audience. The impact of their follower count, however, is tempered by their overall social activity on the hearing compared to other groups, with Journalists, Policy Influencers, Academia, Think-Tanks and Patient-Advocates authoring more content. As a result, Federal Policymakers have the most potential of any Influencer Group to impact the conversation if their activity increases, indicating that lawmakers, especially those with high Influencer Scores2, should be monitored closely in preparation for the next hearing.

Breakdown of Influencer Group Participation*

Moderna Hearing

*Influencer Groups are not representative of all Twitter users that fall into those categories; instead, these groups include notable users whose content is relevant to the pharmaceutical industry. Data labels for groups with shares lower than 3% were removed for visualization purposes.

Although the top Influencer (as measured by Influencer Score) from each group may change from hearing to hearing depending on any number of hard-to-predict factors, StratInt Research’s scoring methodology takes a Twitter user’s follower count, relevant post volume, and engagement rate into consideration, which are all factors that increase the likelihood that the Influencer is at or near the top of their group in the future. In the list of influencers below, some Twitter users have been selected because of their large audience (i.e., Sen. Sanders with 13M), activity level (Investor Brad Loncar with 8 posts), and/or engagement rate (Peter Maybarduk with a 31% engagement rate). Notably, top Influencers Brad Loncar and Journalist Zach Brennan’s most popular tweets were critical of committee members’ handling of the hearing, indicating that social conversation is not always one-sided, especially when the value of a life-saving medicine is being questioned. Additionally, Brennan and Academic Vinay Prasad’s tweets spotlighted other portions of the hearings, confirming that a post-hearing analysis should keep an eye out for unexpected topics of conversation.

Top Voices by Influencer Group based on Influencer Score

AcademicVinay Prasad (262K followers, 3 posts with a 3% engagement rate)

Congressional Committee HELP Committee GOP (6K followers, 1 post and only Congressional Committee to post)

Federal Policymaker Sen. Sanders (13M followers, 4 posts with a 0.3% engagement rate)

Investor Brad Loncar (62K followers, 8 posts with a 0.6% engagement rate)

Journalist Zach Brennan (10K followers, 13 posts with a 0.4% engagement rate)

Patient Advocacy Group Doctors w/o Borders (890K followers, 1 post with a 0.02% engagement rate)

Patient Advocate Peter Maybarduk (2K followers, 5 posts, with a 31% engagement rate due to one highly engaging post)

Policy CSRxP (4K followers, 13 posts, with a 0.6% engagement rate)

Think-Tank Public Citizen (522K followers, 2 posts, with a 0.8% engagement rate)

Having identified the top Influencer Groups by share of post volume and cumulative follower count and the top voices from each group by Influencer Score, the groundwork has been laid to complete a post-hearing analysis of any potential damage to the Moderna brand and to start preparing for the next hearing or congressional report. Given that follower count is a slow-to-increase metric for most Twitter users, the share of voice breakdown is likely to stay relatively unchanged if the same individuals discussed the next hearing. Therefore, dramatic increases in share of voice by post volume from Academic, Policy, and Investor Influencers are unlikely to have significant implications for Moderna because of their smaller audience sizes. Any increase in activity, however, from Journalists, Federal Policymakers, Patient Advocacy Groups, and Think-Tanks could lead to a rapid expansion of the conversation to new audiences, which is why the next steps should focus on determining the connections between the top voices in each group and other Influencers in Reputos3, focusing on frequency of engagement, type of engagement, and the Influencer Score of those engaging with the list above. 

  1. Date range for all content is 3/20-3/27/2023. 

         2. Influencer Score is a dynamic scoring methodology that accounts for all available social metrics for an                       Influencer (followers, posts, engagement rate, etc.,) and updates in real-time based on topic, peer-group                     comparison, and a specified time range. 

         3. StratInt Research’s Influencer Analysis tool that utilizes the dynamic scoring methodology defined above.