@CVS, @DrugStoreNews gain followers with Twitter

February was a busy month for CVS Caremark. First it was a party on Beale Street as the chain announced its entry into Memphis. A week later, it broke out the pina coladas as it cut the ribbon on its first store in Puerto Rico. In January, it was Budweiser in St. Louis.

There are just eight states in which CVS does not operate stores: Alaska, Arkansas, Idaho, Oregon, South Dakota, Utah, Washington and Wyoming. In drug store retailing, being able to provide coverage “from sea to shining sea” means a lot when you try to sell your services to big healthcare payers.

And while CVS’ recent new market entries shouldn’t be overlooked or short-sold, Drug Store News fully believes the news of the company’s move onto Twitter is deserving of a toast, as well. CVS very quietly launched its Twitter page Feb. 10, and although it still trails Walgreens’ in terms of Twitter followers, in fairness to CVS, Walgreens has been at this for a while longer. Since its first tweet, CVS was up to 2,363 followers as this issue went to press, versus 6,384 followers for Walgreens, which posted its first tweet on June 9, 2009.

Clearly, tying Twitter to its ExtraCare card has given the company a bit of an advantage in terms of its ability to quickly grow an audience. There is a reason that CVS got to 64 million cardholders; there is a reason why Tom Ryan has cited the program in almost every earnings call since the company introduced ExtraCare almost 10 years ago. It’s because ExtraCare cardholders are highly engaged CVS customers. Using Twitter to communicate special deals is a smart bet and likely a strong reason why it managed to grow its audience so quickly in its first weeks on the highly popular social media site. When DrugStoreNews.com first reported on CVS’ new Twitter page Feb. 11, the company had just 812 followers; less than 24 hours later, that number had more than doubled.

But there is a lot more to social media than just trying to push people to your brand. Drug Store News, which started tweeting in March 2009 and has 600 followers, has learned this. In the beginning, we simply tweeted stories that appeared on our Web site; that got us about 100 followers. These days, we tweet items that may or may not appear in Drug Store News or any of the other magazines. We just try to keep our audience engaged—not just with the brand, but with each other. As a result, we have found that our Twitter followers are some of our most engaged and active users on DrugStoreNews.com.

Twitter is not a commercial so much as it is a community; it’s about education and communication. It’s marketing all right, but it’s subtler than a circular, print ad or 30-second TV spot could ever be. It’s more like a product placement on a hit TV show—the brand benefits from just being associated with the content. It’s written “into” the script rather than having had a script written for it. That’s the magic of Twitter.

One other CVS item that deserves a toast: the 800 health fair events it has planned for this year, under its “A Su Salud” program. Last year, the company gave away $49 million worth of health screenings through the program. Of the more than 195,000 people screened during last year’s events: 33% had high cholesterol; 36% had a high to moderate risk of developing osteoporosis; 28% had hypertension; and 22% had diabetes—more than half diagnosed for the first time.

That is a pretty powerful demonstration of what the National Association of Chain Drug Stores, the National Community Pharmacists Association and other pharmacy leaders call “pharmacy as physician extender.”

Drug Store News will drink to that: Cheers! Or, should we say, “Salud?”

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