Drug Safety

, Volume 39, Issue 5, pp 443–454 | Cite as

Social Media Listening for Routine Post-Marketing Safety Surveillance

  • Gregory E. PowellEmail author
  • Harry A. Seifert
  • Tjark Reblin
  • Phil J. Burstein
  • James Blowers
  • J. Alan Menius
  • Jeffery L. Painter
  • Michele Thomas
  • Carrie E. Pierce
  • Harold W. Rodriguez
  • John S. Brownstein
  • Clark C. Freifeld
  • Heidi G. Bell
  • Nabarun Dasgupta
Original Research Article



Post-marketing safety surveillance primarily relies on data from spontaneous adverse event reports, medical literature, and observational databases. Limitations of these data sources include potential under-reporting, lack of geographic diversity, and time lag between event occurrence and discovery. There is growing interest in exploring the use of social media (‘social listening’) to supplement established approaches for pharmacovigilance. Although social listening is commonly used for commercial purposes, there are only anecdotal reports of its use in pharmacovigilance. Health information posted online by patients is often publicly available, representing an untapped source of post-marketing safety data that could supplement data from existing sources.


The objective of this paper is to describe one methodology that could help unlock the potential of social media for safety surveillance.


A third-party vendor acquired 24 months of publicly available Facebook and Twitter data, then processed the data by standardizing drug names and vernacular symptoms, removing duplicates and noise, masking personally identifiable information, and adding supplemental data to facilitate the review process. The resulting dataset was analyzed for safety and benefit information.


In Twitter, a total of 6,441,679 Medical Dictionary for Regulatory Activities (MedDRA®) Preferred Terms (PTs) representing 702 individual PTs were discussed in the same post as a drug compared with 15,650,108 total PTs representing 946 individual PTs in Facebook. Further analysis revealed that 26 % of posts also contained benefit information.


Social media listening is an important tool to augment post-marketing safety surveillance. Much work remains to determine best practices for using this rapidly evolving data source.


Social Medium Anatomical Therapeutic Chemical Indicator Score Proportional Reporting Ratio Twitter Data 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



The authors thank many curators who have contributed to training the classifier, including Chi Bahk, Wenjie Bao, Anne Czernek, Michael Gilbert, Melissa Jordan, Christopher Menone, and Carly Winokur.

Compliance with Ethical Standards


GlaxoSmithKline paid for the research presented in this paper, including responding to reviewer comments during manuscript preparation. All work was conducted by the authors listed. Development of the social listening platform was funded in part by the US FDA under contract with Epidemico, Inc. prior to initiation and continuing throughout this research. Additional development funds for the social listening platform are provided to Epidemico, Inc. through a public–private partnership, but were not used to directly support the specific content of this research. This collaborative effort is provided via the WEB-RADR project, which is supported by the Innovative Medicines Initiative Joint Undertaking (IMI JU) under Grant Agreement No. 115632, resources of which are composed of financial contributions from the European Union’s Seventh Framework Programme (FP7/2007-2013) and EFPIA companies’ in kind contribution. Neither the FDA, WEB-RADR, nor IMI JU had any role in this research.

Conflict of interest

Gregory Powell, Harry Seifert, Tjark Reblin, Phil Burstein, James Blowers, Alan Menius, Jeffery Painter, Michele Thomas, and Heidi Bell were employees of or contractors to GlaxoSmithKline during the study. Carrie Pierce, Harold Rodriguez, John Brownstein, Clark Freifeld, and Nabarun Dasgupta are employees of or contractors to Epidemico, Inc., a technology company intending to commercialize the software platform used in this research.


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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  • Gregory E. Powell
    • 1
    Email author
  • Harry A. Seifert
    • 2
  • Tjark Reblin
    • 3
  • Phil J. Burstein
    • 4
  • James Blowers
    • 1
  • J. Alan Menius
    • 1
  • Jeffery L. Painter
    • 1
  • Michele Thomas
    • 5
  • Carrie E. Pierce
    • 6
  • Harold W. Rodriguez
    • 6
  • John S. Brownstein
    • 6
  • Clark C. Freifeld
    • 6
  • Heidi G. Bell
    • 7
  • Nabarun Dasgupta
    • 6
  1. 1.GlaxoSmithKlineResearch Triangle ParkUSA
  2. 2.GlaxoSmithKline VaccinesKing of PrussiaUSA
  3. 3.GlaxoSmithKlineStockley ParkUK
  4. 4.GlaxoSmithKlineKing of PrussiaUSA
  5. 5.Blue Zone IndustriesChester SpringsUSA
  6. 6.Epidemico Inc.BostonUSA
  7. 7.Zero ChaosResearch Triangle ParkUSA

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