Walgreens Enlists Paid Social-Media Warriors in Battle With Express Scripts

But Could It Prompt a Backlash Against Pharmacy Chain?

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Walgreens is paying Twitter and bloggers to promote its cause in an attempt to sway its customers during the heated public battle with its former pharmacy benefit manager, Express Scripts. It's an initiative that has already prompted some backlash online.

The companies began negotiations this past summer in an attempt to close a deal before contracts expired this month. They never came to terms and ended their relationship. Walgreens has since been at risk of losing its customers to rivals such as Walmart Stores and CVS, which still have relationships with Express Scripts. The competitors are swooping in with marketing that promotes their relationship with the benefit manager, in hopes of luring the Express Scripts in-network customers who have been loyal to Walgreens but can no longer use their plans at the pharmacies.

Credit: AP

In Walgreens' latest ploy to get customers to switch to its namesake plan, it formulated this promoted tweet: "@Walgreens Patients should be able to choose their pharmacy, not @ExpressScripts. Tweet using #ILoveWalgreens to show your support!"

This approach -- crisis PR via paid tweet -- has elicited two types of responses. The first come from those pointing out the ineffectiveness of convincing customers of anything through a paid tweet:

@JaredKaltwasser Is it just me, or is the trending topic #ILoveWalgreens basically worthless if the company bought placement on the trends list?


@MattDho Why is #ilovewalgreens a trending topic? Oh, promoted. Never mind then.

The second are those completely unrelated to the pharmacy portion of the Walgreens business:

@RadicalSierra #ILoveWalgreens because they are the only store that sells Jujubes lol :D

The retailer also used Social Spark, an outlet that connects bloggers with sponsorship opportunities for a percentage of the fee, to infuse its message in the blogosphere. Each blog outlines similar points defending Walgreens and admonishing Express Scripts. And most of the coverage comes with an intro along the lines of : "This is a Sponsored post written by me on behalf of Walgreens for SocialSpark. All opinions are 100% mine."

Most of these blogs, including Formula Mom, Random Deals and Life With Katie, discuss pricing related to Walgreens' new Prescription Savings Club and a program supporting the military.

Leveraging this blurry area of paid social media in its crisis efforts is a bold move, but the chances that it will convince customers to switch plans through scripted blogs and tweets are slim, and could even backfire among those who view it as inauthentic.

"It's another way to get the conversation going and give our customers an outlet," said a Walgreens spokesman. Regarding some of the negative reactions, he said, "It's an opportunity for people to express their feelings, and they're doing that ."

Walgreens is conducting the effort without a CMO, as the role was eliminated last September, Drug Store News reported at the time.

What do you think: Is Walgreens' use of paid social media in its battle with Express Scripts going to hurt its cause or help it?

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