How we made Twitter #COUGH

Background to our campaign

Profile V3Wednesday 18th November was World COPD day. BI UK’s respiratory team, in conjunction with PR Agency WE Consulting, wanted to raise awareness of the signs and symptoms of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) by attempting to “make Twitter #cough”.

To raise interest in and conversations about COPD (both to increase awareness and to encourage earlier diagnosis), particularly around World COPD Day, we  developed a campaign to run across Twitter with the aim of creating a spike in mentions of the word ‘cough’ by using #cough in all tweets. When we measured the number of tweets sent across a time frame, and showed them in a graph, they mimicked the sound wave of a cough.

While generating Twitter interest/trends was a key aim, the campaign was also a springboard for generating discussion within print, broadcast and offline media around COPD, focusing on:

  • The need for earlier detection – and the importance of not ignoring a long-running cough when it comes to seeking medical help
  • The need for people affected by COPD to receive more support – raising awareness of the difficulties of living with COPD

Twitter Thunderclap

We made use of the Thunderclap platform to act as another focal point for Twitter activity. 270 individual accounts signed up to the Thunderclap, exceeding our target of 250. This ‘pre day’ activity helped drive the initial ‘spike’ that looks like the first part of the cough. At 10.30 on 18th November, Thunderclap sent out an approved Tweet on the timelines of the 270 users, which created a huge spike in social media activity for #cough.

Cover graphic (Pixel amended)

Supporters of our Thunderclap campaign had a combined follower reach of 691,852 and included a range of different people and organisations, including large charities like Cancer Research UK, British Lung Foundation and the COPD Foundation, BI global colleagues from across the World, professional bodies such as the American Thoracic Society, the UKCPA and ARNS, and individual MPs and MSPs. Even the comedian Helen Lederer signed up to support the campaign.

On the day we saw tremendous engagement from across the Twitter community, and with several hours still to go, the graph was showing the picture we hoped it would, with a big upturn from more than 1,300 tweets that were sent including the #COUGH, and people following through on our links to an infographic and to the BLF COPD website.

3 thoughts on “How we made Twitter #COUGH

  1. “Don’t be duped! 1) Just *one* tweet from 3 accounts alone wd contribute c.250K of that 690K reach;” said @andrewspong via Twitter. “2) By far the biggest contributor was Boehringer’s own accounts, 3) Does it exclude all the other uses of #cough on 18 November? Big story broke re. whooping cough and epilepsy risk in infants. The usual smoke and mirrors, in other words. What happened to ‘show, don’t tell’?”

    Care to comment on that?


    1. Hi,

      Thanks for the comment. As we said on Twitter, this is our initial top line analysis and yes, we are stripping out as many irrelevant tweets as possible. We are working on more analysis as we go – as you know, these things take time to really understand what happened.

      Most importantly, what we’ve been really impressed – and happy with – is the engagement with patients, family members, carers and HCPs in this campaign.

      Each time we try a new activity like this, we do it to see what works, and try to learn how to improve. We don’t gain from scrimping on the analytics as it doesn’t help us get better!


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