Pharmaceutical companies, particularly European drugmakers, rank among the world’s best corporate communicators online, according to a new analysis.

The sixth Financial Times Bowen Craggs Index of web effectiveness, which claims to be "the only comprehensive source of comparable data on companies’ corporate digital presence", notes that six of the top 20 rated companies are in the pharma sector. The methodology used in the index gives the highest scores to companies that have websites "that are well built, well integrated with other channels (eg YouTube or social media), present the companies messages most impressively, and serve a range of stakeholders well".

Roche is rated as having the most effective website of all pharmaceutical companies, and comes fifth overall, while Novartis comes second in the industry and eighth overall. AstraZeneca ranks third in the pharma sector and 13th in the index.

Bowen Craggs gives a special mention to Pfizer, which moved up eleven places from its previous ranking overall, and mentions that the US giant has been integrating its country sites better, while boosting its careers section and social media channels. However the report notes that Pfizer still has more developing to do, noting that its site has a separate careers section "which means that the tight centrally controlled system of managing digital content has broken down". Also "Pfizer has several references to 2005, as though they are current".

The analysis notes that "pharmaceutical companies and their reputations are on a constant knife edge and could suffer critical damage at any time because of the nature of their business". Firms have therefore identified online digital communications via websites and social media "as a way of managing potential disasters as well as maintaining and relaying reputation and responsibility".

The report states that with investors, the media, jobseekers and customers increasingly visiting corporate websites, "and with websites increasingly becoming the first destination for anyone wanting to find out about a company, the web effectiveness of a corporation is increasingly crucial to company reputation and performance in the pharmaceutical industry".

David Bowen, senior consultant at Bowen Craggs & Co noted that "a number of US companies have forgotten that their site is used by an international audience", while "Chinese sites remain stuck in a rut. There has been almost no improvement in the past six years".

Latest technologies managed poorly

Writing in the FT, he notes that "many companies have simply latched on to the latest technologies – whether iPad apps or Google+ pages – without considering how they will work with their website, YouTube channels, Twitter feeds and the rest". He believes that "the sudden omnipresence of these technologies is part of the problem. Resources are being spread too thin and the need for speedy implementation is winning over strategy".

Mr Bowen concludes by saying that "behind all these issues lies a lack of senior management engagement, or so it would appear". The companies that have done well "are those where bosses understand how important online communication is, and have diverted – relatively trivial – but appropriate resources towards them coherently", he adds.