A social media renaissance in pharma

This month we are looking into the area of digital and social media on pharmaphorum. Greg Kueterman from Eli Lilly provides us with an insight into the rise of social media from a global pharma company perspective. Over the years, Lilly has joined Twitter, Facebook and YouTube, with accounts all over the world. Plus, Greg shares a little bit about Lilly’s latest social media venture: LillyPad Media.

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(Continued from “Taking medical innovation to the next level”)

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On a few special occasions, I’ve had the opportunity to speak about Lilly’s social media efforts – particularly around LillyPad, which focuses on public policy and legislative issues. As a member of the team that launched LillyPad in 2010, I’ve been able to recite some of the challenges we faced launching the company’s first big dive into social media.

We could tread into social media waters, we were told, as long as we didn’t talk about the medicines we make. Or the people who take them. Or, to any great extent, the diseases we treat.

For a communicator at a biopharmaceutical company, the assignment was more than a little daunting. But we took a route that worked (more on that below). Now, the challenge is keeping up with all the advances we’re seeing each day in this space.

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“We could tread into social media waters, we were told, as long as we didn’t talk about the medicines we make. Or the people who take them.”

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It’s not exactly a news flash that social media has become kind of a big deal. It’s pretty much everywhere. Twitter has made some people famous and cost other people their jobs. Children and grandmothers alike are on Facebook. For a former journalist who once used a typewriter (you can find the definition in Webster’s) it feels like George Orwell is lurking somewhere in the room.

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But what’s the right approach for corporations – particularly healthcare organizations that are dealing with issues of life, death, and medical innovation?

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A post on Convince &amp, Convert, a page dedicated to social media marketing, reported 18 interesting quotes about the use of corporate social media. One in particular caught my attention: “Social media allows big companies to act small again”. 1

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That’s what we’re trying to do at Lilly – as are many of our peers across the biopharmaceutical industry. Our company is the equivalent of a big city, and we’re trying to create a much smaller village that allows us to interact and know our neighbors a little better.

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Social media at Lilly has taken on a significantly bigger role over the last 2 ½ years. Our flagship is LillyPad – a U.S.-based platform driven by our Digital Government Affairs organization that focuses mostly on public policy issues and legislation. Over the last year, new members of the LillyPad franchise have been popping up around the world – including LillyPad EU, LillyPad Canada, and LillyPad Mexico.

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“But what’s the right approach for corporations – particularly healthcare organizations that are dealing with issues of life, death, and medical innovation?”

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On April 10, we kicked off yet another platform: LillyPad Media. While traditional LillyPad does a terrific job reaching its core audience of lawmakers and others in the policy space, we felt the need to narrowly target journalists online as well. That’s where LillyPad Media comes into play. Starting last week at the annual meeting of PhRMA – the U.S. trade association where Lilly’s CEO, John Lechleiter, just completed his chairmanship – we’ve enhanced our media outreach via Twitter and Facebook.

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We’ve advanced enormously, of course, since I started in the media business 25 years ago (before joining the media relations business in the mid-1990s). Telephoning late-breaking stories into the newsroom and faxing press releases to journalists have been replaced by Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube videos. In many cases, the corporate community is not as advanced as, say, news organizations that focus on social media for a living. Healthcare companies are even more conservative than most of the corporate world because of our many regulatory concerns. But, as we often say around here, we’ve come a long way.

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The next era of corporate communications should be fascinating. From our corner of the world at Lilly, we’re planning around a variety of tools that will enhance the timeliness and clarity of our online communications with media:

• Twitter: 140 characters at a time, we will work to inform and respond to questions from journalists each day. Twitter is not a cure-all or a full replacement for media outreach, but it’s a terrific complement to the other tools we use every day.

• Facebook: We can’t say everything on Twitter, so we’ll save a few things for Facebook – especially some of our more historical information and evergreen stories that are referenced time and again.

• YouTube: Video is a huge part of the communications business. If we can deliver a message in a 1-minute video rather than a lengthy blog or press release, we’ll work to do that. We’ll eventually have a full channel on YouTube for browsing.

“The future of social media in healthcare is both exciting and murky.”

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• Blogs: We’re still blogging away on LillyPad, LillyPad EU, and many of other our global properties. Our communications team associated with LillyPad_Media will eventually begin blogging to tell more in-depth narratives about our business.

The biopharmaceutical industry has made terrific strides engaging online over the last three years. Lilly has primarily focused on corporate and policy issues, such as corporate responsibility, the medical innovation ecosystem, and potential legislation on issues important to our industry. Other companies have dipped their toes into product updates and employee engagement issues.

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The future of social media in healthcare is both exciting and murky. We’re certainly moving in the right direction, but future regulatory guidelines will play a big role in how we evolve (as will yet-to-be-created technologies). This much we do know: the space will get much richer and more active over time. Our business contacts, such as media, will continue to engage. As an industry, we need to stay right with them.

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Reference

1. http://www.convinceandconvert.com/social-media-marketing/18-social-media-quotes/

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The next Eli Lilly and Company article can be viewed here.

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About the author:

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Greg Kueterman has worked in the business of health care communications since 1996, including 14 years at Eli Lilly and Company. Greg currently works in corporate media relations at Lilly, where he manages media outreach for the company’s government affairs, public policy, and access organizations. He also provides strategic support for European Operations. Greg has been involved in the company’s premier social media platform, LillyPad, since its inception in 2010. Greg is one of three regular bloggers on LillyPad – where he focuses specifically on “Life at Lilly” issues. Before joining Lilly’s media relations team, Greg worked in marketing communications and employee communications at Lilly, and he also spent three years at WellPoint, the largest health insurer in the U.S. Greg is a 1987 graduate of the Indiana University School of Journalism. He spent nine years in the newspaper business before taking on communications roles in the corporate world.

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How can social media help to advance corporate communications?