Eli Lilly responds to the Ogilvy pharma social media audit

After the recent publication on pharmaphorum of Ogilvy’s social media audit of pharmaceutical companies, we wanted to hear from the social media butterflies, so Amy O’ Connor tells us why she believes Eli Lilly is emerging as a leader in online engagement.

pharmaphorum recently published the results from Ogilvy Healthworld’s social media audit of leading pharmaceutical companies, which classified organisations as either social butterflies or wallflowers, depending on how engaged they are across these conversational channels, plus explored the shifts over time. Here, we speak with Amy O’Connor to find out why she thinks Eli Lilly and Company emerged as one of the butterflies.

In addition, we discuss some of the key lessons to emerge from her time managing social media for Lilly, the strategy underpinning its activities and why starting out with corporate social media engagement really does follow the cocktail party rules, akin to conversing in the real world.

“We have focused on engaging the right individuals at the right time”

Interview summary

PT: Were you surprised to come out so highly in the Ogilvy survey?

AO: To be honest, no. We have spent the last yearfocused on engaging the right individuals at the right time and our philosophy is to participate and engage in the broader healthcare environment, to do everything we can to ensure patients have access to medicines, and that we can deliver new medicines today and in the future. Because we stay focused on that strategy and how we engage, we find that there are a lot of people who want to engage with us.

PT: Why do you think Eli Lilly is coming out as a social media butterfly’? What specific initiatives do you think have contributed to this?

AO: There are probably two underlying reasons: firstly because we focus on the bigger health care conversation, and, secondly, we have a very strong standard operating procedure [SOP]. That might sound restrictive, but it actually allows us to operate freely within those guidelines e.g. not mentioning our product names. All that lets us focus on ‘transformation’ – that means providing fresh and accessible information, responding and engaging in real time, and having a real conversation with people – including those that disagree with us – we’re not afraid to have conversations with critics and I think that makes a difference. That culture allows the entire digital team and me to engage whenever it is necessary.

Within that framework, we engage in two ways. The first is through LillyPad, where we engage with thought leaders and policy makers in the US, Canada, Mexico, and the EU. The goal with LillyPad is to put our perspective out there on policy issues, innovation and also public health information. The other way we engage is in targeted ways through the PACE initiative (pacenetwork.com) – our oncology initiative aimed at helping patients access cancer care, focused on six countries [US, Germany, France, Italy, UK and Japan].

The communities are smaller here, deliberately so – it doesn’t matter how many followers we have or the number of retweets. We care that the message is reaching the right person, whether that is two people or a hundred or more.

PT: How have you dealt with concerns over ensuring regulatory compliance to allow social media engagement to occur?

AO: We have built up a lot of trust and equity over time, plus have a very rigid SOP that we modify at least once a year, which is really is our guiding principle for how we operate and engage. These ‘guard rails’ allow us to operate in real time – we demonstrate to the business that we follow the rules and that we get results, which allows us to grow and engage. By engaging in the right way we changed it from looking like a risk into something very positive for the company and broader healthcare community.

“That’s very hard to do, so one of our mottos is ‘fail fast, learn and adapt'”

PT: What are the most important pieces of advice you would give to other pharma companies looking to become more social?

AO: You need to think with the end in mind. So produce a strategy based on how the external environment works plus how you want to be seen, and then build your processes around it, not the other way round.

That’s very hard to do, so one of our mottos is ‘fail fast, learn and adapt’. That means we have to try new things, but move on and learn quickly. Maybe a Twitter chat didn’t work, or maybe an infographic didn’t get many views, but it is all a learning process, and technology changes rapidly. Alongside that experimentation, you need to keep doing the things you know work well, otherwise you will never make progress.

A good analogy for starting out in social media is that you have to follow cocktail party rules – behave online like you would if you were trying to engage in friendly and interesting conversations at a cocktail party. You know the kind of person you don’t want to meet at a cocktail party: the one who abruptly interrupts your conversation to give you their ‘expert’ view on everything, whether you want it or not. You don’t want to be that person online, but a lot of people are!

Then underneath that etiquette, we think of it as a process with four stages: Listen, Learn, Discuss, Shape. So the first rule is to listen. That means easing into the conversation, and listening before you talk back. That’s why Learn comes next – only when listen like this can you really understand what are people talking about, what concerns them, what kind of language are they using. Once you’ve done this, you are ready for the next stage, Discuss, where you really enter into a dialogue.

The last stage is Shape – that means not just participating in a dialogue, but influencing it as well. To shape a discussion, you must first understood what the conversation is about, and you must have gained trust. Then you can start to pose ideas and questions to accomplish that. So those are the cocktail party rules, and they really do work if you use them.

PT: What has being social done for Lilly?

AO: It has allowed us to build new partnerships and trust in different ways. Engaging in the conversation at all levels has changed how external groups engage with us, but also helps people we work for to trust us and depend on us.

“We have opened our blogs to guest bloggers from various organisations”

We have opened our blogs to guest bloggers from various organisations and they really appreciate how it can help spread their message. These patient advocacy groups have a chance to communicate with though leaders, policy makers and media from all over the world that they never would have had before.

A lot of time has also been spent working with non-profit organisations. For example, we held an e-advocacy summit in Washington D.C which is now going to become an online digital advocacy institute. The point is to help educate non-profit organisations in healthcare to understand the right ways to engage online.

When we started this four years ago, people were very afraid to go online. Now these groups have really matured in their online behaviour. That’s very rewarding, and one of the reasons why we continue to focus on that community and help them make their voice heard.

To download the full survey results click here

About the interviewee:

Amy O’Connor is Director, Digital Government Affairs at Eli Lilly and Company, and a leader in health care advocacy with a vision for how digital engagement can transform business opportunities, increase credibility, change perceptions, and improve health outcomes. Working within the Lilly social media team, Amy has been responsible for driving digital and social media engagement via a number of platforms, including the successful LillyPad platform for discussing policy issues, innovation and public health.

For more information on Eli Lilly and Company please visit:


Find us at lillypad.lilly.com

Closing thought: How can pharma companies enable social media engagement?