Pharma gets social – social media brings Millennium: The Takeda Oncology Company closer to people

Daniel Ghinn

Creation Healthcare

In the latest ‘pharma gets social’, Daniel Ghinn explores the digital engagement strategy of Millenium: The Takeda Oncology Company, which uses social media to get closer to its patients, patient advocacy groups and healthcare professionals.

(Continued from “Pharma gets social: world’s top pharma on Facebook”)

Over recent months I have compared how selected channels are being used by the world’s largest pharmaceutical companies, with reviews of Facebook, Twitter and YouTube channel strategies.

In practice, the digitally engaged pharmaceutical company typically considers each social media channel as part of a complete engagement strategy rather than in isolation. Successfully connecting social media channels together to connect with stakeholders in the right context, at the most effective time and place, comes with experience and in the ever-changing digital landscape, some experimentation.

I have attempted to illustrate through the channel reviews that good engagement is not necessarily simply about numbers, but context, relevance and two-way communication. In fact, while I have analysed the social media strategies of some of the largest pharmaceutical companies, there are many others who are innovating to engage stakeholders in their particular healthcare niche.

Adding value in a niche disease area

Take Millennium: Takeda Oncology Company, for example. Its website prominently invites visitors to connect via Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Google+ and LinkedIn. Interestingly, and in my experience unusually, its ‘US-Only’ Facebook page is currently locked down to prevent access from some other non-US countries such as the UK.


“…good engagement is not necessarily simply about numbers, but context, relevance and two-way communication.”


I spoke with the Digital Strategy and Communications team at Millennium and asked them how social media brings value to the work of a company like theirs.

Ilana Robbins, Manager, Digital Strategy and Communications, Millennium, says that the focus is more about relationships than follower numbers, pointing out that the company’s social media channels connect them with healthcare professionals, nurses, patients and other community stakeholders such as advocacy groups.

Even if we had 3 followers and we were engaged with those followers, I’d be happy,” she says. “It’s about whether we are listening to them, and responding. Because of these channels, we’re able to listen, and respond in a way we would not otherwise have been able to. So we can learn about an unmet need and look at how we can assist with that.


Figure 1: Millennium’s Digital team says that meaningful engagement with other health stakeholders is more important than follower numbers.

Partnering with rare disease patient advocacy groups

A key part of Millennium’s engagement strategy has been partnering with advocacy groups, and this is reflected in the company’s social media activities too. Tweets from the company’s Twitter account last month reflected the company’s support for, and participation in, the Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation’s team in the New York Road Runners’ Empire State Building Run-Up, which raised over $500,000 for the charity.

Pat Connelly, Associate Director, Digital Strategy and Communications, Millennium, says that advocacy groups are especially important to patients with rare diseases. “With rare diseases, affecting 200,000 or less patients, you get a strong community. We’re dealing in oncology, in life-and-death situations. When people are faced with a diagnosis of cancer, they reach out to advocacy groups. We can hopefully steer people towards supporting these groups.

Discovering how best to engage patient advocacy groups through social media was a process of trying things and learning what works. Connelly tells me, “There is an overall strategy for how we engage in social media but each [advocacy group] relationship is different. For some we RT each others’ posts or take pictures together. Together we’re making sure the best available resources are out there for patients.


“Discovering how best to engage patient advocacy groups through social media was a process of trying things and learning what works.”


Ultimately the success of social media comes down to people, he says. “When you start to see the human side of things, those are the things that make social media irresistible to people. We’re interested in people and the stories they have to tell and in connecting them.

Google Hangouts

Working with partners has also inspired innovation, such as the use of Google Hangouts to chat with patient advocates. When Matthew Zachary, who heads up Stupid Cancer, one of the patient advocacy groups Millennium has partnered with, suggested meeting via a Google Hangout, the Millennium team was keen to try it.

We were going to have a teleconference with him, and he said ‘let’s do a Google Hangout,”, says Connelly. Millennium has existing corporate conferencing facilities, but the team was keen to meet on the partner’s platform of choice. “The three of us weren’t in the same place, and it worked well. We said we should do this more, invite colleagues and other groups to get involved,” he says. “Why not see if we can utilize it in some interesting ways?



Figure 2: Google+ is one of the social media channels supporting Millennium’s relationships with partners.

“Try new things and stay the course”

I asked the team what lessons they have learned so far and like many other pharma digital pioneers, their experience is of perseverance and trying new things. “Stay the course. Some people are believers, some are not. Don’t be discouraged if some things don’t work so well,” says Connelly. “You need true believers. You have to commit to doing it, and to realise it’s a long-term tactic.


“Support from the company’s leadership has played an important part in what the digital team has been able to achieve.”


We experiment,” adds Robbins. “If something works, great. If not, we go back and try something new.”

Support from the company’s leadership has played an important part in what the digital team has been able to achieve. “We have people above us who challenge us to do it, and allow us to,” says Robbins.

Connelly tells me that ultimately, the real reward comes from positive engagement with stakeholders. “It is rewarding when people start to respond and give compliments,” he says. Robbins agrees: “If we have a conversation with someone who says they appreciate what we do, then all the energy we put in is worth it.

Daniel’s next article will go live on 16th April.


About the author:

Daniel Ghinn is Founder and CEO of Creation Healthcare, the global Research and Training consultancy to healthcare organizations for the digital age. He is a frequent writer and speaker on how emerging channels are changing healthcare engagement.

Daniel may be reached at or by Twitter @EngagementStrat.

How can pharma positively engage with stakeholders?