Interview

The Evolution of Pharma’s Engagement on Social Media

Roundtable Discussion

Lisa Bookwalter

patty ryan

Patty Ryan

Amy Baumann

Steven Xie

social media - COVID-19

Summary

Watch this 26 minute virtual discussion, held at the 2021 March Virtual Summit, between Lisa Bookwalter, Patty Ryan, Amy Baumann, and Steven Xie. The discussion focused on the evolution of pharma’s social media engagement. A transcript of the video is also available below (edited for clarity).

Video Transcript

Lisa Bookwalter

Director, Twitter Client Solutions, Health
Twitter

“Thanks, everybody, for joining us today. We have a great panel. We have Patty Ryan who’s the VP of paid social at Publicis Health Media, and Steven Xie who is the director of omnichannel marketing at Biohaven, and Amy Baumann who is the director omnichannel strategy at Merck. Thanks, guys, for joining all of us today. You’re all doing such incredible work. I know that the insights you can share are going to benefit a lot of people joining us today.

Patty, let’s start with you. You guys have been doing just really interesting work across all the social channels. I’d love to hear from you how has the thinking around social really changed since you’ve been at PHM because I think it’s been a really pivotal time? What are the goals and what are the expectations you have for your social partners to make sure that those goals are met and exceeded?”

patty ryan

Patty Ryan

VP, Paid Social Media
Publicis Health Media

“Thanks, Lisa, yeah. I started at Publicis Health Media in April of 2019, which I’m coming up on my two-year anniversary. It’s definitely been a really exciting time. When I first arrived on the pharma scene, I did come from other categories, so when I came to the pharma scene two years ago, it felt like a lot of brands were tiptoeing into social or maybe have one foot in but were a little bit hesitant still. I think what’s been really exciting and has kept me really engaged is being part of the momentum and really seeing brands grow their social presence and making paid social in particular, which is my specialty, a fundamental part of their media plans. I think we went from two years ago being like, oh, let’s do a test and learn on this platform or for this campaign, but we really have evolved to the point where I think that now social really is a main stay in any media plan.

I think the other thing that’s been really cool, the silver lining I think maybe of COVID, is that that has expedited that, for sure. For both the consumer and an HCP standpoint, I think the consumption number were always there. We know everybody spends a bunch of time on social media. I think that COVID has just expedited that and really it’s undeniable how much growth the social space is continuing to see and how much time people are spending on the platform. I think to your question of what are the goals and how have they shifted, I do think two years ago, the goals were much more engagement focused and media metric driven. I think what I’ve seen over the last two years is that brands, as they’re increasing their media investments into the platforms, the stakes are higher and the expectations are greater.

To your point, there are expectations that we have of the different partners that we work with, including you and your team, obviously. From a product standpoint, there’s been a ton of movement in terms of rolling out new product updates to accommodate pharma advertisers as this appetite is really growing in this space. I think the shift that I’m seeing right now is this focus on really meaningful measurement and making sure that we’re moving from engagement metrics to, as the investments are increasing, how do we tie that back to business outcomes, how do we have more meaningful measurements. That’s something that PHM is working really closely with all of the partners with, yourself included, to really figure out how we can make that story really strong for these brands. We’ve been really excited by the platform updates and all the product updates but I think measurement is going to be the new frontier from my perspective.”

Lisa Bookwalter

Director, Twitter Client Solutions, Health
Twitter

“I completely agree. Steven, I know Nurtec, basing this on what Patty is saying and brands really wanting to go much more deeply into social, Nurtec really has based their launch really, it was rooted in social. Why was that? How has social allowed you to not only have a more meaningful imprint but how has it also allowed you to amplify some of the things you might be doing in other channels?”

Steven Xie

Director, Omni Channel Marketing
Biohaven Pharmaceuticals

Great question. Thank you for that, Lisa, and also really honored to join this fantastic panel. I think for those of you who might not be familiar with Biohaven, we’re a startup biopharma firm based in Connecticut.  I’ve been with Biohaven for about one and a half years. I want to say I wish I could take credit for setting the launch strategy, social first strategy for Nurtec but the strategy was actually set by our visionary leader, our CEO, Vlad Coric. Before the drug was even approved and I was hired, I have to say, our social and digital first strategy was really born out of Biohaven’s mission and commitment to patients. If you are a migraine sufferer, I don’t know anybody on today’s panel, if you’ve ever suffered from migraine or you live with someone who suffers from migraine, you would know how debilitating this condition is. 

I think it’s really not that difficult for us to uncover the fact that migraine patients heavily rely on social media to seek treatment information and emotional support from others. To us, it’s really not rocket science to have a very heavy presence in social media simply because we want to market our product where our consumers, our patients are. As my boss, Graham Goodrich, who leads our consumer marketing team, would say, as a brand, if we’re not on social, it’s like we’re doing marketing with one arm tied behind our back. It’s as simple as that.

Regarding your second question, Lisa, about how we use social to amplify other tactics, I want to go back to Biohaven’s visionary leadership and the culture of our company. Our CEO has been frequently speaking about building a modern pharma company. What modern means in the context of marketing? I think it means these couple of things. One is using the most relevant marketing methods to engage with your audience, making fast decisions, and also being nimble and agile. I am very proud to say that we are extremely good at doing those things at Biohaven. I’ll give you an example. Many times since we launched the product, we are able to turn around a piece of content in social within 24 hours from ideation, content development, getting MLR approved and submit to the FDA, we’ve done that many times throughout our journey.

I think this is really the testament to our very talented team. I’m really fortunate to work with a group of very talented individuals on our team and our world class marketing agency, Klick Health, who I think really a true star partner during the journey, and last but not least, a very competent and a collaborative MLR team. I think everybody on this panel and in the audience can really appreciate that what a big difference can make when you have an MLR team who listens with you, who engage with you, who try to learn with you to get things done.

Going back to your question, I think an insight we discovered in social media is that a large volume of chatter around patient experience is about their treatment. From day one, we purposefully designed a system, we call it patient story engine, to harness the power of real Nurtec stories. Within months, literally through this engine, we saw over 1,000 patient testimonials come in on a weekly basis. Here is what really helps when you work on the product that truly works. Nurtec works. We consistently hear stories like patients who suffer from migraine 20, 30 years, they take Nurtec, the migraine is gone within 15 minutes and they can go back to their life. This type of powerful story user generated content has since literally dominated the online chatter in our category making our content extremely authentic. 

Think about that. You search Nurtec across social channel, you see way more content developed or generated by users versus the brand. I will quote my boss, Graham, again. He will say this is a type of Yelp review we have for Nurtec. I think it just really happens, this week it happened to be our first anniversary of Nurtec FDA approval. We got approval just exactly one year ago. I think the overwhelmingly positive responses we’ve seen from patient and the sheer volume across different social channels certainly reinforces our commitment to this social first approach.”

Lisa Bookwalter

Director, Twitter Client Solutions, Health
Twitter

“I can’t think of a better more recent example of comments and patient stories really driving the conversation than, Amy, your work on celebrating world cancer day. It was so moving. I know you’re doing a case study on it in the next session but I would love you to touch on how did you celebrate this day across the different platforms and what did each platform really contribute in the overall picture of success?”

Amy Baumann

Director, Omnichannel Strategy Lead
Merck

Yeah, sure. Thanks, Lisa. It really is a celebration and a great day to unite the world fighting cancer together. We are really exciting in 2021 to build on the past three years of really amplifying this opportunity starting with Twitter with the sponsored hashtag activation, but of course, it didn’t end there. We really were able to harness the personalities and characteristics of all the social media platforms and the best they have to offer across this entire campaign, for instance, leveraging LinkedIn for our employee stories.I think this year we had more leadership blogs highlighting the day than ever before as well. Our rich video content showcased on Facebook. On Instagram, we even had a countdown clock counting down to the day and celebrating when it arrived. Of course, on Twitter, not just leveraging the sponsorship of the hashtag but creating additional content to really amplify across the channel.

Now, speaking of content, we also used some user generated content but it was from our employees talking about stories of either them fighting cancer or supporting loved ones that had. We also partnered with our franchise and agency teams to create some content. They were able to see across the channels so it could really be a complimentary portfolio of amplification.” 

Lisa Bookwalter

Director, Twitter Client Solutions, Health
Twitter

“I’m interested, Patty, to hear from you around – Steven talked about MLR, the work that Amy was able to pull together with the employees and all the different stakeholders. You’ve done a lot of great work this year. I love the work you did where you did something on Tik Tok with a dance which you worked to the platform the way users go to the platform.

Talk to me about what are your biggest objections. I know there’s a lot of people sitting in the audience that are thinking oh, my God, that’s amazing the work people are doing, but how am I ever going to get that through or how am I going to make that work through the lens of the reality of pharma? I know that’s something you’ve confronted a lot since you’ve been here and you’ve been able to get some really cool activations live. What are the objections and how are you able to move past them?”

patty ryan

Patty Ryan

VP, Paid Social Media
Publicis Health Media

I think the short answer is we become best friend with all the MLR teams. Steven nailed it. He and you took the words right out of my mouth. I think the biggest concern is always going to be compliance and making sure that that’s all buttoned up. Like I said, I started in pharma two years ago, and when I first came to the scene, there’s this huge appetite to want to do innovation but also the realities of the challenges. What I do believe to be true after two years in this space is, for the most part, if a brand and an agency and all the other stakeholders really want to make an activation happen, there’s always a way. I don’t know if I’m a masochist or something but I always keep those things as real challenges. If we have an idea and we want to push it through, we will find a way. I do believe that.

I think the biggest hurdle, honestly, is maybe just finding the time to commit to getting those new ideas pushed through. It is a time commitment to make sure that MLR is super educated and comfortable. At PHM, something that we do to make the process just less cumbersome for brands and for the MLR teams is really create playbooks and develop functional review guides and things like that just to expedite that process and make everyone feel educated and comfortable, like Steven said. Last year, like you said, we launched our Tik Tok campaign. At PHM, we were first to market with nine other social products across platforms, including Twitter, of course. We love doing new things and really finding engaging in new ways to communicate with our target audience and with the patients.

I just saw Takeda recently launched a snap AR lens. I think they were the first to market for that, it looked really great on the platform and it was really a social first activation for sure. I think those concerns around compliance and everything are obviously totally valid but I think the key is just finding new ways to communicate with those audiences, getting the MLR teams engaged and getting brand buy-in and then all people working together really closely just to bring it through as one united front to get that approval and really take these things to market. Not discounting that it’s definitely a challenge but I think, at the end of the day, we’ll find a way if everybody is really into it.

Lisa Bookwalter

Director, Twitter Client Solutions, Health
Twitter

“Does anybody else on the panel have any comments about, I see it coming through on the feed from the audience, around adapting to just the speed of social? I think, Patty, you touched on the playbook. Are there any other hacks or things you would pass on to people in the audience around how are you able to bridge that gap between the time it takes to MLR and also how you want to be quick and reactive in social?

Steven Xie

Director, Omni Channel Marketing
Biohaven Pharmaceuticals

“The behind the scene design is so critical because when you think about MLR process as an industry, inherently we’re not designed to handle social communication because when you think about elements of submissions that are so cumbersome. It stops you from doing things quickly. One thing I’ll share with you is we actually have a separate work stream just from a regulatory standpoint specifically reserved for content that needs quick approval. We call it always on social.

Long story short, when our reviewers see something like labeled always on social, they would follow a very different path than other materials. I think things like designing something that is very conducive for modern communication is critical. On top of that, also I think that education piece is so important. They need to know why we’re doing this. You cannot just throw things at them saying, hey, please review and approve, but you need to give them context. Making sure they understand why we’re doing this, what’s the value, but also follow up to show them what kind of impact their contribution is making for the brand. I think it’s really collective teamwork from end to end.

Amy Baumann

Director, Omnichannel Strategy Lead
Merck

I’ll just add on to what Steven said. I do think the infrastructure is so important. Five years ago, from the beginning, we embedded one of our regulatory attorneys as our social attorney. She gives us an hour each week. We have a flexible agenda. From that, we’ve been able to create different approval pathways for social items depending on the level of claims and the type of content that allows us to get out content really quickly, 24 hours is for tough stuff, two hours for things that are really high importance or related to crisis.

Lisa Bookwalter

Director, Twitter Client Solutions, Health
Twitter

“Amy, I was going to ask you about that because I know Merck has a very strong social listening strategy. I would love you to talk about the timeframe from when you get the insights to when you can publish content, which it sounds like can be very quickly.

Amy Baumann

Director, Omnichannel Strategy Lead
Merck

I think from the beginning we’ve established a foundation of listen, publish, and engage as our key social fundamentals and the interplay between the three of those things. When you think about listening, and I think about going back to what Patty was saying when COVID first started, it really made everyone take another look at social and what your practices are and making sure that you’re aligning that to the external environment. We wanted to understand the environment from a content perspective but we turned to our partners, we have inhouse listening at Merck, a team and a leader for digital analyst. We asked them to survey the social media landscape and see what was the tone of the conversation, what was the volume.

We learned that it was all COVID, all the time. That told us that continuing to publish our business as usual, if you want to say, content around medical meetings or company different therapeutic areas really needed to change. We turned to our employees. We knew the fastest way to generate authentic heartfelt content was to listen to them and to see if they could submit videos thanking frontline workers. In fact, they did and were able to turn around content in some cases overnight to start our COVID campaigns and really continue them. We’ve, honestly, seen the best engagement metrics probably ever because of this.

Lisa Bookwalter

Director, Twitter Client Solutions, Health
Twitter

“That’s amazing. I think one of the great tools of social is that you really can be so current and you’re able to have that dialogue but obviously that dialogue can present what also makes people very afraid of social, especially in the health space. I know most the platforms can turn off comments. Twitter is actually rolling that out on Monday. We’re very excited.

For the first time ever, you’ll be able to turn off comments. Steven, I know Nurtec actually has comments on across all the platforms. How do you balance the richness that you get from those insights with the inherent concern around opening up and letting everybody say what they want to say?

Steven Xie

Director, Omni Channel Marketing
Biohaven Pharmaceuticals

I cannot wait to talk about that topic, Lisa. First of all, congratulations to the Twitter team. I’ve been working with you guys for many years at this point. I think I always appreciate your willingness to work with pharma as an industry to address some of the unique concerns but somehow still protect the unique Twitter experience. I think that’s a fantastic job well done. I have no doubt. I think this is great news for many of my peers, for brands who are really hoping to leverage Twitter as an efficient media platform but somehow still feeling a little bit nervous, I think this is a great opportunity for you to dip your toe in the water.

I think for us as a brand, we activated Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, literally 15 minutes after we received our FDA approval. Since then, Lisa, you know this, we’ve had incredibly fun journey with Twitter by leveraging all sorts of pharma first activation to engage reach our target audience. I think when we work with our partner, Klick Health, to figure out some of the challenges by leveraging these innovative activation tools, certainly there’s a lot of issues and obstacles we have to come across, overcome. I have to say, I never found open comment and a two-way engagement being a burden or a concern for our brand. I think from our point of view, this is simply the cost of doing business on Twitter or other social channels. Imagine you get invited to a Zoom call like this. You’re having engaging conversation. Everybody is having fun. You somehow are put on mute. You cannot participate. That’s exactly what I think consumers are experiencing when the comment is turned off.

I think there’s also missed opportunity there. I’ll share with you. Our agency conducts daily community management. We engage with our users on the daily basis. Lots of these engagements turn into high value action. They go to your website. They download your co-pay card. They talk to their doctor. They get a script. I think I can share with you many times we heard from patients because of that engagement, they got Nurtec. They say, ‘thank you, I talked to my doctor. I finally got my Nurtec.’ I think there’s actually dollar signs attached to the comment.

Beyond that, let’s just take a moment, think about when was the last time you go to Amazon to buy a piece of item without looking at the review. That’s absurd. As an industry, we think it’s okay to turn it off. I think we think about how people form the perception of your brand, of your product, when they see a piece of that, the comment is there, they will go through the comment, look at what other people are saying. That’s exactly what we’re taking advantage of. That’s part of our patient story engine design. That’s exactly the reason we can get so many testimonials without putting any additional dollar there.

I know you probably will ask, okay, so what about AE and the negative comments. I’ll tell you there is this perception, AE is so crazy. We’re not going to be able to manage this. It’s negative comments, issues, whatnot. Based on our experience, the reality might not be what you are expecting. We opened up our comment, as you mentioned, across our channel very quickly following our launch, and also we work with Khloe Kardashian as our spokesperson, who many of you might say is polarized figure. I will tell you, we never found the two-way engagement being completely out of control. It’s always manageable. I think in the case of Twitter particularly, negative comments and AE, on the grand scheme of things, really consist of very small fraction of the total engagement.

I think at the end of the day, we think the picture is very clear. The benefit of leveraging Twitter as a platform and also the two-way engagement outweighs the risks. I will say I encourage my fellow marketers to definitely take advantage of the offering but please also consider explore the full potential of the platform when you’ve gained a certain level of comfort.

Lisa Bookwalter

Director, Twitter Client Solutions, Health
Twitter

“We have a few more minutes left. I just would love to touch on HCP because I know we’ve done most of our conversations around consumer and HCP is so important to everybody, I’m sure, sitting in this room.

I would love to just hear quickly from all the panelists about – there’s going to be shift obviously in HCP marketing. I think everybody knows that. I think it’s going to shift much more into digital. I would love just to hear each one of you your thoughts on HCP and where you think social might be able to close some of that gap with the person to person doctor’s office marketing. Patty, I want to start with you and then Amy and then Steven.

patty ryan

Patty Ryan

VP, Paid Social Media
Publicis Health Media

Yeah, I think going back to my first point just like with the onset of COVID, obviously a lot of the brands that we work with have shifted their approaches and we’ve helped guide them through that in terms of looking for digital alternatives. I think the thing to keep in mind is that the way we approach it is, everyone says this, this is nothing new, HCP are people, too. They’re spending a ton of time on these platforms as well. They use all the platforms for different reasons.

I think it’s just really important as that transformation is happening to keep in mind the value prompt of the platform, what people are going there to do, how best to speak in a language that’s going to resonate with them in that moment. I think the principal still applies, though. It’s really important to have attention grabbing creative. I think I see somewhat of a focus on creative innovation on the DTC side but HCPs need thumb stopping creative, too. I just think it’s a matter of taking some of those principles and applying them across the board but obviously making sure that we’re really thoughtful about how HCPs are using the platform and then speaking to them in terms that makes sense for them.

Lisa Bookwalter

Director, Twitter Client Solutions, Health
Twitter

“Thank you so much, guys. I think this was really insightful and I really appreciate your time.

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