Influencer Q&A: @AstraZeneca’s Ryan Billings on why healthcare companies need a social-first mindset

Thursday, 5 March 2015

Patients and medical professionals often look for health information online, and in response, healthcare companies are increasingly using social media to engage them. To get the latest information on how healthcare brands are navigating Twitter, we sat down with Ryan Billings (@ryandaniel), director of social media strategy at @AstraZeneca.

Influencer Q&A: @AstraZeneca’s Ryan Billings on why healthcare companies need a social-first mindsetImage used with permission from @AstraZeneca

Billings shared how the global biopharmaceutical company, which Tweets from @AstraZeneca, @AstraZenecaUS and several other accounts, uses the platform for everything from lead generation to customer support. He also offered a healthy dose of social media advice for other healthcare companies.

@TwitterAds: How is social media marketing for the healthcare industry different than for other industries?

@ryandaniel: I’d argue that we’re the most highly regulated industry next to financial. Financial has pretty black and white guidance from the SEC and FINRA, but pharma has FDA draft guidance, which is not finalized. Pharma companies have to take what guidance is available, and create their own stance. We also have to include important safety information in all of our branded promotional materials, including Tweets.

@TwitterAds: Why is using Twitter valuable for healthcare companies despite these restrictions?

@ryandaniel: Twitter enables companies and brands to directly engage with customers and patients in real time. Industry-wide, we’re using Twitter as a news service to inform people, but we should also really be considering how to use it as a conversation tool to engage them.

@TwitterAds: When it comes to launching a campaign on Twitter, where should a healthcare brand start?

@ryandaniel: Social listening is always the starting point. It shows us the demographics of who’s talking about certain diseases and our brands the most, and what they’re thinking and feeling. In turn, this quantitative and qualitative information helps us create more relevant content and refine our strategies. This then leads to increased engagement.

We also use social listening to gain insights about our company and brands during large healthcare events. For example, we listened on Twitter during the European Society for Medical Oncology Congress (#ESMO14) in the fall of 2014. We gained insights into the top Tweeters during the conference, who were predominantly medical professionals and patient advocates. We also tracked the most mentioned cancer types, with lung cancer being the most talked about. We attributed this to positive data releases on pipeline products from numerous companies.

@TwitterAds: Can you walk us through one of @AstraZeneca’s Twitter campaigns?

@ryandaniel: My favorite is @fromafish, an account we created last year to educate consumers about high triglycerides and to create awareness of one of @AstraZeneca’s launch products. We identified a few target audiences, such as women with families who enjoy finding healthy recipes online, and used Twitter’s ad targeting tools to reach them.

We started by generating more than 10,000 followers with the help of a Promoted Account campaign.

Influencer Q&A: @AstraZeneca’s Ryan Billings on why healthcare companies need a social-first mindset

Then, we used Lead Gen Cards and Website Cards to drive registrations:

Influencer Q&A: @AstraZeneca’s Ryan Billings on why healthcare companies need a social-first mindsetInfluencer Q&A: @AstraZeneca’s Ryan Billings on why healthcare companies need a social-first mindset

The Lead Gen Cards drove more than a thousand signups, and the Website Cards drove users to a registration page on our site. We had a cross-channel campaign strategy, but Twitter was the top-performing channel.

In terms of the Tweet content, making the messages “from a fish” and using plenty of puns made the Tweets playful and appealing. Humor can often work well in social media, even in the healthcare space.

@TwitterAds: In what other ways does @AstraZeneca use Twitter?

@ryandaniel: Twitter enables us to position ourselves as scientific thought leaders by Tweeting from @AstraZenecaUS about speaking engagements, work in the community, corporate news, and our position on important healthcare topics.

@AstraZeneca is also the first pharmaceutical company to use Twitter to provide customer support. Users like getting customer support from social media, and when a user in the U.S. mentions one of our medications, we can proactively reach out with a selection of approved responses from @AZHelps.

Right now we can’t be as personable on Twitter as CPG brands when it comes to customer service, but we are looking at ways to improve the customer experience with @AZHelps in the future.

@TwitterAds: What changes in the healthcare social media landscape do you foresee?

@ryandaniel: A big trend right now is pharmaceutical companies hiring outside of the healthcare industry to get a fresh perspective. For example, I came from the music industry before starting my career in healthcare. The benefit of being an outsider is that you can go into things blindly and say “let’s do this” and come from a perspective of “how?” rather than “no.”

Social media is also becoming very visual. I would love to see healthcare and pharma content on Twitter becoming more visually engaging.

Overall, I think that healthcare companies are increasingly seeing Twitter as a channel that can amplify their marketing efforts, and soon, I think more healthcare brands will start having a social-first mindset.