Wary at the start, Eli Lilly now embraces social media

Using blogs and Twitter, drug maker shows how Big Pharma can communicate online, despite industry constraints.

Eli Lilly and Co. can’t talk about drugs or diseases, nor share patient stories on its blog or Twitter account.

Talk about a communication challenge.

Despite the restrictions of the heavily regulated pharma industry, it’s managed to find its voice. During a webinar with Mayo Clinic Center for Social Media and Ragan Communications, Greg Kueterman shared what he’s learned about blogging and tweeting as part of the company’s corporate communications team.

Until last September, the company was invisible on social media. Strict regulations and the company’s ties to the federal government made it wary about getting involved on social media. Kueterman’s team wrestled with this question, “As a pharmaceutical company, where could we make a meaningful difference?”

Instead of worrying about what Lilly couldn’t say on social media, it concentrated on what it could.

Exploring the LillyPad blog

Kueterman says the blog LillyPad focuses on four topics: public policy, advocacy, corporate responsibility, and life at Lilly. And it’s working. To date, the blog has seen 44,000 visits and 31,000 unique visitors.

“Our core guiding principle is this: We want to remain compliant and not do anything that puts our reputation at risk,” Kueterman says.

Here’s how LillyPad describes itself:

Welcome to LillyPad, an official blog of Eli Lilly and Company. We launched this blog so we could begin a dialogue with the public on matters that are important to us and those following the biopharmaceutical industry. We’ll focus on public policy issues, corporate responsibility initiatives, our advocacy efforts and the work our employees do every day to make the world a healthier place to live. We’ll be sharing our perspective on issues that affect people from Washington D.C. to the heartland—from health and wellness to innovation to job creation. But we don’t want to simply provide our perspective on the issues. We want this to be a two-way conversation and encourage you to join us and share your thoughts.

Three to five blogs are posted on LillyPad each week. Only three people write for the blog. Kueterman says this helps keep the tone consistent.

“With three voices, we’re able to meld together into one voice,” he says. “That’s a benefit to our readers and our site. However, in the future, we’d like to run posts from guest bloggers.”

The most popular post on LillyPad isn’t about policy. It’s a video from the company’s gay and lesbian affinity group, which created an “It Gets Better” video. It has garnered 4,000 hits since it was first posted.

“Even though policy and legislature is the heart and soul of what we do, our readers really do care about human interest pieces, as well,” Kueterman says.

How @LillyPad uses Twitter to spread its message

Are people really interested in following a Big Pharma company on Twitter?

“Not a lot of people are,” Kueterman concedes.

But @LillyPad hits its key audiences: legislative and staff, the media, philanthropists, and key stakeholders in Indiana, where the company is based.

So far, it has gathered more than 4,000 Twitter followers. Kueterman and his team tweet two to three times each day.

@LillyPad isn’t tweeting about drugs. Instead, the company is tweeting information about policy, sharing blog posts and news articles with stakeholders.

Here are some examples of recent tweets:

IndyStar reports that more cuts into fed drug programs would have “profound effect” on pharma industry. http://elil.ly/89mz

Check out a cool new diabetes partnership b/w @lilly and @disney http://elil.ly/qo9p

A future without #hunger ? How animal biotechnologies can help http://ow.ly/5KqOx #biotech

Want to hear the full webinar with Greg Kueterman?

Click here to buy a CD recording of this 75-minute presentation, complete with a PowerPoint presentation you can share with your staff.

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