Atlanta, GA — If you’ve ever talked about pharma marketing with me, you know I’m a big fan of the work UCB has done to support and advocate for patients. From smart content marketing around rheumatoid arthritis to their first-mover epilepsy partnership with PatientsLikeMe, they’ve changed expectations about what pharma can – and should – do for people. So, I was happy to see Trish Nettleship, their director of social media and influence, out on the conference circuit this year talking about just how they were able to build a Facebook community that’s both active and truly social.

Nettleship wanted to make smart use of social channels. So, her team started with listening. What they heard will sound familiar to anyone who works in or lives with epilepsy: a feeling of isolation. They needed more resources and knowledge, yes. But, more than that, they needed to share with people like them and feel more connected.

Next, the team dug into the numbers to determine where their customers were spending time. Facebook was the obvious destination (39% of their audience vs 22% for Twitter, the next closest social platform). Luckily, the brand had the perfect starting point there: Epilepsy Advocate, a program designed to share the real stories of people with epilepsy and the friends and family who support them.

Their opportunity: evolve the program from one-way storytelling to active social interaction.

Their biggest hurdle was figuring out how an old, trusted review process would evolve to support a new, untested channel. When Nettleship started the project, the company’s medical, legal and regulatory department needed two weeks to review a single social media post. That timing would have made real, responsive communication impossible. Nettleship brought the social media team together with the medical, legal and regulatory department in a half-day workshop designed to co-create a new process for social channels.

The new approach involves educating in-house community managers about the internal and external policies governing the brands’ communications. It gives clear guidelines for what they can and can’t discuss.

With the training in place, the community managers were able to act independently. They haven’t had an issue yet.

Once the process was created, the team was able to refocus on strategy, specifically on actively supporting patients and increasing the general amount of discussion (online and in the exam room) about partial-onset seizures.

The community is grounded in solid content marketing: “Did you know?” facts and statistics, infographics and illustrations, and big community-building questions. Once the team gets a conversation going, they participate in it, answering questions and recognizing comments in real time. 

Today the page has 46,500 likes and is part of an integrated program that stretches across social, digital and even print communications.

Although Nettleship couldn’t share detailed brand metrics, she did say goals were being met.

The KPIs alone reveal the impact, through. The page’s viral reach doubled year on year and community engagement rose by 66% in the same period. The average number of engagements per user leapt from 1.0 to 1.7 – and hit a peak of three in its most successful month.

Posted by: Leigh Householder

About the Author:

As Managing Director of Innovation and Insights for Syneos Health Communications, Leigh is responsible for building and scaling a global team of healthcare experts who together help life science leaders better understand the complex lives, influences and expectations of their customers. Specifically, they uncover actionable insights that fuel empathy and creativity; lead co-creation events that let marketers learn from peers, trends, and new possibilities; and help clients identify the most valuable and useful new customer experiences to create.

Leigh has worked with Fortune 1000 companies to craft their digital, mobile, social and CRM strategies for nearly 20 years.She’s worked for category-leading agencies in retail, public affairs, B2B technology, and higher education. Prior to moving to Syneos Health Communications, she held several leadership roles at our largest agency, GSW.  There, she founded an innovation practice fueled by the zeitgeist and spearheaded digital and innovation thinking across the business.

Leigh has taken a special interest in complex healthcare products that can change lives in meaningful ways. She was recently a strategic lead on the 3rd largest launch in pharmaceutical history: Tecfidera. Before that she had keys roles with Eli Lilly Oncology, Abbott Nutrition, Amgen Cardiovascular, and Eli Lilly Diabetes.

A critical part of Leigh’s work is trends and new ideas. Every year, she convenes a group of trend watchers from across our global network to identify the shifts most critical to healthcare marketers. This year, she led over 250 experts to experts to focus on the most important changes in the commercial, consumer, marketing, digital and healthcare landscapes. (See reports at

Leigh is a sought-after writer and speaker. Recognized as one of the most inspiring people in the pharmaceutical industry by PharmaVoice and Top 10 Innovation Catalysts of 2017 by MM&M, Leigh also was recognized  as a Rising Star by the Healthcare Businesswomen's Association (HBA) for her overt passion, industry thought leadership and significant contributions in new business, strategy and mentoring.