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The Future of Pharma-Sponsored Twitter & Other Social Media Chats

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An interview with Tony Jewell, a member of AstraZeneca's external communications team and editor of AZ Health Connections blog, about the recent #rxsave Twitter chat and plans for future pharma-hosted chats.


0:00 Introduction

Blog Talk Radio

0:04 John Mack

Hello! Welcome to Pharma Marketing Talk. This is your host John Mack and today I have a guest who is Tony Jewell, who is a member of AstraZeneca's external communications team. He is actually the senior director and he is also the editor of AZ Health Connections blog. And we are going to be talking about the recent RXsave Twitter chat that was hosted by AstraZeneca and this chat was about the AstraZeneca's prescription assistance program and we will try to see how that went and what the future plans might be. So I would like to welcome Tony. Hi! How are you doing?

0:55 Tony Jewell

Now, thanks for having me on John.

0:57 John Mack

Sure. Why don't you give people a little background about yourself or what your role is at AstraZeneca and before we get started about the specific topic.

1:10 Tony Jewell

Sure. As you mentioned I am on the external communications team here for the US business for AstraZeneca. You know, what that means is anything from a corporate standpoint that we communicate externally. You know, it would fall with my team that includes media relations. That includes some other things you seem as doing in social media and on various other projects.

1:39 John Mack

Okay, that might keep you pretty busy but right now I would like to focus on the what I am calling, and other people are calling the first ever Pharma sponsored Twitter chat which had a hashtag RXsave and can you tell us why you decided to do a Twitter chat and about the topic?

2:03 Tony Jewell

Yes. At first I don't think we realize it was the first Pharma company Twitter chat. I don't know if we would avoid it to see how somebody else did before we jumped in. But you know, the genesis was you know, we have been announcing over the last three years how many patients have benefited from our prescription savings programs and we do a state by state releases, we tried traditional channels of reaching out to the media and try to get new stories whether nationally or in local markets and quite frankly we've had limited success, you know that's a hard story for us to sell and get traditional media. So we decided to take a more social media approach this year and we still did the state by state releases and we still did the national release. But we did a blog post that had an interactive map where people can see how many people are helped in each state, and you click on a state and you get the state released. That was kind of fun and we did a little and we pushed out the releases via Twitter with state hashtags. You know, that brought a lot of traffic to the blog but one of the things that we also thought of was to do a Twitter chat and you know...

3:31 John Mack


3:32 Tony Jewell

I think it was a good idea and we went forward with it.

3:35 John Mack

So I guess, you didn't get that idea from me then?

3:39 Tony Jewell

I think in retrospect I had read your -- but I think that was last November and you had done a post on it and so it was somewhere -- I think it might have been somewhere in my head but yeah, I had been a little more involved in the -- I think, the Social Pharma chats, I think that people do on Wednesday nights and you know...

3:56 John Mack


3:58 Tony Jewell

Saw some baseball chats.

3:59 John Mack


4:02 Tony Jewell

You know they occur on moldable subjects at any given time so I thought maybe we could give it a try.

4:09 John Mack


4:10 Tony Jewell

But couldn't we host for.

4:11 John Mack

Yeah, that's what I thought but anyway, so you did mention that reaching out through traditional media and this kind of topic was a hard sell and you think -- why do you think that is and I guess, you are finding that social media like Twitter can help with that, is that what you said?

4:36 Tony Jewell

Yeah, you know, it's an annual release we do. And you know, reporters have a lot of issues competing for their attention and then you know, especially in prep, they are shrinking these holes and we get that. And you know, we can only go to them so many times throughout the year with the expectation that they will write something about AstraZeneca. And then this one, we have a little difficulty getting through and so to agree that we can be our own content provider through the blog or Twitter or our Facebook page, you know it was certainly worth the shot.

5:24 John Mack

Well, with the -- I mean, I know that the goal was to get more attention to the programs specifically and to eventually enroll more patience in the program. Can you tell us a little bit first about how the program has been going up to now and you know, give a little background?

5:49 Tony Jewell

Sure. Our prescription savings program has existed for more than 30 years now. It was originally created to help patients afford their cancer medicines. Last year, the programs helped more than 545,000 patients save nearly a billion dollars on 4.1 million prescriptions. We have two different programs for individuals. One is just for people without insurance who have a household income at or below $30,000 for a single person and up to $60,000 for a family of four and up to 70,000 for a family of five. And then there is the Medicare Part D program they had to be enrolled in Medicare Part D and have an income of below $30,000 for an individual or below $40,000 for a couple.

6:48 John Mack

Okay, so now I know that your goal was to try to get to wear it out more about this program, but it seems to me that doing that chat, you have also made some new connections with other people or organizations that are not the media that can help you with that goal. Is that correct?

7:06 Tony Jewell

Yeah, a lot of these groups they were on the chat or groups that we had worked with previously and a lot of people -- and I think they are 180 or 200, however many has used the hashtag today that I figure what the latest number is. But you know, there were ideas coming from people that we perhaps wouldn't have had a conversation with about how best to improve our prescription savings programs, and so the conversations served that purposes is a clearing house of ideas for how to best reach the people we are trying to help. And Jen McGovern who runs our program and who moderated the chat said immediately after that she is going take these ideas back to routine and they are trying to find ways to implement them as soon as possible.

7:58 John Mack

Can you tell us a couple of the specific ideas you found useful?

8:02 Tony Jewell

You know, you mentioned more I think on Hispanic outreach. I would need to get the list from her. I don't have that in front of me right now.

8:16 John Mack


8:17 Tony Jewell

And I'm sorry for that.

8:18 John Mack

You have some specific questions that were mentioned on my blog so, you ask specific questions and you got some specific ideas relating to those questions so I guess, you found it pretty useful. And the intended audience people are wondering if your intention was to reach directly to patients. Was that the intended audience or did you have a specific audience in mind?

8:45 Tony Jewell

I think the patient population is too broad to reach through a one-hour Twitter chat between eight and nine on a Wednesday. I think it was, it was -- you know, I think those are listening session. Where Jen was able to hear what people thought and what we would then do is go out and work with our partners. Some of them were on this chat, others who were not and more effectively reach patients.

9:16 John Mack

What about the concerns that you might have had going into this? I know there were some people who were I guess what I called, not you but I called threatened to highjack the conversation. Were you concerned about that?

9:33 Tony Jewell

You know, my biggest concern when we thought when we conceived of it was that nobody would show up. So we were concerned about too many voices. We are concerned about too few. And no, with this and then with any conversation it is more than merrier and the difficulty we had in what people may have wanted to talk about we were kind of limited as to what we could discuss. We just give in the regulatory environment. We couldn't discuss specific medicines that may seem odd with a pharmaceutical company, can't discuss specific medicines but when we talk about out medicines we need to talk about fair balance, the risks and the benefits. The benefits and the risks and that's very difficult to do on a 140 characters.

10:31 John Mack

Alright. So getting to that, the FDA of course had some major questions about that and are promising to do some guidelines relating to that issue and saying we have this whole Twitter chat I mean, obviously there is only a 140 characters but now we got new technology that I was writing about Deck.ly, for example, that allows you to do longer tweets although maybe not everybody can read those longer tweets but then there is the whole concept of a chat which is an entire communication. How would the FDA look at that? I mean, when they look at individual tweets and when they look at entire chat so there is opportunity to get into lots of details if you are online for an hour and you are chatting along and you have time to do that. But was that you know, one of the legal regulatory hurdles you had to overcome? I mean, what were their concerns first of all? And that was one of them probably going into this review of legal regulatory people...

11:42 Tony Jewell


11:43 John Mack

That you have to -- was this a long process before you got in and actually do the chat?

11:51 Tony Jewell

You know, there is a lot in that question. First, we look forward to the FDA guidance. Right now, we are operating in the space to the degree we can. I think, I mean, if you look at what AstraZeneca is doing from a corporate standpoint and even on our brand side as well, we have identified what is probable or possible then we've also -- excuse me. And then we look at what makes sense for the business to do and we see where those two points intersect and that is how we are approaching it right now. As far as was it a long process to get it approved, no it was a conversation with our patient's safety and our legal folks but we understand what is possible right now. We understand what the limitations are. And we operated within those guidelines, both internal and external guidelines.

12:53 John Mack

Okay. Well, overall did you think that the Twitter chat achieved the goals you wanted to achieve?

13:03 Tony Jewell

Yes. You know, I originally conceived, we thought it was an opportunity for Jennifer McGovern to talk with her advocates and others who ever want to be a part of the conversation about our prescription savings programs and how best to serve the patients who need them. And you know, you may have seen on our blog and the AZ Health connections that she immediately took those ideas back and her team is working through them right now and then they are going to begin implementing. So to that degree it was a success. It was not a conversation that was intended to reach, you know, a patient population of 100,000 to 200,000. However, many and let's say, "Here, sign up here." And it's going to happen at 9:15 on Wednesday night.

13:54 John Mack


13:55 Tony Jewell

You know, that wasn't the attempt. The attempt was to figure out how to operate our programs that are to serve patients more effectively and efficiently, and hopefully it will achieve that goal.

14:05 John Mack

Okay. Do you envision that you may have other chats I think, you said, it might depend on FDA regulations but if aside from that, do you envision other chats that you may host or AZ or may host on this subject or other subjects?

14:26 Tony Jewell

We are certainly open to it. I think the conversation we need to have internally and with others externally is what value could we bring to the conversation by hosting another chat. What issues would it makes sense for us to tackle. This one felt like a no brainer. From a subject matter area, I think you have seen a lot of requests out there for us to have conversations with patients and advocates and right now that' just not possible. So could we identify other areas where there it is in the public policy realm or something that doesn't add specific disease state or medicines? Sure if it makes sense to do.

15:18 John Mack

Okay. What about an idea for pharma companies like AstraZeneca to help other groups like patient organizations or patient advocacy groups or even physician associations helped them host chats that are on specific subjects. Is there some way that pharma can do that sort of arms and sort of -- I don't know provide monetary support or some other of support for organizations to do that?

16:00 Tony Jewell

The short answer -- I don't know. You know, we do work with groups throughout the Healthcare system on various projects. Is there something that we could be involved in before you ask that it had never occurred to me and that kind of give you a deepened insightful answer. Unfortunately that that's said -- you know, go back to my previous question about folks wanting us to have conversations with patients. You know, that is the beauty of the social media, that they don't need us to have that conversation. You know these conversations are happening everywhere. You know we, want to be involved. We just want to be involved appropriately and for us to be the organizer is not appropriate right now given the regulatory constraint.

16:57 John Mack

Okay, I understand that. Well, we got a few more minutes left. I wanted to make sure I gave you the chance to give us all the feedback you wanted about the specific chat and is there something I left out that we should talk about?

17:20 Tony Jewell

Yeah. We really appreciate everybody who participated. You know, Jen was thrilled with the turn out and the level of engagement and then and just the insights that people shared. We were quite pleased with how it went and we just want to thank everybody who did participate.

17:43 John Mack

I guess, in your area, media contacts and sign through difficult to measure success in a kind of quantitative way I know that sometimes you look at the well very creative story in the newspaper and so on. Are you looking at those kinds of returns from this kind of a chat?

18:08 Tony Jewell

You know, we have seen the stories and we have seen the blog post and appreciate the feedback well while trying to learn what we can do better in the social media space and this kind of feedback is invaluable. So that would be the return on investment from a media standpoint today, this is -- we are trying to make sure we are communicating as effectively as possible through these social media channels.

18:42 John Mack

One final question maybe. If looking back on this and I know you had success at it but would you have done things differently in terms of pre-announced announcements and/or how to hold other chat was run, etc. anything like that, you might share with us?

19:04 Tony Jewell

You know, I was impressed the way it is spread by early. You know, we put out a blog post I think on Monday and words spread very, very quickly. Perhaps in the original post, we've said in the original post what we intended to talk about. We did not say what we were not going to talk about or would be unable to talk about. Perhaps, that could have provided a little more clarity upfront. As far as moderating, you know, we are new to the moderating. We have seen other people do it. I think the flow of the conversation was pretty strong. I think with anything you get better as you do it more but overall, we are quite happy with that.

19:52 John Mack

Well, and you said you participated in some other chats that appear suddenly or whatever. You mentioned social pharma, are there any other health related chats that you are monitoring or engaging in or looking at?

20:14 Tony Jewell

You know, I dropped and answered a few questions this morning and the Healthcare social media in the EU because they were talking about the RXsave chat, so I thought I could add a little value there. A lot of these and how I found that one this morning was it just turned out on the Twitter feed, so I saw them talking about this so I thought I could add. But you know, we read a lot and we are interested in seeing and what people are saying about specially AstraZeneca but also about the industry and how we interact with the public. You know, the social pharma chat on Wednesday nights and we did it at the same time and that. That was unintentional by the way. That's just happened to be when chat is available.

21:08 John Mack


21:09 Tony Jewell

And so, I apologize for that upfront.

21:14 John Mack

It's so hard for even us techy people to keep up with two chats at the same time.

21:17 Tony Jewell

So we will try to avoid that in the future.

21:19 John Mack

Right. Okay, what about any other social media plans for you and in the future for AstraZeneca in the PR realm?

21:30 Tony Jewell

Stay Tuned, that is something that we're continually looking at. Stay Tuned. I had personally have done a little bit of Quora lately. I don't know if there is room for that as a business or that's going to be an individual based conversation.

21:47 John Mack

What did you just mention? I'm sorry.

21:51 Tony Jewell


21:53 John Mack

Something I heard of too but I haven't looked at.

21:57 Tony Jewell

It is kind of a combination of Yahoo Answers and Wikipedia. Now you can ask any question and Smart people come and provide you answers.

22:10 John Mack


22:12 Tony Jewell

And so I have asked a few questions as it applies to what we do here and got some decent feedback.

22:17 John Mack

Oh yeah, okay. I got to take a look at that. Well, I want to thank you for being a guest and talking about your Twitter chat and hope that you do some more and I will look forward to that.

22:28 Tony Jewell

Alright. I appreciate them.

22:30 John Mack

Okay this is John Mack saying goodbye until the next time. Bye.

22:35 Tony Jewell