Patients suffering from diabetes were connecting with one another online long before Medtronic entered the social-media realm. At the same time, many communities were rife with misinformation—and given that diabetes is largely a self-managed condition, patient frustration ran high. As a maker of pumps and other devices used by such patients, Medtronic was far from an uninterested observer of these conversations.
But rather than jump screaming into every thread, Sheldon and her team evolved their social-media presence into an extension of the company's customer-service arm. "We wanted to ensure that the right information about our products was out there, but over time we realized the opportunity to connect people with answers to their questions," Sheldon recalls. Challenges abounded—to steer clear of regulatory headaches, Medtronic must keep an audit trail of everything that appears on its pages—but the company soon became an avid player of the social-media game. "It's good for patients and it's good for us," Sheldon adds. —Larry Dobrow