Illustration credit: A.E. Kieren

Greg Cohen, associate director of global strategic marketing, UCB

Cohen only started working in healthcare three years ago—yet despite his rep as one of the industry’s savviest operators in the social-media sphere, he still feels like an outsider. “It’s an insular business,” he says. “People think that when you’re new to it, you can’t possibly understand it. To me, that’s the wrong way of thinking, because it keeps people out.”

As a result, Cohen and his peers at UCB are making a push to broaden their digital mind-set beyond pharma. Cohen’s mission is to engage customers in the ways they want to be engaged—and being new to the field means that he hasn’t been constrained by healthcare’s typical conservatism in social media.

“We needed new ways to improve patient engagement, so I looked at how patients are using digital tools to engage with pharma,” he says. “I thought about how customers of tomorrow will want to engage, through channels like Facebook, Twitter and even Snapchat.”By using these insights, Cohen developed new processes to grow UCB’s Epilepsy Advocate social presence by focusing on stories about people living with epilepsy. His most innovative move was facilitating live chats during Epilepsy Awareness Month 2014, which allowed users to exchange real-time information with patient advocates. He made similar changes to UCB’s patient-advocacy groups for people living with Parkinson’s and Crohn’s disease.

Cohen has also trained his eye on the company’s customer-service channels. “We started by asking patients, ‘How do you define value in healthcare?’ ” he explains. “Our survey told us that what they want most is a caring figure, whether it’s a doctor, nurse, pharmacist or another person. We used that core piece of information to develop UCBCares.”

Cohen and his team streamlined UCB’s operations, combining traditional customer-service reps with medical information and drug-safety experts. He also trained the staff to better listen to and interact with customers in social media. Customers can now call a single number to ask about anything from product information to financial support. “We’ve noticed that millennials are texting, not talking,” Cohen quips.

Other changes are likely to follow when UCBCares upgrades to a more advanced service portal. It will feature more robust and intuitive online forms to alleviate call center traffic.