Lessons in listening: How Beverley Forrester tackled Novartis’ social listening program to make a big impact across the company

Back in 2016, Beverley Forrester — now Associate Director of Social Media Solutions — was brought in as a listening specialist at Novartis.

Social listening is a key touchpoint for understanding our patients in a candid way. Beverley Forrester
Right away, she saw that social listening was done in a variety of ways throughout the organization and that there were a lot of inconsistencies.

“A lot of the listening insights we had were being produced by our agency of record, so we couldn't say it was totally objective,” said Beverley. “And, we didn't have global standards in place to decide how things should be done.”

To fix social listening inconsistencies, Beverley knew they had to start recording and analyzing their social listening data internally.

Beverley sits within a social media Center of Excellence designed to support social media and digital engagement. So, the first thing she and the team did was bring in a system that could access real-time insights in a dashboard format for the entire organization. That way, more internal business stakeholders could get used to what social listening insights looked like and how useful they are.

In partnership with their preferred vendors, she implemented standard use cases, a format for reporting, and brand best practices for Novartis.

All our insights are meant to be actionable, data driven, and strategic. Beverley Forrester
“We started building buy-in from our governance team, and a lot more oversight into the program,” she said. “When I got here, we were spending too much money and having a lot of duplication in different parts of the company.”

Then, over the past four years, Beverley and the team continuously worked to centralize social listening across the global company and prove value to internal stakeholders.

Her goals as they grew the program were to get people familiar with social listening internally and to standardize it across the social media and marketing teams.

“It's important that people know what's best when it comes to doing social listening as a process,” she said. “That meant making it standard practice for everyone involved in our work on social media, especially in the global setting.”

She said while they had a lot of activity in the U.S., which they could regulate more easily, that wasn't necessarily true within all the countries representing Novartis on social media.

Then, as they were standardizing and enacting these processes across their social media teams, they had to ensure what they were doing was complementary to traditional market research and was improving content in their social media campaigns.

Achieving these goals across their channels required collaboration and social listening education across their multi-functional team.

To effectively evolve their program, Beverley and the team had to work closely with their paid media leads, digital strategists, brand leads, communications leads, legal team, patient safety team, and data privacy team.

Beverley also wanted to make sure all their work was going towards one of Novartis' core brand pillars: Improving the lives of patients.

It proves the value to our stakeholders when we can look at these conversations and learn from them in a timely manner. Beverley Forrester
“Social listening is a key touchpoint for understanding our patients in a candid way,” she said. “By keeping this in mind as we've built out the program, we've been able to use social listening to make real improvements on our drugs and delivery.”

For example, Novartis develops several dermatology drugs and, through social listening, they were able to notice an influx of complaints about skin symptoms in winter. Because of that discovery, they were able to provide resources for those groups.

“That kind of knowledge can only come from listening,” said Beverley. “All our insights are meant to be actionable, data driven, and strategic. It proves the value to our stakeholders when we can look at these conversations and learn from them in a timely manner.”

Beverley said they've also been able to launch more targeted, impactful social media campaigns through their social listening work.

For example, one such campaign approached metastatic breast cancer from a social listening perspective.

They've started looking at social listening as a legitimate sample size and a valid resource. Beverley Forrester
“Through that listening, we uncovered that many metastatic breast cancer patients felt left out of the breast cancer survivorship conversation because they didn't feel like they were survivors, because they most likely will not go into remission,” she said.

Because Novartis produces drugs that treat specifically those conditions, they were able to put together a campaign that shared valuable insights with patients and called out their needs during Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

“That campaign also had backing from breast cancer foundations and advocates,” she said. “It was a valuable lesson in how we can understand the sentiment of how patients feel about a disease and use social listening to incorporate that in our content in an impactful way.”

Overall, with case studies like the metastatic breast cancer campaign, they've been able to grow engagement and drive audiences to their websites and social media channels.

We've seen our work go from being a disparate activity to being a central digital component at Novartis. Beverley Forrester
She said the impact they can see across their channels is growing all the time. And, internally, they're even seeing ways that stakeholders on their drug development team can utilize the social listening data to better understand patients prior to a drug coming out.

“They've started looking at social listening as a legitimate sample size and a valid resource,” said Beverley. “Over the past four years, we've seen more internal teams and stakeholders really start to understand the value of this work.”

According to Beverley, the success of their social listening program has come from knowing their audience and listening to the needs of their internal partners.

“It's important to understand how our internal teams perceive the research we're doing,” she said. “We also listen to them to understand who's driving the conversation and what's important to them.”

In the past two years, she said Novartis is starting to evolve towards a more data-driven, digital mindset — and the social listening program is a core part of that work.

Having sponsorship from leadership is crucial to having things move forward, especially in a large corporation. Beverley Forrester
“We have a digital immersion program for everyone at the company,” said Beverley. “We incorporated social listening in that program to get everyone familiar with that process. We also have a listening simulation which I helped design as part of the immersion program. So, we've seen our work go from being a disparate activity to being a central digital component at Novartis.”

For anyone looking to get started with a social listening program, Beverley said there's no way to do this work without a team collaborating with you.

And, when you're collaborating, she emphasized the importance of being flexible and working with your stakeholders and leadership.

“Having sponsorship from leadership is crucial to having things move forward, especially in a large corporation,” she said. “Listening to patients and the world around them and looking out for the well-being of others can then trickle down into the development of our products. That applies to any industry that provides services or products.”

She also highly recommends doing substantial amounts of discovery up front — that includes learning and talking to the people at the company who need to do this and discovering what their needs and issues are.

“But, as you're doing that, remind people why this is important and why it needs to be a priority,” she said. “Once you explain how social listening can help them, they tend to get it and it helps your program grow that much more.”

Beverley Forrester has been a member of SocialMedia.org since 2018. You can follow her on LinkedIn.