ELITE Disrupter Ryan Billings of AstraZeneca

Ryan Billings

Director, Social Strategy




A Digital Renaissance Man

For years, the pharmaceutical industry has been reluctant to come out of the Stone Age when it comes to social media. Ryan Billings is leading the Renaissance to change that.

At AstraZeneca, Ryan pioneered social internally to launch the only branded Facebook communities (NEXIUM and CRESTOR) with open comments in the industry. These communities are also platforms for AstraZeneca to leverage real-time content, traditionally impossible for pharma. And yet, when #TheDress happened in February 2015, Ryan led NEXIUM to respond—the result became one of the brand’s best performing posts.

“Ryan’s work has led to online safe havens for patients to relate to one another,” says Brian Simmons, VP Business Development at Grey Group. “He is forever raising the bar in pharmaceutical marketing.”

When Ryan needs inspiration for what to do next, he says he looks to companies such as Uber, IBM, and Amazon. “Our customers don’t care how regulated an industry is—they expect companies to be accessible, transparent, and responsive,” he adds. “We should be too.”

In 2015, Ryan revamped AstraZeneca’s customer service Twitter account, @AZhelps, integrating empathetic replies and proactive content, and training more customer service representatives on social. Additionally, he led the internal Social Strategy team and collaborated across functions to launch AZhelps on Facebook and Instagram, the former of which will serve as an additional customer service vehicle for the company. It is rare to see pharma use social for customer service, but once again Ryan is leading the way.

“We’re engaging in real conversations with content that our patients can relate to,” he says. “We’re even hashtagging emojis on our AZhelps Instagram posts.”

All of these social strides wouldn’t have been possible without the modern technology to support it. Recently, Ryan and his team implemented Sprinklr, a leading social media management and listening platform, across the U.S. business. And he helped set up a robust in-house social listening offering for all AstraZeneca brands and business functions. These moves are making social data more secure and bringing AstraZeneca much closer to the patient. They also offer further proof of how Ryan is bringing pharma out of the Digital Stone Age.


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