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Blending the Personal and the Professional: A Community Manager’s Story

While I’ve always had a job in some form of communications, I never really imagined myself becoming a social media manager. In fact, back in 2007, when Facebook was all the rage, I was a rather reluctant joiner. But we had a fundraiser coming up for the nonprofit my husband and I had started in memory of our son, and I realized social media could be a good way to connect with our supporters and market our fundraising events. So I signed on and pretty quickly learned the value of using social media to connect with people in my community and beyond.

But perhaps I should back up a few steps and provide a little more background.

A Crooked Path

When I graduated from Meredith College in Raleigh, NC, with a degree in English Literature and Professional Communications, I thought everyone knew how to write well. And why not? My fellow students wrote well, and that was the extent of my world at the time. But when I got a job with a Clinical Research Organization (CRO) in Research Triangle Park, I began to work with some really smart people—people with MDs and PhDs—who weren’t good writers or communicators. That’s when I realized academic credentials weren’t the only credentials that counted. Innate skills and life experiences also provided a different kind of expertise.

For the first half of my career, I was a medical writer. I wrote patient narratives, clinical study reports and other required summary documents submitted to the U.S. FDA and other regulatory agencies around the world. I wrote research results for antibiotics, chemotherapy drugs and a biologic agent for skin replacement for burn victims. I wrote and wrote. I worked for CROs. I moved to Indianapolis to begin working for Lilly. I traveled on assignment to other states and other countries to work with researchers, documenting their findings.

Until it all came to an abrupt halt.

On June 30, 2006, my husband and I learned that our 3-year-old son Nathan had a brain tumor. Metastatic anaplastic medulloblastoma. I immediately quit work to care for him. We had moved back to North Carolina at that point, so Nathan was treated at Duke University Hospital. His little brother essentially went to live with my parents, an hour away, so we could live at the hospital with Nathan. It was sudden, intense, heart-breaking. He died just 2 weeks shy of his 4th birthday.

After that, I wasn’t sure what I would do in life. Everything I knew and expected had been turned completely upside down.

The Aftermath

It’s hard to believe that all happened more than 10 years ago now. When I first went back to work, after my 3-year FMLA time ended, frankly, I did just enough to get by. I wasn’t being particularly innovative or disruptive or any of the other cool words we use to describe our work today. But I showed up. Every day I showed up and worked a little then worked a little more. And by simply showing up and doing my part, I was exercising hope. Hope for myself, hope for my family, hope for the future. As Elizabeth Gilbert describes beautifully in one of my favorite TED talks, consistently showing up and doing your part sometimes results in achieving genius.

Not that my process had any particular genius to it, but I did—slowly, very slowly, and little by little—rediscover myself. My old love for teaching was rekindled, as I found myself coordinating important internal communications. Mine was a voice my colleagues trusted, and I valued their trust in me. I didn’t want to let them down. Slowly I became stronger, and slowly I found ways to bring my unique patient and caregiver view to my work.

Slowly I became stronger, and slowly I found ways to bring my unique patient and caregiver view to my work.

Certainly, the grief and stress I experienced have affected my own self-care and health care journey. While the emotional pain has lessened over the years, it never completely goes away. I think that’s why I was so moved by Christine Parks’ “Physician Ignite! Talk” at Medicine X a few years back. She perfectly describes the deep connection that can occur between a physician and the family who has lost a loved one, simply by sitting quietly together in shared pain. Those moments are tragically beautiful and a part of our shared human experience. We all know what it’s like to experience loss.

Becoming Community Manager

The Community Manager role at Lilly includes planning, creating and publishing content for our social media channels. We share our own content and what we call third-party content (meaning, articles and information created by someone other than Lilly). The job requires a lot of reading! I read everything from FDA announcements to clinical operations news to patient experience blogs, because all of that matters to our work, and we want to share that kind of diverse information with our audiences. Drug development requires input and insight from lots of people with many different roles and skills, and we try to demonstrate those viewpoints through the voices we amplify.

Drug development requires input and insight from lots of people with many different roles and skills, and we try to demonstrate those viewpoints through the voices we amplify.

Over the years, I’ve been amazed to see how people are using social media to connect in conversations about their health. Just a very few examples:

  1. Symplur curates a list of “healthcare hashtags,” where patients, caregivers, researchers and health care providers join together in online conversations, through conferences or regular tweet chats.
  2. Patients joined with physicians and researchers to publish a scholarly article on the value of one of those hashtag groups: #BCSM.
  3. Nurses and patients regularly share their own motivation for participating in clinical research through the #WhyWeDoResearch hashtag.

These examples are powerful in that they illustrate how social media has moved beyond connecting people within their communities to allowing people to create and curate entirely new communities, based on interest rather than geography.

Bringing the Personal to My Profession

As the Community Manager for a corporation that employs tens of thousands of people around the globe, I confess it feels a bit strange to write a blog post about myself on one of the company websites. But here on Lilly TrialGuide and through our Twitter handle, @LillyTrials, we have learned the value of listening to and incorporating the patient voice. So, if it’s part of my job to invite people to share their personal stories, then maybe it’s fitting that I share a bit of mine, too.

I look forward to connecting with all of you. Drop me a line. I’ll be listening.

(Editor’s note: A different version of this blog was previously published on LillyPad.)

Tags: community management,

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