BIO 2009: Biotech: A Place for Social Media?

Tuesday at the BIO convention, I attended a session titled ‘Spreading the Word: New Technologies Mean Everyone is a Journalist,’ which covered how new media such as blogs and twitter are being used and are shaping communication in the biotechnology industry. The panelists were Brian Reid, Media Director, Weisscomm Partners, Ed Silverman, Bureau Editor, Elsevier Business Intelligence, Jen S. McCabe, Chief Patient Advocate at Organized Wisdom, Shwen Gwee, Lead Business Analyst, Vertex Pharmaceuticals, and Jerry Johnson, Executive Vice President, Brodeur Partners. Ed Silverman was the only ‘classical’ journalist in the panel (by training) and commented early in the session that although the canons of traditional media have legitimate reservations about this new class of ‘reporters,’ that they can be seen as ‘insects’ that are quicker and will likely take over when the ‘dinosaurs’ of old media crumble. Ed has watched the dynamics and power of new media as Pharmalot, the blog-style Pharma news website that he pioneered, rose to meteoric fame. Jen McCabe, who gave her presentation in clear ‘web 2.0’ style, walking through the audience, clarified that she sees herself as a ‘recorder, not a reporter.’ She proved this by twittering from her pink Mac throughout the event.
This meeting of old vs. new media is a familiar one in biotechnology, and was even evident in what I think was a poor name for the session, which Brian Reid indicated was due to the fact that he had to choose it almost a year ago–new media moves much more quickly than this. Shwen Gwee gave an excellent presentation on the foundations and benefits of social media (video excerpt), emphasizing that social media is more of a ‘pull’ than a ‘push’ of information, when done correctly. Shwen is a ‘rock star’ in the so-called ‘Med 2.0’ movement, a driving force between the Social Pharmer ‘unconference’ in April of this year. Jerry Johnson did a great job explaining that a corporate SM strategy needs to be more than just a vague idea that ‘our company needs a blog,’ and emphasized the power of face to face interactions and ‘self-organization’ in the growth of social networks. Jerry is passionate about using social media to involve and inform the community and scientists about biotechnology through IamBiotech, which you can learn more about at the BIO exhibit (#2200). Jen McCabe gave a dynamic, fact-filled presentation about the success in building communities and tracking metrics at Organized Wisdom. Jen has done the seemingly impossible and has come up with formulas for calculating ROI and predicting growth for SM initiatives. Throughout the event, Brian Reid gave his insights from his unique experience both using Social Media professionally for his clients at Weisscomm Partners, and personally, being interviewed by the Wall Street Journal and Newsweek as the foremost stay-at-home dad. The panel members promised to upload their presentations to Slideshare tagged with ‘bio09′.
While most of the conversation centered around implementing social media at the corporate level, I was curious about the panel members’ thoughts on engaging scientists with social media, and how to encourage participation. This was definitely a topic they had considered, and indicated that as with corporate SM implementations, the value needs to be demonstrated up front. In other words, clearly answer the scientists’ innate questions ‘what’s in it for me’ and ‘how will my career suffer if I don’t participate.’ From my own experience with the San Diego Biotechnology Network and with social media, I agree with this generality, and plan to motivate scientists during a ‘Social Media for Scientists‘ presentation I am giving with colleague William Gunn on May 28th. I plan to encourage scientists to ‘Just Do It’ and get involved with SM sooner rather than later, because it is highly experiential and the benefits are highly specific to the user. William Gunn will talk about the extraordinary advances that will result when scientists start sharing and discussing data in real time. This panel at BIO 2009, and the efforts of BIO in engaging SM (including this blog post) are truly exciting initiatives that deserve attention and support from the biotechnology community.

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