A Tale Of Two Twitters: The Secrets To One Life Science Company’s Conference Success

We monitor the Twitter status updates for every life science conference, and noticed something very curious about the number of these so-called Tweets for two recent conferences, the American Society for Cell Biology conference (ASCB) and the British Society for Immunology Congress (BSI). We found that although the ASCB meeting had about 8 times the number of attendees as BSI, the number of Tweets from the former is only slightly larger (~20% more for ASCB). Further analysis of the BSI Tweets showed a great effort by a life science company which generated a lot of buzz and more Twitter activity. Their campaign demonstrates five elements necessary to successfully engage life scientists at a conference and generate new leads, and we detail them below.

  1. Planning. At first we thought the large number of Tweets (per attendee) for the BSI conference might be a result of the conference organizers promoting Twitter, for example displaying the hashtag prominently on the website (the hashtag is a text identifier that begins with “#” appended to status updates related to the conference, e.g., #ASCB2011). However, we found that both the BSI and ASCB organizers did equally poorly in this aspect (sorry, the truth may hurt, they could learn a lot from the ACS or our guide). However, Life Technologies (LIFE) picked up the slack by Tweeting the hashtag early and creating a video featuring the hashtag and announcing their presence at the conference. Planning ahead not only generates anticipation for the event, but allows researchers to come to the conference ready to participate in social media. Conversely, no company took the lead for ASCB, and the request by President Sandy Schmid to Tweet more during the first day of the conference likely fell mostly on deaf ears. Life scientists, if they do Tweet, are much less likely to get started in the throes of a conference than if they plan ahead by setting up the hashtag search, making sure they have access to the internet, bringing a charged smart phone, etc. (and we won’t bring up ASCB’s little incident in 2009, because they rectified it quickly).
  2. Creativity. LIFE came up with a campaign for the BSI conference which included wristbands and small gifts which they gave out to anyone who Tweeted with the hashtag #giftfromlife. These items, along with the video they created, were likely inexpensive but they got a lot of mileage out of them such as retweeting by scientists with pictures, which spread the message. Perhaps contrary to our comments in #1 regarding new Twitterers at conferences, these free gifts actually motivated two attendees to Tweet for the first time! Yes, scientists swoon over freebies, and it was clear that the buzz was so strong that even non-Twitterers heard about it.
  3. Fun. This ‘buzz contagion’ was likely due to the tone that LIFE set from the beginning video, calling the ‘stars’ of it ‘Tweethearts’ and warmly welcoming people to meet them. It was clear that they cared about the scientists, enjoyed using social media to connect, and their jobs as well, leading to a fun atmosphere. With budgets tightening, and all the information that is freely available on the web, conference and exhibit attendance is waning. This ‘joie de vivre’ is what is needed to attract life scientists back into exhibit halls where they can interact with the tool providers which aim to help them, and we commend LIFE for their efforts.
  4. Engagement. Comparing the Tweets of each conference it was clear that at BSI there was more of a friendly vibe between scientists and companies, while at ASCB one life scientist commented that 50 ‘random vendors’ were Tweeting, indicating a disconnect. We have noticed that some companies think that it is acceptable to schedule all Tweets ahead of the conference, and don’t engage with scientists at all during the event! Contrary to this, LIFE staff Tweeted a lot during the BSI meeting, even responding to the wifi issue. Additionally, they did a great job of introducing themselves virtually via pictures and IRL (in real life), as one BSI attendee commented.
  5. 24/7. It was also clear from LIFE’s tweets that they didn’t just ramp up Tweets for the conference, they have been involved with the community and likely knew some of the Twitter-savvy attendees before going in. This not only led to a seamless transition to Tweeting from the conference, but also helped them plan their strategy as they know what works. It is clear to us that some life science companies start Tweeting at a conference and expect results. As we’ve talked about before, companies need to work on social media 24/7, not just when you want results (but there are also ways you can easily work it into your daily routine.)

We didn’t work with LIFE on this campaign, but know one of its leaders through our interactions on Twitter, Nicol Watson, Regional Market Development Manager at Life Technologies in Paisley, UK. Nicol told me that he actually initiated the #BSI2011 hashtag a few months ago, and he shares our aim to encourage life science hashtag utilization. He added “We wanted to improve the BSI 2011 conference experience for everyone and make researchers feel special. When a researcher used the #giftfromlife hashtag, we personalized a gift for them, and we really made some great connections at the conference.” The #giftfromlife hashtag was used 107 times and even ‘transmogrified’ into #giftforlife!

Clearly, the LIFE team created a buzz and likely got many great leads from their efforts (sometimes difficult from Twitter or Facebook), for what seems like a modest budget. If you want to achieve this at your next event, start now and let us know how we can help, we can also provide in depth analyses of any 2011 life science conference social media activities through our Social Media Compass reports.

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