Is Life Science Social Media Worth It Yet? Three Tenets Behind Its Relevance To Your Business

Social Media Marketing Pendulum

We see a lot of conflicting information about the usefulness of social media, both in general and for the life sciences. Some major companies are reporting on its apparent uselessness and there is a lot of angst regarding the business models of popular applications such as Facebook. However, at Comprendia we see that many more companies are having ‘aha’ moments about social and digital media and they’re diving into it. Similar to life science technologies, its popularity is like a pendulum, swinging back and forth between favor and disfavor, eventually finding its place. Here are three tenets which will help you understand how to leverage the changes life science social and digital media bring even though the final outcome is not clear.

  1. Traditional media is not coming back. No one really knows where the upheaval of traditional media will lead us, in the life sciences or otherwise. We recently covered the 2012 Presidential election where one campaign used new media to create a self-affirming and misleading bubble of isolation, and another effectively leveraged digital tools combined with traditional tactics to reach their audience effectively. Even though we don’t know where the life science social media pendulum will land, we know it has changed our reality and we need to adjust. In the life sciences, the open access movement has the biggest potential to impact what we do. The barriers to self publishing are being chipped away, and while we may not move completely to a publisher-less world, it is clear that many more avenues for researchers to communicate and fund their research will emerge. Life science companies should be making allies of bloggers and creating more primary or secondary scientific content for their customers.
  2. Customers will use digital and social media to find you, not the reverse. In the life sciences, you can no longer depend upon a $10,000 advertisement in a major journal to reach a reasonable share of your customers. IBM claimed that social media had no affect on 2012 Black Friday/Cyber Monday Sales. ORLY? I for one bought a printer based on a conversation I had on Twitter. Now, did I click directly from that conversation and buy the printer, resulting in a direct ROI measurement? No, I made a mental note and did some other research, then came back and bought it. Social media affected my decision directly in this case, and it also affects important aspects of consumer decisions such as search engine ranking. If I had left my Twitter conversation and was unable to find the product on the company’s website easily, I may have chosen another business to buy from. Smart businesses understand that a marketing mix is needed to reach customers, and social media is an integral part of it. Companies that discount its importance would also not have understood the importance of TV advertising in the Mad Men era. The IBM report indicates that sales are up but social media had nothing to do with it? As a Gen X-er, I cannot remember the last time I saw a commercial on TV. People are getting information about products somewhere, and they spend a LOT of time on social media. The fact that IBM, an external company measuring complex data across many companies, can’t track ROI doesn’t mean much. How did they track conversions? Which applications did they monitor? As this post points out, product recommendations may be in ‘unstructured’ data which is difficult to analyze.
  3. It’s about attitude, not apps. We’ve reported issues with Facebook which make it a risky bet for advertisers, and it seems social media applications get some negative press every week for the business decisions they make. The social and digital media revolution is not about choosing the right application, it’s about companies realizing that we have many more tools at our disposal to listen to customers, get leads, and to ultimately improve our products for scientists. When I was a Product Manager 5 years ago, I often spent time wondering what my customers wanted. We would contract a company to run a survey for a 5 figure sum about every 2 years, leaving a big gap in our understanding of customer needs. Today, I’d like to think that I’d be involved in the social media strategy enough to be able to talk to customers directly and run surveys more regularly in house. We see very few life science companies taking advantage of applications such as Twitter to engage with their customers in this way. However, we know that many life science companies have consistently reached out to their customers with good content and thus have the right ‘attitude.’ The next step is leveraging more digital and social media and analyzing the data to be sure it’s being done correctly. Check out our 2012 life science marketing survey and workshop to see how your peers are accomplishing this task.

One of the most interesting developments in this story is that two groups we’ve been trying to bring together using social media, life science marketers and science online enthusiasts, are now both interested in holding regular meetings in California. We hope in 2013 to bring these groups together so that companies can find a role in supporting the great science happening on blogs and networks. We are beginning the process by presenting at ScienceOnline in January, stay tuned for updates!

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