Prepare, Interact and Measure

Social Media in the life sciences

Social media is one of the latest marketing buzzwords, and its arrival has brought a new way of speaking to – and interacting with – your audience. Many companies are wary of taking that first step into the social media conversation, but the days of choice in this matter are gone. Social media is here to stay and the question is now how to use it most effectively, not whether to use it or not.

A recent survey from Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business shows that social media spending is on the rise. The survey of 249 chief marketing officers showed that social media spend will comprise 10.1% of overall marketing budgets in 2012, up from 7.1% currently. Additionally, they expect that in the next 5 years social media marketing will comprise 17.5% of overall marketing budgets.

A review of 296 clinical research organizations show that a staggering 80% are not currently active in social media.

However, the life science industry has been slow to adopt social media as a viable marketing channel. A review of 296 clinical research organizations shows that a staggering 80% are not currently active in social media. This number will start to decrease as these companies begin to see the value of engaging in online conversations with their audiences. The opportunity for leadership is now; take advantage of it.

So, what exactly is social media and why is it so important for life science brands?

The world of social media is far-reaching. Wikipedia defines it as media for social interaction, using highly accessible and scalable publishing techniques. Translation: social media is not Facebook and Twitter, but rather the act of engaging your customers in interactive dialog through social applications (such as Facebook and Twitter – to name just two).  To make matters more complicated, social media is not black and white, and there are few hard and fast rules to follow. Think of social media as an ongoing, public conversation with your customers.

Preparing Your Life Science Brand for Social Media Engagement

So how do you plan this conversation? You don’t…exactly. The core of social media is regular interaction with your audience. Too much planning can make the conversation seem contrived. Avoid broadcast-mode; don’t continually try to sell to your audience through social media channels. Instead, engage with them to bring them to your website, where a more direct expression of your sales message is acceptable and even expected.

The core of social media is regular interaction with your audience. Too much planning can make the conversation seem contrived.

A proactive approach will allow more control over a not entirely controllable situation, enabling your company to build traction and maintain a positive online reputation. Let’s get started.

The Five Uses of Social Media in the Life Sciences

First, take a look at a few of the ways brands are using social media.  According to Olivier Blanchard in his book Social Media ROI, there are 5 business functions that can be enhanced by social media:

  1. Sales – Build brand awareness and acquire new prospects via social media channels by engaging your prospects, bringing them to you and converting them to customers.
  2. Customer Support – Monitor for social mentions from customers and respond quickly.
  3. Human Resources – Capitalize on social networks to attract talent via trusted sources.
  4. Public Relations – Announce new products, campaigns, contests and news. Monitor mentions and respond to negative attitudes, clarify position and invalidate false rumors.
  5. Business Intelligence – Gather customer perceptions of your brand or competitor brands, including how these change over time and how your marketing efforts affect these perceptions.

Not all of these pertain to every situation or every brand.  For example, using social media for Customer Support will make sense for a company selling laboratory equipment to researchers and scientists, but won’t make sense for pre-clinical labs or contract manufacturing operations.

The point is simple: there are multiple ways to use social media in the life sciences.  Depending on your situation, many can be effective and enhance your brand. When engaging in social media, start by determining which of these functions would best be used to enhance your brand. A lot of businesses already found success on Instagram because of Arcane Instagram.

Social Media Steps to Success in the Life Sciences

Social media success is not achieved overnight. A solid foundation is critical to achieving long-term gains.

There are four roles that need to be assigned: police, monitor, content management, and implementation.

The following is a full-circle approach to engaging in social media and managing your online presence. It is important to note that this is intended for brands outside of regulatory supervision from agencies such as the FDA and EPA; regulated brands face a different environment – one that is too complex to cover here.

 Plan Your Life Science Social Media Activities

To best lay your social media foundation, start internally. There are four roles that need to be assigned prior to implementation.

  1. Police – Who will be responsible for ensuring that the social media activities are on goal with the brand strategy? Who will be the final decision maker? Who will ensure that all content is consistent with the brand standards and consistent in tone and form?
  2. Monitor – Who will be responsible for monitoring social media platforms, bringing to attention any “mentions” that may require a response?
  3. Content manager – Who will manage the development of content – either by creating the content themselves, or managing others who will develop your content?
  4. Implementer – Who will actually be posting the content? Be realistic about the amount of time this will take and remember that a good social media program is an ongoing commitment, not a one-time event.

As with any marketing efforts, understanding your audience and their attitudes, values and behaviors is critical to developing a successful and sustainable social media presence. Do your homework. Below are some examples of questions that you will need to answer:

    What are your audience’s attitudes, values and beliefs?
Where do they seek information?
What type of information is important and relevant to them?
What type of information will they share with their colleagues?

There are many ways to answer these questions, such as talking to your sales team, gathering intelligence at trade shows, monitoring relevant social media channels, asking your audiences via research, etc. Do not wait to gather perfect – and complete – answers; your understanding; will be constantly updated through the act of participating in the social media conversation.

One of the main goals of social media is to spread your brand virally, through content you provide and word of mouth that you generate. You want your audiences to discuss your brand with their colleagues and peers both online and offline. This will build your brand awareness and most likely helps to meet one of your objectives.

Once you have defined your audience and their needs, set measurable and sustainable objectives, goals and key performance indicators (KPI). You will also need to define a time period at which you will measure your results. These create accountability and provide a measurable metric for assessment of performance.  For example, a CRO specializing in dermatology research may use the following:

Objective: Increase the number of RFPs received
Goal: Be seen as an expert in dermatology trials
KPI: Achieve this goal through the following:

  • Positive online mentions of your brand
  • New followers of your social media channels
  • New click-throughs of links leading to your content or website
  • Re-posting of content by followers
  • References to your content in other online industry sources (blogs, newsletters, social media platforms
Social media metrics can be tough to establish and measure. The link between a measurable KPI and your ultimate sales objective can be difficult to chart in detail.

All of these KPI will expand your brand awareness, bring prospects to you, disseminate your brand message and increase your brand reputation. However, there is a giant leap from social media interaction to signed contracts. The goal is to define social media metrics that will achieve your goals, which in turn will help to achieve your overall sales objectives. In the example above, new followers and increased click throughs will help to achieve the goal of being seen as an expert. This perception will ultimately contribute to your objective of increased receipt of RFPs, which can achieve your overall sales goals.

As you can see, social media metrics can be tough to establish and measure.  The link between a measurable KPI and your ultimate sales objective can be difficult to chart in detail. Even though most measurable KPI are only a small link in the chain to achieving your ultimate objective, the act of measuring them will help illuminate some steps (albeit small) in the chain.

When defining your KPI, ensure that they meet both of the following criteria:

  1. Provide measurable results at the end of a defined time period by which you can assess your social media efforts and make any necessary changes; and
  2. Achieve your defined goals.

Planning for Social Media Success in Life Science Marketing

Next, plan…to the extent that you can. Align your audience research with your objectives, goals and KPI. Determine which social media platforms will best achieve your aims. Develop a content calendar by determining content topics for which you have in-house expertise and aligning those with the kind of information your audience wants or needs. A key goal here is to select topics where there is a need and not a lot of information already available. These factors will increase the uptake and dissemination (or viral spread) of your content.

It is important to note that social media is like content marketing; it requires a sustained effort over time.

Now you are ready to implement your social media activities. Before you get started, it is important to note that social media is like content marketing; it requires a sustained effort over time. When engaging in social media, follow the Rule of Thirds, allotting approximately one-third of your time to each of the following areas.

Step 1: Listen to life science audiences via social media platforms.

Social media monitoring is the most important step in your online presence. Listen to your online audiences, industry influencers and even your competitors via their social media channels. What are they talking about? Can you add value to the conversation? What should they be talking about?

Research the online influencers in your industry. These are individuals or organizations that have a large online presence, a large network of followers and are discussing topics relevant to your industry. You want them on your radar and will want to be on their radar as well.

Once you’ve found your industry influencers, follow them on multiple platforms –blogs, Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook.  Regularly check their online postings to determine the issues that are most relevant to your online life science community. When monitoring competitors, read the comments to their posts and blogs as well. This is a good indicator as to how the influencer is perceived by industry peers and the depth of their influence.

Now that you are following these influencers, you can start to get on their radar by reposting their content. This is a compliment to the original poster and can grab their attention if they are monitoring their analytics.

Equally important, watch for social media mentions of your brand. Are they positive or negative? Are they factual? Are they coming from current or previous customers?

Step 2: Dialog with life science influencers and audiences via social media platforms.

Join the conversation – when, and only when – you can add value to it.

Join the conversation – when, and only when – you can add value to it. Comment on industry blogs, newsletters, videos, etc. in areas where you can offer expertise. In instances where your company or brand is the topic of discussion, determine if a response is needed and respond quickly. This chart is a handy tool to determine when and how to respond.

Engaging in conversation online is one of the best ways to get on someone’s radar. Dialog should be friendly, relevant and engaging. Try to provide an interesting perspective or ask a pertinent question. You don’t want to annoy followers or influencers by commenting for the sake of commenting. Before you hit “submit,” ask yourself: am I adding value to the conversation?

Step 3: Lead the life science conversation via your own social media accounts.

Once you have gained traction through dialoging, start your own discussion. Leading the conversation allows you to guide it to areas that can highlight your expertise. This attracts the right audience to you, increasing the opportunity for engagement.

Conversation and audience engagement are two of the keys to social media success.

Leading the conversation can occur by posting your own content, asking engaging discussion questions and polling your network. This is where your planning will be helpful. By developing a content calendar, you will have a steady stream of content to lead social media conversations. Don’t let this calendar limit you, though. If the conversation spawns other relevant topics, go with it. Remember, while content is critical, conversation and audience engagement are two of the keys to social media success.

Measure Your Life Science Social Media Activities

At the conclusion of your defined time period, look back at the objectives, goals and KPI that you set for your social media activities. Did you achieve your aims?

If so, congratulations. Now revisit these goals and adjust for the next defined period of time and keep going.

If not, look at your social media activities; where did you stray from your objectives? Were they too broad? Overly ambitious? Did internal logistical issues hamper your efforts? It may be necessary to revise your objectives, allot more time to meeting them or refine your internal processes.


Social media is likely one of the toughest marketing channels to plan for, implement and measure. There are few absolute guidelines, vague implementation strategies and virtually no direct metrics to measure overall performance or prove success.

Social media is likely one of the toughest marketing channels to plan for, implement and measure. At the same time, it’s not something you can afford to ignore.

At the same time, it’s not something you can afford to ignore; in the life sciences, participation is less of an option each day. As you venture into this new medium, the most important thing to remember is the best social media strategy is one that is closely aligned with your business strategy and goals.


Social media use in the life science industry is gaining traction. As you begin (or continue) your social media efforts, remember the following:

  • Social media is not a fad, as evidenced by the expected increase in social media spending over the next 5 years.
  • 80% of companies in the clinical research space are still not active in social media. You still have time to develop a social media strategy, but you shouldn’t wait too long; the number is increasing every week.
  • Know your audience, where they are, what they value and who influences them. This information will be critical to your social media success.
  • 1. Listen, 2. Dialog, 3. Lead. Your social media time should be split equally among these three activities.
  • Social media is a conversation with your audience. Don’t continually broadcast or worse yet, do nothing but try to sell. Engage your audience in social conversations.
  • Many social media platforms limit the size of posts. Include links in posts to maximize engagement. Get your audience to click through to your content. You’ve now moved them from a neutral site, such as Twitter, to your own website where you can monitor activity through your analytics.
  • Set quantifiable and sustainable goals at the onset. Review and refine as needed.

Most important, make sure your social media activities align with your business strategy.

Interested in learning about the social media activities of organizations in the life science industry? In the coming weeks, we will be publishing the results of our research into the social media activity of clinical research organizations.