Social media in life science marketing

Social media for the life sciences differs from other content platforms, such as print media or even your organization’s web site. Social media, like other media, can attract prospects and motivate them to action. However, on social media platforms the action most frequently taken by your audiences will be to “share.” Sharing your content sounds innocuous enough, but seeing someone they know share your content can be a very powerful motivator for members of your audience, encouraging them to further disseminate this content, spreading the word and leading to a potential snowball (viral) effect. This cascade of sharing does not typically happen with other marketing efforts, such as your printed media or your website.

There is some interesting science behind the phenomenon of “sharing” on social media sites in the life sciences.

There is some interesting science behind the fact that simply witnessing someone act in a particular way (such as sharing your content) will actually encourage that same action in others. Robert B. Cialdini (in his book Influence, the Psychology of Persuasion) calls this phenomenon Social Proof. He writes: “We view a behavior as more correct in a given situation to the degree that we see others performing it.”  Cialdini continues: “Usually, when a lot of people are doing something, it is the right thing to do.”

When many people are sharing your content, the act of sharing is itself validated in others’ minds, simply by the large numbers of people taking the same action – that is, sharing your content. Given the proper circumstances, you can create content that will spread via social media channels via retweets and “shares” by your audience. In some cases, this sharing will go “viral,” leading to widespread dissemination and rapid uptake.

Encouraging life science marketing content to spread via social media

Unfortunately, social media content doesn’t spread throughout the life science sector simply because it’s good, or because it’s a topic of interest. What is it that causes ideas to spread, attracting and motivating your life science audience?  How can you encourage these behaviors through your social media channels?

Social media content won’t spread through-out the life sciences simply because it’s good; there’s more to it than that.

The truth is, viral spreading of content is largely unpredictable and therefore out of your control. However, there are three important elements within your control that will help boost the spread of your content via social media channels.

  1. Develop relevant, newsworthy content.
  2. Write for the proper audience/channel.
  3. Optimize your exposure through SEO.

Developing relevant, newsworthy content for social media marketing in the life sciences

While the issue of social media content in the life sciences is much too large to cover in its entirety in this article, there are a few key points to keep in mind when developing relevant content for life science marketing purposes: understand your audience, write in the now and have a distinct opinion.

It is important to understand the limitations of social media. Not all content is perfect for dissemination through social media.

Understand your audience and the limitations of social media. Knowing the specific interests of your audience is critical to choosing the right content and thus driving social media success in the life sciences. Even more important is understanding the balance between your audience’s interests and the type of content that best fits within the confines of particular social media channels. For example, Twitter is not the platform to explain the new methodology you’ve developed for speeding patient enrollment or encouraging stem cells to thrive. On the other hand, Twitter can be a perfect platform to promote the fact that you have developed these methodologies and are willing to share them. You can include a link directing your audience to the sites where the published articles can be found.  In this case, social media encourages action by your readers while moving your audience to a higher level of engagement through your website.

Write in the now. To encourage the spread of your content in social media marketing in the life sciences, use an active voice and write about current topics, news and trends. In extreme cases, hot news trends peak on social media channels within a matter of minutes before they begin to fade. While the life expectancy of social media topics in the life sciences is probably longer than it is for the latest news about Justin Bieber’s girlfriend, the point remains: old news is not good social media content unless there is an angle that makes it new and newsworthy again.

Be strong, be different. Social media channels are a place where many like-minded people congregate. The result is lots of agreement on most issues. An opinion different from the norm will help you stand out and allow you to be heard above the “hum of agreement.”

This article will review several key tips for writing effectively for social media in the life sciences.

It is a perverse reality of social media that your opinion does not even have to be true or well reasoned to be spread widely. As an example of the contagious power of incorrect ideas, look no further than Andrew Wakefield’s now-widely-discredited claim that vaccines cause autism . Despite being wrong, Wakefield’s ideas were widely disseminated, in part because his opinion was strong and unique. The simple fact that you hold a strong and unique opinion can help your viewpoint get noticed. In most cases, if you take the contrarian view, there will be lots of chatter and differing opinions. This can actually help you gain additional awareness.

In short, if you want to stand out when using social media for life science marketing purposes, don’t be afraid of being different, or of having a strong opinion. We are not advocating being different for the sake of being different; we are simply noting that a unique, strong opinion will stand out from a sea of sameness. Just be prepared to back up anything you say.

Writing for a social media audience in life science marketing

Here are several tips to follow when writing for social media success in the life sciences.

Keep it simple. Use strong nouns and verbs and avoid clutter with adjectives. Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style puts it simply, “The adjective hasn’t been built that can pull a weak or inaccurate noun out of a tight place.”

“The adjective hasn’t been built that can pull a weak or inaccurate noun out of a tight place.” – Strunk and White.

Dan Zarella’s research shows that posts with nouns and verbs account for a larger percentage of shares on social media platforms than those with modifiers. In platforms where you are limited by the number of characters, you don’t have room for these modifiers anyway.


Figure 1: Shares by Parts of Speech from

Be clear and concise, using links to expand your content. State your key points and use links to expand or support them. Links allow you to provide secondary points and supporting evidence while further engaging your audience by requiring they take your suggested action – follow the link. According to Zarella’s research, there is a correlation between tweeting links and the number of followers. In short, more links, more followers.


Figure 2: Followers and Links from

Digestibly content is more likely to be shared; write your content at an appropriate level.

Make it digestible.  While the life science industry is full of well-educated people that are used to reading technical content, social media content should be written in a manner that is easy to read and digest. In fact, Zarella’s research shows that content written at a 5th grade level accounts for the highest shares on Facebook.  We are not suggesting that you write at a 5th grade level, only that you consider carefully that your content will be more likely to be shared if it is easier to read and digest.


Figure 3: Effect of Readability on Facebook Sharing from

Use the inverted pyramid. When writing for longer platforms such as blogs, lead with the most substantial and important information and then taper down to secondary points or supporting material in order of diminishing importance. This is known as the inverted pyramid style of writing and is widely used by journalists who have little time or space to tell a story.

Write for people. The key to social media engagement is conversation. While there is a fine balance between writing for people and writing for search algorithms, it is wisest to err on the side of conversation with your audience when writing for social media in the life sciences.

Post at high traffic times. Take advantage of high traffic and low competition by posting late in the week or on weekends. Zarella’s research shows that there is little news posted on Friday through Sunday, yet the average click thru rate increases as you move from Thursday through Sunday. Further, Facebook sharing is at its weekly high on Saturday while there is a sharp drop on Monday.


Figure 4: Facebook sharing by day of week from

Figure 5: Effect of Week Day on CTR from

Optimize your life science marketing exposure through SEO (search engine optimization)

Social media content will affect search engine results. If your blogs are posted on your site instead of an external site, the content you post can improve your search engine rankings.

In order to get the most search engine benefit out of your content remember the acronym FOUR, which we discussed in a previous newsletter and which we’ll summarize again here. This provides the criteria for content that will best improve your search engine results; these are listed in order of their increasing importance for search engine optimization.

To obtain the greatest search engine benefit from your content, remember the acronym FOUR; content should be Fresh, Organized, Unique, and Relevant.

Fresh. Search engines give more weight to sites that have a steady stream of new content. Search engines also tend to rank sites with content added over time more highly than they rank sites with only newer content. (This is a great reason to start generating content right now, before your competitors do.)

Organized. Clearly organized topics are easier for search engines to rank. As an example, putting all the information about a particular topic on one page will result in search engines ranking that page very highly for that particular topic.

Uniqueness. Search engines rank unique content higher than they rank content that is common. Unique content is highly valued by both of your audiences: humans and search engine spiders.

Relevant. This is the most important of the four factors discussed here. Generating content that is relevant to your audience is crucial to receiving high placement in search results.

Writing for social media in life science marketing

Writing for social media in life science marketing does not have to be a laborious process. To summarize: Keep it short and simple, keep it relevant and timely, keep it distinct and findable.


Remember these key elements when developing social media content:

1. Develop relevant, newsworthy content.

Research what your audience wants.
Write in the now.
Be strong, voice an opinion different than the mainstream and stand by it.

2. Write for a social media audience/channel.

Keep it simple.
Be clear and consise.
Make it digestible.
Use the inverted pyramid.
Write for people.
Post at high traffic times.

3.    Optimize your exposure through SEO.

Use the FOUR criteria: