Why Life Sciences Companies Must Embrace Social Media Now

The world has changed.  The way we communicate with each other has changed and the tools we communicate with have changed.

This change has happened so quickly, mainly over the last five years.  The speed of the change has meant that many life science companies have been slow to recognize and embrace the new media and are getting left behind.

Social media can no longer be ignored; Facebook has over 500 million users globally and has surpassed Google in the amount of time per day spent on the site.  Twitter has over 200 million users who sent a staggering 25 Billion tweets in the past 12 months.  You tube has over 24 hours of video uploaded per minute and exceeds 2Billion views per day!!  Those are just three examples but there are many many more.

Social media is here to stay and its time we, in the life sciences started doing things differently. A paradigm shift is underway in the way we communicate with our customers.  In today’s age, everyone is a publisher causing an explosion to the amount of content on internet what does this mean for the life sciences industry?

  • Conversations about your company are already happening.  Your customers, your competitors, your investors and your employees past, present and future are already talking about you online, conversations are already happening with or without you. The question is – do you want to be involved and engaged in those conversations? Do you want to be able to listen to your customer’s views and react to them? Do you want to see what other companies and colleagues in the industry are saying? Do you want to see what your investors are betting on you?
  • Current methods of communicating with your customer are expensive and intrusive. Gone are the days where marketing is an intrusive process of interrupting your customers experience with an advertisement in a journal or flooding their inboxes with your email   campaigns.   As a marketer in a leading genomics company I can tell you the holy grail of marketing is getting the right message to the right customer at the right time.   In Biotechnology and Pharmaceutical marketing today, finding and engaging your target customer is costly and inefficient with a relatively low ROI.   How do we do this today?  Many companies in the life sciences still spend the majority of their marketing dollars on print advertising in journals.  The hope is that their target customer will pick up the journal, will actually pay attention to the advert and then what ?– will pick up the phone and call you?  How often does that happen?   How about buying targeted lists? Doing literature searches for names? Keeping an up to date CRM with your current contacts? Email campaigns? Most email blasts are seen as Spam and go to junk or spam folders.  (In Europe you aren’t even legally allowed to send email blasts without your customer having opted in first) Most of your email blasts are never actually seen by your target audience.  Typically you get a 3% click through rate if you are really lucky, have a good call to action, have said something groundbreaking or are offering something of high value to your customer.  You can see where I am going with this; the current methods of engaging and qualifying your customers are inefficient, expensive and highly intrusive to your customer.
  • Biotech Marketing 2.0 Is about having conversations and listening to your customers Now imagine if you could talk to an audience of your target customers who have voluntarily chosen to listen to you.  What if they recommended you to their friends and colleagues and told them to listen to you too to help propagate your message?  What if they answered all the questions you ever asked them and gave you honest feedback on your product or service?  How about if they could tell you in real time what user requirements are most important to them in your future products?  What if they could tell you about novel ways that they are using your product that could open up new markets for you?  What if they published a paper using your technology and had a quick, easy and cheap way to tell the world about how great your technology is?  What if your customers could do the marketing for you – there is no stronger endorsement than a recommendation by a friend or colleague.  What if you could see what is being said, not only about your company but also about all your competitors simultaneously?  What if all of the above could be done using free web based tools?  You may think this is Utopian and too good to be true, but it’s real and it’s here and its social media that makes it possible.

The Good News

  • If your audience is anyone in the scientific field you can guarantee that they are spending at least 50% of their working life in front of a PC.  This means that they are already spending significant time online and are probably engaged in consuming some kind of social media.  (How many people do you know that have never viewed a You Tube video or even don’t have a Facebook account? Case in point!)  This means that they are already using the tools which are available to you.
  • Currently social media tools are FREE – which means in times when budgets are limited and ROI is more critical than ever – changing the way you communicate with your customers may actually save you money.  Of course there will be costs, and resources required but it will be significantly lower than the costly traditional methods and if done correctly the ROI will be much higher.
  • Using Social and electronic media means that you can have a ‘call to action’ which is immediate – ie click on a link, fill in a form, or go to a web page – the time it will take for your customer to react to your message is reduced from days to minutes. It also means that you can monitor their responses in real time
  • If you use Facebook or Twitter – your customers opt to ‘like’ or ‘follow’ you – this means they are a captive audience, ready and willing to participate in the conversation you want to have with them.  For the first time have an open dialogue with your customer without costly focus groups.
  • Social Media gives us the opportunity to really listen to our customers, understand what it important to them and react quickly.  This is particularly important if a customer is unhappy with any aspect of your product or service. The measure of a good company is how and how quickly they react to a customer with an issue.
  • Science is by nature both collaborative and competitive – social media enables scientists to find collaborators interested in the same field as them, hear conversations on their niche expertise and also be on the lookout for competitive intelligence
  • It’s not too late – while social media has become a part of our lives – this method of communication will continue to grow and develop further.  The life sciences industry, conservative in nature has been slow to embrace it – however it’s never too late to start.

12 thoughts on “Why Life Sciences Companies Must Embrace Social Media Now

  1. Superb post, Ruby, and many thanks for the shout out .

    I concur with all of your well made points. The big challenge, however, for life science, biotech and pharma companies is one of mindset. They are still stuck in the old industrial age model of selling widgets and SKUs rather than the modern thinking successfully adapted by consumer brands.

    Success in marketing comes from building and cultivating advocates for your brand, not when you sell something.

    This is why social media appeals to consumer brands, because social media offers wonderful tools to help achieve those lofty goals. It also means your mindset, metrics and marketing must change.

    Until life science companies start thinking about more about branding and building advocates rather than selling SKUs, social media will never really be on their radar.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks For all the encouragement Sally! I read the other day that the best way to market something is in helping others find its utility in their lives as opposed to selling directly. For sure life science companies need to take their engagement and branding more seriously.


  2. Wonderful, Ruby! You make wonderful points.
    It really does make good business sense. Talk to your customers, on their terms, and be available to answer their questions.

    Thanks for the shout-out to @WhereBioBegins!


  3. BC says:

    Great post and very insightful. I read ‘Engage” by Brian Solis – he mentions life science and clinicians in some of his examples. How do you respond to the challenge that life science is involved in their own communities, blogs, forums, etc – off the grid and away from B2C tools like Twitter and Facebook. Like seeks out like?

    Also you don’t mention a lot about ROI, return on investment and the measurements for a successful program. I would like to hear your thoughts on that as well…


      • BC-
        I’m curious on this statement

        “How do you respond to the challenge that life science is involved in their own communities, blogs, forums, etc – off the grid and away from B2C tools like Twitter and Facebook. ”

        Can you elaborate?


  4. Good post.

    I think we collectively have to make a distinction between a pharma-patient conversation and a pharma-physician conversation. You mentioned email marketing, for example. Physicians may be open to mobile marketing from pharma companies, but would patients? Conversely, if a pharma company has a Facebook presence, what can they actually legally say? These are complex issues, and I agree that pharma needs to engage, and quickly, before they are left out of the discussion entirely.


    • completely agree – your marketing media and message has to suit your target audience – the strategy needs to be adjusted based on the industry, the sensitivities and the market dynamics!


  5. Ruby,

    Great points! But I was surprised to read that messaging to the right people was (still) so costly. I would have expected a decrease in target marketing due to an increase in online social behavior. I can see how this would not have hit the biotech market yet, but I believe this is the way we are moving forward.

    I hope you’ll tell me what you think about the future of biotech marketing at the meetup tomorrow. Looking forward!



    • well if you think about biotech – we spend a whole lot of $$ on print advertising in journals and trade shows – very very costly! There is a shift happening in the advertising mix and much of it is moving online -that should improve reach and potentially reduce costs. Will tell you more tomorrow at the meet up 🙂


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