Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Social Science

How Social Media Can Help BioScience Industry Better Communicate

There is a growing trend among the bioscience community and it’s happening online! If you search on twitter for #bioscience, #pharma, #genomics you will see streams of conversations and content surrounding these topics. More researchers and science communicators are beginning to embrace social media marketing for collaboration and business development.

Chris Gunter, Director of Research Affairs of Hudson Alpha Institute in Huntsville, Ala and
@girlscientist on twitter, gives us some insight into why the bioscience and tech community is creating more chatteronline and how these companies can utilize social media effectively.

Q. What trends have you seen emerge regarding social media and the biotech industry?

A. Twitter in particular has gone from being regarded as a time sink to a recognized way for companies (or nonprofits, in our case) to get out news and to reach interested people, anywhere. I also see companies use it to keep up with competitors, and to interact with meeting attendees and direct traffic to their booths.

Q. Why do you think scientists have become more interested in social media?

A. There’s definitely a generational effect: scientists from the generation above me often still regard it as a waste of time. Scientists in my generation are mixed, although more and more are signing up. And younger scientists recognize the potential for setting up collaborations and exchanging information. This is a revolutionary time in science — the way we communicate our results and experimental methods to each other will continue to be transformed. No one reads the print copy of journals anymore. And in the future, journals may be just placeholders for interactive, open data sites in different subjects. Science is inherently a social activity, believe it or not, and social media is the latest way to do our work.

Q. How have you used social media personally to connect with industry experts and build your personal brand?

A.There are two answers — I manage the twitter account for my employer, @HudsonAlpha, and then have my own, @girlscientist. For my own brand, I really started on twitter because I wanted to keep up with friends all over the world, whom I had met in my previous job. Then it turned into a way to keep up with the latest papers and news, and then it grew into a springboard for shared projects and academic collaborations. I couldn’t believe the day I crossed over 5000 followers. That’s amazing! We also have account for our upcoming conference, @immunogenomics. This is an area we are trying to build as it’s an emerging field. The account is becoming a meeting place for people in widely different fields. It’s great to watch.

Q. What are some of your favorite people to follow on twitter?

A. The easiest answer: a lot of my friends just got listed as the “Top N Accounts (Academic) to Follow For Genomics” -- unwieldy name, but great list (full disclosure: including me!). I also like following people who are just funny: @pattonoswalt, @pourmecoffee, my friend @NoahWG, @ReformedBroker if you’re interested in investing, and lately @SarcasticRover for another take from Mars. Through Twitter, I also discovered a vibrant science communication community, and attended their annual meeting, ScienceOnline. These are some of the nicest and most interesting people I’ve ever met, and they’re working to transform the public’s understanding of cutting-edge research.

Q. What are some practical tips you would offer to scientists, researchers and other biotech experts who want to use social media for business building?

A.Decide if you want your account to be more social, or purely business, and follow a group of people acordingly. That said, my account is a little of each at this point. It is full of pointers to interesting genomics papers I am reading. However, I keep twitter and Facebook separate, and send most of my personal updates to Facebook instead. Don’t use your account purely to advertise your products, because that will limit your interest. Let some of your personality show, but make sure you keep the tweets professional.

Q. What are some of your favorite subjects to talk about on tools like Twitter?

A. At heart, I’ll always be a geek for DNA, so of course that’s my favorite subject to talk about. One of the biggest benefits for me was unexpected: my account shows younger scientists, and people who are just interested in science, a lot about the day to day workings of science. It’s not all either big breakthroughs or endless lab drudgery.

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