A lot of life science companies create social media accounts for the wrong reasons. Some do it strictly for demand generation (bad idea – scientific products are not impulse buys), some do it because they feel like they should, and some do it because they have some unrealistic expectation that social will make them the next big thing (not to ruin your dream, but your chances of your content – whatever it may be – going viral are very slim). While we’ve always been proponents of social media marketing so long as expectations are realistic and the focus is on brand-building, there is an increasingly important reason to engage in social media: SEO.
As search engines, and in particular Google, have aimed to find ways to improve search results, they are effectively crowdsourcing their rankings by relying more heavily on social media. In what I believe to be a clear indicator of the increasing importance of social media in SEO, a recently released study by SearchMetrics correlated 44 factors to Google Rank and found that social signals correlate with Google rank better than any other type of factor. In fact, the seven social factors investigated all ranked in the top eight Spearman Correlation scores. Keeping in mind that the SearchMetrics study is a correlation study and not a causation study, due to the complexity and opacity of search engine algorithms, determination of causation in search engine rankings is effectively impossible so correlation is as good a measure as we’re going to get. Despite that Matt Cutts himself stated in an interview that “Links are still the best way that we’ve found to discover [how relevant something is]”, there is little doubt that social has become very important in search engine rankings and will continue to become more important in the future.
Does this mean every company should be active in social media? Certainly not. First of all, SEO itself is not important to every company (although it is important to most) so jumping on the social media bandwagon isn’t necessarily important even within this context. Secondly, you have to have the resources and dedication to do it right. Having an unused, abandoned or spammy social account, or even one simply devoid of meaningful content, can hurt your brand. Social media is mostly about content, so if you don’t have anything of value to say then don’t bother. This isn’t to say that you need to devote large amounts of resources to social media.
If you do want to engage in social media for SEO (or “social media optimization”), the rules to follow are mostly the same as for social media in general but with a few exceptions. Most notably, while you can help build your brand by sharing the content of others, social media optimization is much more effective when you post your own content as the ultimate target of the social sharing will be your own site. You will need at least a partial focus on content creation.
Search marketing is arguably the most powerful tool for most life science companies to generate demand, and search engine optimization is a key part of that. In the rapidly evolving search engine algorithms, social media is playing an increasingly important role. Companies relying on search to generate demand should be looking to social media optimization to make sure that they can get to the top of the rankings and stay there.