This post is the fifth and final post in a series of primers on various platforms available for life science social media marketing (SMM). The other primers are on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and YouTube.
Perhaps the most underutilized life science SMM outlets, yet ones that often provide good opportunities, are forums. Forums and bulletin boards are the “original” online social media platforms, far predating facebook, twitter, etc., and many online science forums are old, well-established, and well-trafficked. Such forums include the Protocol Online BioForum, the Biology Online forum, Molecular Station’s Molecular Biology Forum, the Scientist Solutions forum, and SEQanswers. As you may guess from their names, many have specialized focuses, but some are quite general as well. Most of the above, however, are very popular with tens of thousands of visitors each month. That’s quite the audience.
Before utilizing any forum for social media marketing, be sure to read the rules of the forum. Each forum will have different rules and some may limit their usefulness for social media marketing. For example, some may not allow you to represent yourself as a company. Some may not allow you to promote a company or product in a post or in your forum signature. Some may not allow outbound links until you have a certain number of posts. Regardless, be sure to follow the forum rules. Not doing so will only get your posts deleted, your account banned, and create a bunch of negative feelings towards you, your company, and your brand. If you feel the rules are too restrictive, don’t use the forum.
That said, there are a lot of ways that forums can be used to your advantage. Some forums will allow you to post about new products and services, or will have specific sections for you to do so. These posts can attract hundreds or even thousands of views, so they are often well worth it. Many will allow you to link back to your website in those posts as well. Providing expert answers to questions on topics within your company’s area of expertise can also be a valuable way to grow and promote your brand image. This sort of projection of expertise will garner respect for the knowledge of your company and staff and will also build goodwill among scientists in your target fields. Sometimes a scientist will have an issue for which one of your products would be a good solution. In these cases, it is appropriate to recommend it to them, thereby directly generating potential leads. Occasionally a scientist will post specifically about one of your products, either to express satisfaction or dissatisfaction, or to ask for support on how to use it when a problem is encountered. In these cases it is very often advantageous to respond to the customer, and again a chance to project expertise, guide customer sentiment, and build goodwill.
Forums provide life science tools and services companies with a platform for much more personal engagement with customers. Offering support, advice, and expertise, as well as announcing new products, are excellent ways to leverage forums in order to build product awareness, goodwill, and project your brand image to an already engaged audience.
This post is the fourth in a series of primers on various platforms available for life science social media marketing (SMM). The first SMM primer, about the use of Twitter, is available here. The second, on using Facebook for life science SMM, is available here. The third, on LinkedIn, is available here. Check back next week for the last life science social media marketing primer, which will be on the use of forums.
YouTube has become synonymous with video on the internet. Content is literally added faster than you can watch it, even if you had 2500 monitors. According to YouTube’s own statistics, 8 years worth of video content is uploaded to YouTube every day. More content is uploaded in one month than the three major US television networks have created in 60 years. YouTube videos were played 700 billion times in 2010.
That said, YouTube isn’t your average social network. The average YouTube viewer is there for entertainment or information, not socialization, so there are a lot more silent participants and generally less interaction than on more traditional social networks such as Twitter and Facebook. Because of this, YouTube isn’t really a social tool to be used alone, nor is it something that should be tackled separately from other social channels. To get the most from YouTube, it should rather be a part of a greater life science content marketing strategy, and its use should be integrated with your other social platforms.
YouTube is wonderful for content marketing in no small part because it’s so incredibly easy to share. YouTube has its own built-in URL shortening, and viewers can post YouTube content anywhere and embed videos any place that they can post HTML. If your aim is viral and your content is video, YouTube has to be your platform. YouTube is good for more than just viral videos, though. It’s a great place to start or develop engagement with customers. YouTube allows you to link to other content within the video space itself, and you can promote other avenues of social engagement and content as well, such as your twitter account, Facebook page, blog, your YouTube channel, etc. Be sure to make good use of that capability and encourage your audience to interact, share, and connect. Think of this encouragement as the equivalent of what calls-to-action would be in more demand-focused marketing communications. Instead of “buy now”, you’re saying “share”, “follow”, or “subscribe”. Keep your content fresh, and make lots of videos – even if they’re nothing special. Show customers how to use your new products (and encourage them to share their methods via video as well). Introduce your facility or staff. Create “video manuals” for your products. Show your human side, build your brand, make some friends. Get creative, and try to find ways to pique your customers interest. Just don’t waste their time. Videos don’t have to have a high production value (especially for smaller life science companies that aren’t as worried about appearing “finished”), but they should all have a purpose.
Like other social media platforms, there are some things that you definitely should NOT do. Don’t use it as a place to make hard pitches. If you want to use YouTube to lead someone into a sales cycle, lead them to another place first (your website, for example). Also, don’t use too YouTube videos on the static pages of your website (such as your product pages). YouTube videos will show related videos at the end of your video, and this may include competitors’ videos. Also, YouTube is notorious for people “Trolling” – posting inflammatory or degrading remarks in order to elicit a response. Don’t “feed the trolls” by falling into their trap. If someone says something off-topic and / or stupid, just ignore it.
YouTube also allows users to create “Brand Channels“. These channels are homepages for their YouTube content that can be customized with a company’s branding and imagery, and also provides some additional features such as moderation (which shouldn’t be overused!). These are visually nifty, but are not free, so it’s up to you to decide whether a brand channel is worth it.
YouTube is a great place to share your video content and promote engagement with customers. Used in conjunction with other social media platforms, your blog, and other means of providing and distributing content, your life science company can build a powerful tool for engaging researchers.
This post is the second in a series of primers on various platforms available for life science social media marketing (SMM). The first SMM primer, about the use of Twitter, is available here. Check back for more primers on the use of youtube and other means of life science social media marketing.
Facebook is hands down the largest social media platform in the world, and it wouldn’t be difficult to argue that Facebook is the most pervasive and influential website that has ever existed. According to their own statistics, Facebook has over 750 million active users and each user spends, on average, about 30 minutes per day on Facebook. The rest of the statistics are almost equally staggering. Users install 20 million applications per day. More than 2.5 million websites have integrated with Facebook. According to Alexa, Facebook is the second most popular website in the world (Google is first), reaching an estimated 44.9% of global internet users on any given day. Over 7% of all pageviews occur on facebook.com; this means that, statistically speaking, for every 14 pages that any internet user anywhere views, at least one of those is on facebook.com. This makes facebook the most viewed website in the world and in my opinion is an absolutely staggering statistic. In the US Facebook is even more pervasive, and a comScore study found that 1 in every 8 minutes spent online is spent on Facebook.
Your customers are on Facebook. Probably a lot of them. In fact, it is very likely that you have more customers that are on Facebook than have ever been to your company’s website. According to our internally compiled data on 400 small life science and analytical laboratory products companies, 31.0% of small life science have a presence on Facebook. In most cases, however, a presence is all it is. There is no engagement. Updates are infrequent and not customer-centric. There is no enticement for customers to like the page, to use the page, to visit the page, or even to view the content that gets posted. That is a heck of a shame, especially since Facebook offers the most versatile social platform available for social media marketing. So what can life science companies do to more effectively utilize Facebook for marketing purposes?
Step 1: Build
Build a great and attractive page. Facebook allows you to custom build html-based pages for your Facebook page, and you should leverage those appropriately. There are also great, free tools to feed in content – we recommend checking out Involver for some great free and paid Facebook apps (we are in no way affiliated with Involver; we just like their apps). Always remember that your customers are almost exclusively on facebook to socialize and be entertained and keep that in mind when designing your page and deciding what content to automatically feed into it.
Step 2: Grow
You have a Facebook page – great! Now to get found. Unlike Twitter, which actively promotes users finding other users with similar interests and doesn’t discriminate between personal and corporate accounts, on Facebook your customers mostly have to actively find you in order to connect with you (the exception to this would involve paid advertising on Facebook). This is a hurdle that you need to actively overcome. Some ideas on how to get around this include placing links to your Facebook page on your website and in e-mails, letting your customers know that you’re on Facebook in support and marketing communications, and offering exclusive Facebook-only promotions. If you can create a clear benefit to “like”ing a page, you’ll get a lot more likes.
Step 3: Engage
There’s almost no value to having a huge fan base if you’re not doing anything with it. Provide your fan-customers with information and content that they will be interested in. Facilitate more interaction amongst your fans. Project your expertise on relevant topics. Because of the way that Facebook determines what should appear on a user’s “top news” news feed, which shows users more updates from the pages and people that they engage with most, that a successful engagement strategy will build on its own successes. Always keep in mind that social media marketing is better suited for branding than lead generation, so try to keep branding as the focus and stay away from making too many pitches or overly discussing your products; tactics that could disengage your audience.
Step 4: Maintain
Don’t let your page or your content get stale! If your incentive for getting your customers to like your page gets old and ineffective, replace it. If you aren’t growing the rate at which your customers like, comment on, or share your content, revamp your strategy. As with any branding effort, the payouts are relatively longer term. Giving up before you can reap such benefits is a huge waste. Return-on-investment from SMM efforts can be difficult to measure and because of this managers often are quick to cut SMM if there is any contraction in the marketing budget or if they are evaluating marketing efforts by standard methodologies. If you are in charge of an SMM effort, be prepared to use “soft” measurements, nonstandard metrics and, perhaps, a few reasonable assumptions to make your case for continuation of SMM.
Social media marketing on Facebook is an integral part of any life science social media marketing campaign, and with the right strategy and execution, it can be a highly effective avenue for SMM as well.
This post is the first in a series of primers on various platforms available for life science social media marketing (SMM). Check back for primers on the use of facebook, youtube, and other means of life science social media marketing.
Twitter has undeniably become the social platform of choice for life science marketing. Based upon our in-house research performed on 400 small life science companies (in this case “small companies” is defined as those with 200 employees or less), 39.5% of small life science companies have twitter accounts, however only 31.0% have facebook accounts. Of the life science companies that use twitter, however, only a fraction make optimal use of it. Most commit multiple social media marketing faux-pas, and their marketing efforts are, in whole or in part, wasted as a result.
The first thing to remember about any life science social media marketing, and something that I reiterate over and over again, is that you are effectively on your customer’s “turf”, and you need to play by their rules. They are there for a reason, and that reason may be to network, socialize, follow topics of interest, etc., but you can be relatively certain that they are not there to read a stream of advertisements. If your twitter is effectively just a feed of new product announcements, press releases, sales and promotions, don’t waste your time. Either step up your game or shut your twitter account.
Remember that social media marketing, especially SMM on twitter, is far more about branding as opposed to lead generation. If you’re expecting twitter to be something that’s going to provide a short-term ROI, you’re probably barking up the wrong tree. (there are methods to realize a more near-term ROI, but this should be a small piece of your social media strategy). Think long-term. Think of it as an outlet that will project an image or an expertise. It will be one of the “faces” of your business, and its value will be in helping to shape and control your brand image.
When it comes to social media marketing, it is often good not to think of your target audience as current / potential customers but rather as scientists (or whatever subset of scientists you are looking to target). This will help you get out of the more traditional marketing mindset. Now, what would those scientists be interested in? How can you deliver content that is interesting to them as well as relevant to your business? That line that achieves both interest to your audience and relevance to your business is your sweet spot – stick to that as closely as you can. The source of the content can be external or internal, in fact most sustainable social media strategies by necessity rely more heavily on external content as generating the majority of content internally will either be too much of a burden or leave you posting too infrequently.
This is not to say that some more traditional marketing can’t be worked in, it just has to be communicated in terms of how it would be interesting to your audience. New products can be discussed if they are sufficiently interesting and you can add value to a conversation. Promotions can be announced if they are compelling to your audience. Just try your best to avoid making too many pitches, if any.
The next thing to remember is to engage. You need to promote and create bi-directional communication with your audience. Even if your audience is too large to listen and respond to a significant number of them, reach out to some eventually. Share what they have to say, respond to topics of interest, and talk to them. Just like conversations offline, people like it when what they say is acknowledged. Show your audience that there’s a real person (maybe even one that’s not wearing a tie) behind your twitter avatar. Being human is so much better than being corporate, and will help them foment a positive opinion of your brand and create an emotional attachment.
I’ve heard some prominent life science marketers predict the downfall of twitter as a marketing platform (just as, they say, e-mail has fallen out of favor as a marketing platform). I would go so far as to say they are outright incorrect. Unlike e-mail, where you are not always in control of who is sending you messages, twitter users choose who they want to listen to. If they feel they are being marketed to more than they desire, they’ll simply follow fewer corporate accounts. This can, however, be overcome by using marketing methods that don’t “feel” like marketing (such as content marketing), avoiding pitches, creating engagement, and being human.
Most twitter users don’t know most of the people they follow; they follow them because they’re interested in what they have to say. Put extremely simply, for a life science social media campaign on twitter to be successful, all you have to do is be relevant and interesting.
Don’t forget to follow BioBM on twitter! @BioBM
UPDATE (1/24/12): Google has made changes to its search algorithms that have caused us to change our position on Google+. For more recent information, please see our newer post: Google Wants You to Plus.
YES, it is too early to effectively use Google+ for social media marketing. Put very simply, Google+ is too young of a technology and hasn’t developed any tools that would make it genuinely useful for companies. If you want to use it for personal networking purposes or just to get a feel for it, then sure, create a Google+ account but your Google+ account has to reflect YOU (literally – Google doesn’t allow corporate accounts yet). There is also a very high likelihood that you’ll have to attempt to recreate all of your connections if something akin to a facebook “page” is developed for non-personal uses.
When Google+ begins to allow corporate accounts and / or develops other tools that allow companies to leverage it effectively, that’s the time you want to jump in. Until then, it simply won’t provide anywhere near a desirable ROI and there are no benefits to attempting to be an extreme early adopter (or “innovator”, as the technology adoption lifecycle would call them).
There is a common misconception, and not just in life science but in many industries, that social media marketing is free. This misconception arises because the platforms that social media marketing occurs on are free to use. However, while the platforms are free, SMM is not free. SMM campaigns may be relatively inexpensive but they still need to be resourced appropriately.
There is, effectively, a minimum threshold of effort that must be crossed in order to effectively make use of social media as a marketing tool. It requires a certain amount of content and interaction to effectively engage the audience, and also requires a certain amount of personal management in order to maintain a “social” and personal feel (without which you’re largely defeating the purpose) and make sure the audience stays relevant. Both of these things require time.
Because of this minimum threshold of effort, social media marketing is not infinitely scalable as is, say, search engine marketing or most kinds of pay-per-click or pay-per-impression marketing. While it is true that what you get our of SMM is related to what you put into it, the relationship is not a direct one. Put in too little and you won’t get anything meaningful out of it. Put in too much and you may be well beyond inefficiency (although SMM effort are very rarely resourced to the point of that being a problem).
Social media marketing can be effective even when resourced at a very small percentage of most life science companies’ marketing budgets, but it does need to be resourced. Don’t take SMM for granted – create defined goals, build a strategy that will be effective in achieving those goals, and resource the effort appropriately to successfully execute that strategy. Only then will your life science company realize the benefits of social media marketing.
There are a lot of misconceptions about social media marketing out there. I was recently reminded of it by a tweet from a company which will remain nameless. This company provides market reports and market research services for life science companies, and I find most of their reports to be quite compelling so I don’t want this one misstep to reflect too negatively on them. When marketing for their most recent report, they tweeted:
anonymous tweetScientists report using LinkedIn to find vendor-sponsored info more than every other social media platform–combined
This exhibits something of a misconception about how social media marketing works and is the same misconception that many life science companies have about SMM. Put simply: scientists will very rarely use social media to “find” vendor information or product information. If a scientist is thinking about looking for a product, they know that twitter, facebook, linkedin, youtube, etc., are not the best places to look. Not to say that social media marketing isn’t valuable, but you need to understand it’s purpose and how your target market is going to use it. Social media is used for engagement, for brand positioning, and for active presentation of information to customers, not simply as a repository for information which you can expect users to seek out (as a catalogue or a website could be). Because of this consumer behavior, asking “what social media platforms do you use to look for vendor information” is inducing an answer to the wrong question.
Poorly executed social media marketing will at best be a waste of time and money, and at worst can hurt your life science company’s brand. In order for your SMM efforts to be sucessful, you need to understand your customers and their use of social media networks.
While less common in highly technical industries such as life science tools and services, it’s not wholly uncommon for entrepreneurs to “boot-strap” their start-up companies (try to start without external funding and race to become profitable before they run out of cash). Yet more common, even with outside investment, is under-capitalization. In either case, when small companies start to become low on cash, one of the first corners that often gets cut is marketing. Entrepreneurs sometimes think that word-of-mouth or referrals will be a sufficient marketing tactic to grow their business, but that is very rarely the case for life science products and services. Why is this the case? Customer interaction patterns. To illustrate my point, let me give an example of when referral-based marketing can be effective.
Take Twitter as an extreme example on one end. Twitter never advertised. They were established 100% on word-of-mouth marketing and over their short sub-5-year history have ballooned to over 200 million users and are now the ninth most popular site on the internet. You can top that off with an estimated valuation of $8 to $10 billion dollars. Why was twitter able to be so successful at harnessing the power of referrals / word-of-mouth marketing? There are two key factors. The first is that Twitter was something that people were excited about and talked about – obviously you can’t be successful at word-of-mouth marketing if you don’t create something that people want to talk about. That, however, is something that life science companies can replicate. The other factor, however, is something that life science companies cannot replicate, and that is customer interaction patterns. Anyone, anywhere could be a twitter user so long as they had a computer or a cell phone. This meant that in many markets everyone was a potential user, and connections between users and potential users could be drawn seamlessly. Interaction between the groups was very easy and close at hand.
Companies manufacturing life science tools do not have the advantage of everyone being a potential customer. Customers are usually grouped into discrete units with limited interaction – universities, research institutes, pharma / biotech company research centers. If a scientist at university X is very happy with your product, this scientist will tell others around him or her, but the pool of potential customers will often be limited to those within their institute since that is where the relevant connections involving frequent interaction stop. This is especially true in the more restricted-access and secretive environments of pharmaceutical and biotech laboratories.
You can analogize the situation to an infectious virus. If a virus can infect anyone, it will have an easy time spreading. If it can only infect a small subset of the population, however, and those populations are grouped together and quarantined from each other, the virus will have a very difficult time spreading. A similar quarantining happens to word-of-mouth marketing in the life sciences, so don’t rely solely on referrals to grow your market share. There are enough low-cost and effective ways of marketing to provide even cash-strapped bioscience startups high-ROI options to more proactively reach their target audiences.
Social media is all the rage – it has been for almost a decade now. From the generation Y-ers who initially picked up on the pioneering social network Friendster back in 2002 to the new generation of socially networked seniors with Facebook friends galore, the world is now socially networked. Using social networks for marketing purposes, a practice more technically referred to as social media marketing or just SMM, is a young and rapidly evolving practice (as you may notice from the lack of detailed information in the Wikipedia entry on the subject). While the leveraging of social networks for marketing purposes is not a particularly new idea, companies have traditionally been slow to adopt social networking. While some companies have had overwhelming successes with SMM – such as Bio-Rad’s PCR song spoof of the Village People’s “YMCA” that went massively viral within the scientific community two years ago – most companies’ social media efforts, particularly those of small companies, are largely failures. In this post, I will address some of the basic yet important and often overlooked questions and challenges of social media marketing that many companies fail to address, as well as discuss some of the social media outlets and some of the specific concerns involving each.
Issue #1: Understand who you are trying to talk to
This is the easiest and least complex step and should be the first step as well, but nonetheless even this relatively simple issue gets overlooked sometimes. Simply ask yourself: “Who am I trying to communicate with?” If you are serving life science researchers generally, then the answer to this question will be broad – you’ll be communicating with research assistants and lab techs, PIs and professors, grad students and lab managers, procurement department employees, etc. They may be in academia, pharma / biotech, CROs, etc, etc, etc. This will likely make it easier to find your audience but may make it harder to connect with them since they’ll have diverse interests. Alternatively you may be focusing on a small subset – say, researchers in big pharma performing mass spectroscopy analysis of proteins. This kind of refined specification may make it harder to find your audience but will make it easier to connect with them since you will know their interests to some extent.
Issue #2: Understand why you are talking to them
An equally important and amazingly frequently overlooked question is “why”. Why are we trying to engage this audience? Do we want to get their opinions? Do we want to control or convey our brand image? Do we simply want to promote products and / or services to them? Don’t just answer yes or no to these questions – delve into them a bit. If you want to promote products to them, think about how you plan on doing so. Do you plan on offering exclusive promotions? Do you want to use social media as an outlet for conveying information on new products? Dig deep and think about what your goals are.
Issue #3: Understand how your audience uses any given social media platform
This is the #1 reason for failure of any social media marketing strategy. Companies fail to understand how the audience is using a particular platform. A related pitfall involves rolling out an identical engagement plan across all (read: “disparate”) platforms. While this is a complex issue and could be the subject of a book, allow me to give you a few things to remember. 1) Social Networks are your audience’s turf, not yours. Unlike your website, print or online advertisements, or just about any other marketing platform you utilize, you are not in control of a social network, and your audience is not there specifically to interact with you. You are both a guest and a member of a conversation, so act accordingly. Interact. Contribute. 2) You need to give people a reason to listen to you, and this reason has to be congruous with the reason that your audience is on a particular social platform in the first place. In other words, delivering value is not enough – you need to deliver value within the context of the audience’s presence on any given social network.
Issue #4: Resource your efforts appropriately
One of the great things about SMM is that social platforms are almost always free to use, but this doesn’t mean that an SMM campaign doesn’t require any significant amount of resources. While SMM can be significantly less expensive than other marketing outlets, social media marketing is not some simple endeavor that involves merely sending out an occasional tweet whenever you have a promotion. It requires forethought, planning, engagement, conversing, creating and delivering value, and all these things take time. Figure out where you can get the greatest returns from your social media marketing investment and focus on that. Only roll out a broad SMM campaign across many platforms if you have the time and budget to do so. As with other marketing endeavors, spreading your efforts too thin will lead to failure.
Brief comments about different social media platforms
Facebook – This is a purely social, mostly recreational platform. It’s a great place for strong consumer brands, but others can have difficulty connecting with their audience here. Remember that people go on Facebook for personal reasons and to make personal connections. If you’re going to connect to most scientists here, you’ll need to reach out to them not just as scientists, but as people.
Twitter – People express a variety of interests here, so listen to what your audience is saying and participate. Perhaps the greatest power of social media marketing via twitter is it’s search function. Connect with people who are talking about things that pertain to your company. Also, be sure to give your account some personality.
LinkedIn – You’re probably not going to pick up many customers here unless you’re doing higher-level B2B sales, but it is a great way to connect with potential business partners. Since your space on LinkedIn is your turf, so to speak, make the best of it. When presenting yourself on LinkedIn think of your company first, and your products as a function or extension of your company.
Forums – While not always thought of as a social network, the same rules apply. Forums can be great ways to find and convey messages to groups of researchers and scientists (and others) interested in a specific topic. Again, be engaging and be sure to add value to the conversation.
YouTube – Remember that after someone watches a video on YouTube, they’ll see “related videos”, so if your competitors are on YouTube as well, they’ll probably be presented with their videos after watching yours (although this works both ways). It’s a great way to host content that can be easily linked to, shared, embedded, and otherwise distributed.
As a closing note, don’t spend all your effort trying to create the next huge, viral media phenomenon. While it’s a noble goal, the success rate in trying to do so is very low, and the compulsion to spread the word needs to be very high. A 2006 Millward Brown study suggested that on average only 13% of people who receive any viral message pass it on. This means that for every 8 people the message reaches, one of those must pass it on to another 8 in order for the message to maintain it’s rate of spread. That’s a lot to ask for. Don’t let these numbers discourage you from trying, especially if you have a great idea (again, I point to Bio-Rad’s video), but don’t think that going viral is necessary for a good SMM campaign.
Social media marketing is a great way to connect with customers, get feedback on products or services, crowdsource for ideas, and convey and monitor your brand identity, but it is something that requires planning. Not adequately defining SMM strategies, not understanding your audience or social platforms, or under-resourcing your SMM efforts are all-too-common and avoidable reasons for social media marketing failures. A little planning and some understanding of the social networking landscape can dramatically improve returns on social media marketing.