Scientists and Social Media

Last week we announced the preliminary results of our survey on how life scientists are using social media. The responses were based on a worldwide study of more than 1,500 scientists that included both registered members of The Science Advisory Board and randomly selected scientists. We sponsored this project in conjunction with our good friends at PJA Advertising + Marketing, an award-winning business-to business advertising and marketing agency.

We found that 77 percent of life scientists participate in some type of social media. The leading reasons for this participation are to find application and troubleshooting tips, protocols, and product reviews. In fact, company websites were identified as the most trusted source of product information, with 54 percent of respondents indicating that their purchasing decisions are influenced by social media.

Social media refers to blogs, podcasts, online communities, Wikis, and social networking sites that are increasingly being used by professionals to share experiences, opinions and advice. While scientists still consider their suppliers to be the most trusted source of product information, 45 percent of those surveyed find “access to objective feedback on products and services from multiple sources” to be the most valuable aspect of social media.

Life scientists were among the first to use the Internet to communicate, collaborate and contribute to a common body of knowledge. But a new generation of Web applications is making this process easier and faster, which presents both opportunities and challenges for our corporate clients attempting to influence life scientists’ purchasing behavior.

After reviewing the top ten findings, Hugh Kennedy, Executive Vice President and Partner at PJA observed: “Scientists aren’t laggards to the IT crowd in social media—they’ve been right there all along. It’s only recently, however, that life science suppliers have begun to grasp social media’s potential as a way to bond with their customers in a way that really drives loyalty.”

For a supplier, the path to utilizing social media is more than using Word Press to deliver advertising. Busy, experienced scientists will demand far more. They demand the tools that will allow them to quickly find the information they are looking for, and wish to rely on their own judgment, not that of the supplier, as to what related information they need. Scientists are well aware of the volume of information available, and know that the success of their research will be largely dependent on their ability to make sense of it all, place related product information in context, and apply it to their unique application and purchasing environment.

Social media, therefore, affords suppliers an ability to continually expand and improve the content available based on the community’s response and interaction; for example, product availability or new ways in which the product can be used. When employed correctly, social media provides the community more than just information from the company, but also the ability to connect with other members with similar problems or interests. Moreover, social media enables companies and customers to interact in a highly personal manner. For example, participants in a supplier’s online training workshop are likely to welcome the opportunity to share their experiences after using the product for the first time.

While scientists typically work in an environment characterized by facts, proofs, rational methods, measurements and incremental progress but their professional environment and scientific training does not immunize them from personality traits that dictate how they think, learn, communicate and act.

Social media is just that—a variety of means of conveying information. Suppliers that wish to successfully harness social media must understand it is a two-way form of communication and that its true value lies in the ability to listen and respond to customers. Understanding a customer’s values fosters assimilation of the individual into that broader community of customers who share similar values. Consider the sense of community among Apple Computer users who are a perfect example of near total assimilation that few other brands have achieved. Similarly, the phenomenal growth of the computer gaming industry has been fueled partly by the community of users whose strong sense of shared identity grew online and contributed greatly to new product development. The bonding that takes place between these companies and their customers is based on sharing valuable information between buyers and sellers—it is not adversarial, it is based on both sides wanting the other to succeed. Life science suppliers have an advantage over those in other industries in that their customers have great experience with social media. Scientists don’t need to be convinced of its utility, they are just waiting for the conversation with their suppliers to begin.

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