BioPharm 2011: Why the life science industry needs Twitter

(Photo: Chinen Keiya/Flickr)

Like many, I have a Facebook page where I share funny travel stories and cute pictures of my cat with friends and family. But for a long time I didn’t understand how such a platform, and others like Twitter, could affect how business is conducted in the life science industry, and how it fit in my own professional life as a hospital technology licensing manager.

I didn’t get it until a tweet from my colleague and fellow blogger Keeley Wray (@Market_Spy) established a direct contact with a regenerative medicine company potentially interested in a cell-based technology in my portfolio. I was surprised: so Twitter isn’t just for celebrities pushing their albums, movies and perfumes to millions of fans? Consequently, six months ago, I enthusiastically joined the Twitterverse (@maude_tessier) and haven’t looked back.

I’m not the only one recognizing the power of social media in the work that pharma, biotech and academic medical institutions do. Last week at the BioPharm America conference, a 90-minute interactive roundtable discussion emphasized the use of social media to help achieve business objectives. Panelists were Bruce Booth, partner at Atlas Ventures (@LifeSciVC); Cynthia Clayton, senior director of investor relations and corporate communications at Alnylam Pharmaceuticals (@Alnylam); Adam Feuerstein, senior columnist for TheStreet (@adamfeuerstein); John Carroll, editor of FierceBiotech (@JohnCFierce); Michael Gilman, CEO of Stromedix (@Michael_Gilman), Carlos Velez, managing partner at LacertaBio (@LacertaBio); and Daphne Zohar, founding and managing partner, PureTech Ventures (@daphnezohar). Watch the full session, moderated by Steve Dickman, founder/CEO of CBT Advisors (@cbtadvisors), on PartneringNews.

Bruce Booth noted that, compared to other industries like IT, life-science voices are currently underrepresented on Twitter. Moreover, out of all current Twitter members, 70-80 percent have put out fewer than 10 tweets. But there’s plenty of room to grow. I share Daphne Zohar’s view that it’s important that an increasing number of executives “be part of the conversation.”

If you’re life sciences or healthcare, why should you spend your valuable time on Twitter? The savvy panelists made a compelling case for Twitter as:

  • An ideal source for real time data/news to inform business strategies
  • A helpful forum to poll the community on a subject
  • A platform to comment on the state of the life science industry
  • A way to better understand how people think
  • A tool to make new connections with companies and patient groups
  • A medium to build credibility for you and your organization

Vector blog readers and members of the life science community, the Twitterverse needs you.  For those just starting, the panel offered a few pointers:

  • Create separate work and personal accounts, or focus one feed on professional content at least 90 percent of the time
  • Review your organization’s social media guidelines and policies
  • Put a disclaimer on your profile if you are not an officially designated representative of your organization (Keeley’s and mine say “Tweets own opinions”)
  • Begin by “following” coworkers, colleagues and companies you are interested in, and look at their list of followers
  • Retweet posts that you find stimulating
  • Remember that tweets are public and forever. Think before posting (there is no “are you sure?” button!)
  • Create lists using hashtags (keywords preceded by #) to keep up to date on what matters most to you. For example, the feed for this conference was #BPA11.

If you’re concerned that social media are taking over our lives and that face-to-face contact is being minimized, I would like to alleviate your fears. I agree with Michael Gilman’s view that Twitter is “a tool to build relationships, not to avoid personal interactions.” I met folks in person at Biopharm America that I’d been following on Twitter for months, and already felt a connection with them. Other attendees I did not know — like Luke Timmerman, National Biotech Editor of Xconomy  — noticed the live tweets I was posting during the conference (another advantage of Twitter – free virtual attendance at conferences!) and started following me. Some introduced themselves and exchanged business cards with me.  I’m now following them on Twitter, too.

As Keeley pointed out in her recent BioPharm coverage, life science stakeholders are a family, and we need to work together to tackle unmet medical needs. Joining the Twitter community is a great way to promote useful interactions, begin to address the challenges and capitalize on the opportunities in our industry. I look forward to welcoming you to the Twitterverse!

Maude Tessier, PhD, is a licensing manager in the Children’s Hospital Boston’s Office of Technology and Innovation Development. She is responsible for managing and licensing technologies from the Vascular Biology Program, Nephrology, Urology and Respiratory Diseases.