Why Twitter Matters Now in Biotech, and Why Executives Can’t Ignore it Anymore

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time to devote to this thing when they don’t see the value.

Bit by bit, there are a few people out there in biotech showing the way. Michael Gilman, @michael_gilman, has become a master Yoda of sorts for biotech executives curious about entering the social media arena. Gilman, who described his Twitter experience in an Xconomy guest post last November, has expanded his professional network and reputation by making concise, witty comments about biotech news of the day, and passing along story links. Bruce Booth of Atlas Venture, @lifesciVC, is another who has quickly made a bigger name for himself by passing along links to sharp blog posts that I think have to be considered a must-read for any biotech executive or investor. One of the few Twitter-savvy executives at a publicly traded biotech company, Richard Pops of Alkermes @popsalks, has found clever ways to speak out on issues that are important to him, and his company, with a highly targeted audience of followers.

Slowly but surely, I’m running into more biotech execs who are dipping their toes in. Carol Gallagher, the CEO of Calistoga Pharmaceuticals when it was sold to Gilead Sciences earlier this year, said she took the first step by signing up for an account, @carol_gallagher, in mid-May. She had been reluctant for the reasons mentioned above—lack of time, lack of understanding the value. But since she attended ASCO, and monitored the news flow from some of the Twitterers listed above, the light bulb flipped on. “It greatly expands the discussion among people talking about biotech news,” Gallagher says.

She has been hesitant to do much Tweeting herself until she gets the hang of it. But Gallagher says she’s become comfortable now that she realizes she can mostly listen to what people are saying about topics she’s interested in. Even before she really actively engages, Gallagher says she’s already finding networks of people she never would have encountered before.

“In this business, you need all the help you can get in building bridges,” she says. “I’m realizing that I might find a new employee, a new investor, a new partner through this. It really is broadening.”

Carol Gallagher

No doubt, Twitter has a long way to go before it will achieve critical mass among thousands of biotech companies and professionals. The content can get spammy in a hurry if you aren’t careful about who you follow. Brian Reid, a life sciences public relations professional with WCG, has been pushing for companies and researchers to develop more advanced social media habits. He’s been encouraging people to embed QR codes in data posters, so that if somebody tweets “great data from Company X’s drug for breast cancer” they can also snap a photo of the QR code, so there’s a way for followers to click on a link to details that support the claim, which otherwise could look like just some ephemeral blast of hot air.

Personally, I’ve found over time that Twitter is what you want to make of it. It’s more than just a place to share links to my Xconomy stories. It’s become an important way I communicate every day with readers. Besides my stories, it’s a place to comment in real-time with some snappy quotes from a conference, to add two cents on a sporting event (Go Mavs!), or let my followers know where I am in case they want to meet in person. (I’m in Boston this week for a big Xconomy event).

I’ve learned I need to carefully discipline myself to avoid spending too much time trying to monitor everything on Twitter, or even half of what was going on at #ASCO11. That would be a waste of time, and a good way to get ADHD. I try to monitor the stream only a handful of times a day, as a sort of break between other tasks. But I can’t imagine going back to 2009 when I didn’t have this channel for sending and receiving biotech news from a whole lot of very smart people. My bet is that a lot more biotechies are going to see the same thing in the year ahead.

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11 responses to “Why Twitter Matters Now in Biotech, and Why Executives Can’t Ignore it Anymore”

  1. We agree with Luke Timmerman’s assessment that, used wisely, Twitter is a valuable source of biotech information and can connect professionals in the industry like no other medium. Following industry experts and watchers gives us real time information in one place that’s easy to find and even easier to share. @Biospace365 connects us with our readers and allows us to communicate with them at any time. Reluctant biotech executives, you’re missing out on a great resource.

  2. Bioblogger says:

    Good article but Twitter is much more than a good idea – it is a crucial channel for marketing/communications in the biotech field. This is what many Fortune 500 companies are now recognizing in defense of their industry. See why at http://bit.ly/kbWqhg .

    Yes – it is a cost effective marketing medium, it engages prospects in 2-way dialog, it provides focus group response, it provides links to important announcements and points of view.

    But it is crucial because it is a double-edged sword – especially in the biofuels arena. The Egyptian coup of Mubarek was largely the result of the use of social media by one individual. Individual opinions matter.

    The agents of positive change run the risk of ignoring growing opposition if they don’t monitor and respond to misinformed social media chatter. How many great advancements run headlong into a wall of unsubstantiated facts and obfuscation? How many potential investors are discouraged by political and social pronouncements that torture logic?

    We either engage now through social media or find out we have been outflanked by those with their interests vested in the status quo. Even if individuals can’t muster their war chests, we can blunt the impact of their propaganda.

  3. A very good article on why you like twitter and how it can be of great value to individuals, especially those in biotech. I joined several years ago and have come to rely on twitter for most of my news about the industry. While having tea in the morning twitter is the first thing I look at after my emails. I get various newsletters about the biotech & pharma industry by email but I find that by the time I read them, I already have read the information thru my tweets.I like how I get a more personal view of the scientists I follow. They talk science most of the time ,but also talk about their kids or a good run they just had. I think thru twitter even though we aren’t meeting in person we are getting to know each other. I too have had to limit myself to when I check in with twitter. It can be addictive. I more or less am on a morning ,noon and night cycle right now. But it depends on my day, really. I hope to see more biotech professionals on twitter soon