SAMPS was previously Association of Commercial Professionals for Life Sciences (ACP-LS)

Social Media Monitoring for Life Science Suppliers: 7 Steps to an Effective Strategy

May 3, 2013

A recent SAMPS article provided a snapshot of how your competitors were and weren't using social media. Firms used Twitter for applications for establishing rapport, promoting products and services, and educating the research community. While life scientists and companies are still learning how to get the greatest benefit from social media, there's no escaping the fact that it's gaining in popularity. You can leverage both sides of this coin by monitoring life science social media interactions, and you'll likely find that your brand is already a part of the online conversation.

In this post, we provide a framework for life science social media monitoring that will guide you through the process. Even if you're not sold on the value of social media as is the research department at McKinsey, you can still improve your bottom line by inexpensively mining the information your competitors are sharing online.

Social monitoring tools + process = relevance
When looking for social media monitoring tools to get insights about your competitors, you'll find myriad tools, ranging from excellent free applications to pricey tools that don't fit our industry. How can you develop a system to reliably monitor your competitors when applications, platforms, and content are constantly changing?

Step 1. Define your objectives

With more life science companies (and their customers) posting content via social media, there are many reasons to monitor your competitors' activity. The most obvious is to evaluate and track competitor presence and niche so that you can develop an online value proposition distinct from theirs.

You can also uncover competitor strategies and tactics that work, and those that don't. And with the help of some simple tools such as those shown in Table 1, you can establish an automated, periodic method to keep up with your competitors' activities and feedback. All told, the information you gain monitoring social media can help you optimize your website for search engines, select the most appropriate content for your marketing efforts, and help you develop products or services with the most attractive features.

Tool Description Tactics
Facebook Social networking application (list of 61 life science company pages) Add competitors' Facebook pages to interest groups to get all updates (can make private)
Track number of “Likes” monthly
Google Alerts Delivers all new web content regarding a topic via RSS or email Monitor competitors and keywords
Google Keyword Tools Research on search engine keywords Find top keywords
Find competitors' top keywords
Link Diagnosis This tool reports the number of incoming links to a website, which correlates positively with SEO Monitor competitors' incoming links monthly
LinkedIn Professional social networking site Follow competitors' company pages
Join relevant groups
Monitor number of company page followers
Really Simple Syndication (RSS) Monitor new content on a website Monitor competitors' website or blog
Topsy Real time search of Twitter and the Web Set up search/email for competitors
Track engagement (retweets and replies)
Twitter Microblogging platform where users provide 140 character status updates (list of 260+ life science companies) Follow competitors and create (private) list to monitor
Follow top keywords and related hashtags (topic identifiers)
Monitor number of followers monthly
Google Analytics Website traffic and content analytics Find your company's existing top keywords

Table 1. Social media tools and sites relevant to life scientists and drug developers

Step 2. Find relevant keywords and competitors

Consumers have become afficionados of their own very specific interests in the digital age, and life science researchers and drug developers are no different. This means that a researcher studying epigenetics has a vastly different online experience than one studying stem cells. This shift is occurring because online applications such as Google, Facebook, and Twitter are clamoring to serve users with the most relevant information possible. The "key" to targeting these new life science consumers lies, not surprisingly, in keywords. Let's say your company sells kinase assays. You can be relatively sure that one of your keywords (or, keyword phrases) is "kinase assay" and can start there. Certainly, there are related keywords, some more important than others, and you want to make sure that you know all of them. Input your "starter" keywords in Google's Keyword Tool and download each report. You can also use this application to "spy" on your competitors by inputting their URL and seeing which keywords are important for them (you may need to filter the responses if the company has a large portfolio).

In addition, use Google Analytics on your own website to find which keywords are already being used to find your company. Conflate these files to create a master spreadsheet for keywords, sorting by the number of monthly searches. After you've determined your company's top keywords, set up Google Alerts for them and your top competitors. Review and refine the searches until the feeds are relevant to your business. For example, if you set up a Google Alert for "Illumina," you'll soon find that it's a common term to which you'll need to add modifiers in order to get only news about "Illumina" the company.

Step 3. Test and refine the tools

An Internet search will reveal that there are many companies vying to help you keep track of your competitors. Here's a little secret: they're all using freely available data and all are at the mercy of the social media applications' business-plan whims. For example, when Twitter changed its application programming interface (API) recently, several tools stopped working. My colleagues and I suggest using tools in which the methodology is clear and you can download the information for your own analysis and for posterity. For most life science brands, the share of voice (SOV) is so small that expensive social media monitoring tools won't work. When pressured, we'd say that Hubspot, Radian6 (now SalesForce) and Vocus are tools for which we've heard the most positive feedback. Before buying these products, however, make sure that you're shown examples specific to your keywords. Table 1 shows the tools and tactics that we recommend.

Step 4. Monitor and define key performance indicators

Because each group of scientists' experiences will be unique, so will the key performance indicators (KPIs) for meeting your objectives. For an example of relevant KPIs, check out this video about Life Technologies' social media campaigns by their Senior eMarketing Manager, Robin Smith. Just before the 7-minute mark, she talks about internal KPIs for their objectives. As an external monitor of a competitor, you obviously can't track all of these metrics, but you can track items such as followers and engagement. For your niche, there will be no automated solution to determine the KPIs, but your intuition will go a long way. For example, let's say you notice that your competitor is receiving more incoming links to their website, which could lead to a higher SEO ranking for them. Find out where these links are coming from—are they engaging with bloggers on Twitter, which is leading to more incoming links? If so, then Twitter engagement would be a KPI because it can lead to a superior SEO rank.

Step 5. Review strategies and refine value propositions if needed
In today's life science marketing landscape, your company has to constantly improve its product or service offerings along with the online value you provide. After reviewing the online successes and failures of your competitors, review and refine your online value proposition (OVP) to meet your objectives. Find a niche that provides value and directly relates to your products. Note also that your OVP may compete with existing, independent resources (eg, forums), so be sure to avoid reinventing the wheel. Ries & Trout's first law of marketing still holds strong: It's better to be first than it is to be better. Your company exists because what you offer provides value to life scientists and drug developers, groups that have strong opinions about even the smallest brands. Utilize your competitors' experiences to help you build your OVP, but also rely on your organization's culture and traditional resources that have worked in the past. So for example, repurpose a printed resource into a blog series.

Step 6. Outline and implement tactics

My colleagues and I are big fans of forming strategies via the creation of a marketing plan. However, we recommend that you don't wait until the next cycle of your formal marketing-plan devlopment process to begin planning, because digital and social media tactics require time to gain momentum. Instead, begin by creating a separate plan for social media monitoring—the spreadsheets you created to track your keywords and those of your competitors will make a good template for storing your own data and progress.

Step 7. Repeat until objectives are met

Social and digital media are almost as renowned for their volatility as they are for becoming a time sink and vortex for poor return on investment (ROI). Make sure that your campaigns are consistently and frequently reviewed with regards to the progress of the KPIs that will lead toward your objectives. Set reasonable expectations and continue to monitor the successes and failures of your competitors. If your progress is slow, look for small wins to show that your campaigns are gaining momentum.

I hope that this monitoring exercise leads you to further utilize social media, but not at the expense of ignoring other tactics that can improve your online presence, such as improving your website or engaging with online thought leaders at conferences. In short, do what works to meet your goals.

*Note: As is the nature of social and digital media, it was recently announced that Google Reader will be discontinued July 1st. This application was incredibly useful for aggregating Google Alerts and other RSS feeds. At the time of this posting, we have not found a suitable replacement, but have heard that the application Feedly will be developing many of Google Reader's features.

Mary Canady

Mary Canady, Ph.D., is the founder of Comprendia, a firm specializing in helping biotechnology and life science companies grow through the creation, commercialization, and communication of value. Comprendia specializes in life science social and digital media marketing and has helped companies engage with their customers, strengthen their online brand, and thrive in the new media economy.
SAMPS, Sales And Marketing Professionals in Scientific research, is the first and only organization dedicated to sales and marketing professionals within the life sciences.

The association’s goal is to serve its members who work in commercial roles for life science products and services companies and associated businesses, globally.
SAMPS was previously named ACP-LS. We feel that SAMPS more clearly describes the membership, and will form a better foundation from which to expand this membership globally. 
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