The Case for Internal Social Media Usage in the Life Sciences

In a previous post on life sciences and social media, I remarked that life science organizations overall are on the cutting edge of using social media, but that this usage is mostly focused on external social media (consumer-facing social media like Twitter, Facebook, and PatientsLikeMe) rather than on internal (employee collaboration tools).

This makes a certain amount of sense: External use cases like clinical trial design, patient recruitment, and pharmacovigilance promise big returns for life science organizations. But internal use cases also hold out tremendous potential for driving value in the life sciences.

Let’s take a closer look at three internal social media use cases and how they play out in life science organizations.

Global Regulatory Submissions

Operating a global regulatory submission function poses a range of significant challenges, from onboarding and training, to enforcing global process standards, to monitoring and improving efficiency (ultimately lowering the time to approval and getting products to market faster).

Traditionally, life sciences organizations have had a fairly rudimentary set of tools to tackle these challenges: providing face-to-face training and mentoring, publishing and promoting frameworks and standards on intranet portals, and fostering ad hoc communication via email, phone, and teleconferencing.

With the advent of technologies that provide internal social media capabilities, however, organizations have a vastly expanded range of options for fostering the collaboration that successful global regulatory functions require.

  • Onboarding and training – User communities enable new employees to connect with peers globally to share experiences, ask/answer questions, and form relationships that contribute to their success (and the firm’s) over the course of their career; expertise management tools allow employees to find peers with the skills, knowledge, and experience they find valuable, whether they’re on the first day of their job or are a 20-year veteran.
  • Global process standards – Global organizations need to weigh the process variations required by geographic distance, different regulatory requirements/environment, and cultural context with the gains to be realized from enforcing process consistency. And enforcing appropriate process consistency worldwide is made much easier with internal social media tools such as user communities, blogs, microblogs, and wikis. Users have up-to-the-minute access to the people, documentation, and information they need to do their jobs in accordance with standards, rather than having to pick up the phone, wait for email responses, or simply guess at what the right way to work is.
  • Monitoring and improving efficiency – At the end of the day, getting products approved by regulators as quickly as possible is the goal: The sooner a product is approved for sale, the sooner it can be sold and the sooner it generates revenue. And, as with any process, it’s difficult/impossible to manage the regulatory submission process if you don’t measure it. Internal social media tools provide powerful ways both to monitor efficiency as well as implement measures to improve it, e.g. through user forums dedicated to sharing/solving problems, blogs to share both success stories and thorny challenges, etc.


R&D, regardless of industry, has been a key use case area for social media, both internal and external. Particularly in the consumer goods and retail sectors, leading firms such as Starbucks, Kohls, Dell, Zappos, Charles Schwab, and Southwest Airlines have been engaging customers and users to gain product and market insights to drive innovation, increase market share, and increase revenue.

To some extent, life sciences has begun to address R&D use cases with social media, but primarily externally, e.g. in identifying off-label uses through social media listening in pharmacovigilance and clinical trial design/recruitment.

However, the value of internal social media usage for R&D holds out as much, if not more, promise, and it’s not hard to imagine why. Social media tools are specifically designed to enable real-time, fluid, ad-hoc communication and interaction—all of which can keep pace with the speed of innovation in R&D much better than traditional methods such as phone, fax, email, or face-to-face. Social media tools also preserve a record of these interactions and collaboration as part of corporate, rather than individual, memory, so folks who weren’t a part of the original exchange can benefit as well, which increases the reusability of a life science firm’s R&D intellectual property.

Manufacturing and Supply Chain

Like R&D, manufacturing and supply chain across industries are being transformed by the use of social media. Not all of these uses are relevant for life sciences (e.g. social media listening to identify consumer-identified supply chain disruptions), but one that holds promise is providing a social media-enabled suggestion box for employees engaged in manufacturing and supply chain activities.

Typically, these tools provide the following capabilities:

  • Submitting suggestions – Users submit an electronic form (online or mobile app) to suggest an improvement or report an issue, problem, challenge, etc.
  • Crowdsourcing feedback – Many tools allow all users to not only see the suggestions submitted by others, but also to comment on them, provide feedback (ratings, likes), and then drive ranking and prioritization based on this. Good examples of this in action in the consumer world are My Starbucks idea and Dell’s Idea Storm.
  • Gamification – Many tools use Gamification techniques to motivate users to participate, e.g. with points, medals/trophies, levels, etc. The effectiveness of these techniques has been well studied and makes a significant difference in adoption and end-user satisfaction.

The Final Word

So there you have it: three use cases for internal social media collaboration in the Life Sciences. These are by no means the only ones out there, but hopefully they give you a good idea of how you can use social media at your organization. And if you have experiences with social media in the life sciences that you’d like to share, jump in, and let’s get the conversation started!

Rich Medina
Joe Shepley
I’m VP and Practice Lead, focusing on developing Doculabs’ InfoSec practice and its applications in a wide range of industries.