Personal and business Twitter profiles – should they be separate?

Recently, I’ve been thinking about whether I should create another Twitter profile, so that I can separate my personal and business/work activities.

It occurred to me that my Twitter needs change from minute to minute, depending on whether I am interacting with my friends (in the inescapable pursuit of ‘banter’) or building connections with people in my profession. It is certain that those two groups will value different content, and that while producing something to keep one set interested I may lose  the buy-in of the other.

So, should I separate the two, to mitigate this risk? Or might this seem a little disingenuous, like I am hiding aspects of my personality?

I’d be interested to hear your thoughts (and potential solutions). For example, is there a way of subdividing my followers, so that I can tweet independently to each group?

Feel free to share your ideas and insights in the comments

Problems with long web links in print publications…

Problem: Getting people who see you mentioned in print to visit your website

Issuing a press release? Want to include a url for people to visit? Well please don’t add one that is hundreds of characters long, because users will not be bothered enough to type the whole thing into the address bar of their web browser. Even if they do, they will probably make a mistake, get frustrated, and give up!

Not to name and shame, but this is exactly what I just found in the latest issue of a top medical trade journal. It’s not likely their fault, but was just part of the press release issued by the company selling product X.

Solution: Shorten your links or use QR codes

If you want people to visit your site after they read about you in print, make it easy for them. There are a plethora of link shortening options out there (I prefer http://bitly.com/), which turn long, complex and forgettable urls into less than 20 characters. Use your shortened link in your print materials.

Even better, use a QR code – users can scan this with their smart phone, whisking them away to your site. See my previous blog post on QR codes for more details – and here is the shortened version, just in case anyone wants to print this blog post in their magazine 😉 http://bit.ly/pRCNt2

Time for a rebrand

Right, it’s time for a rebrand.

Why?

Mostly because I am rubbish and never update my blog, so a rebrand is my way of kicking myself up the xxxx to do a better job.

But I’m also rebranding because of a fundamental mistake I made. I called my blog ‘The meaning of memes’… doh!  It may sound clever, but it doesn’t really mean anything to anyone! And on the web, you only have a few seconds to capture someone’s attention. Better to be dull and informative (and keep your readers) than overly witty or wordy.

Still, making mistakes is fine… as long as you learn from them 🙂

Onwards and upwards…

Academic Research and Commerce in the Next Decade

As I read and hear more about the concept of the ‘knowledge economy’, the more I am struck by how both the academic and commercial sectors need to further adapt to the challenges of the ever-changing economic world. Commerce needs to learn to build bridges with academic institutions, as grass roots research is the raw material upon which innovation is built.

However, there is still a prevailing attitude in academia that interacting with business is ‘selling out’. Many companies, especially those in the life science and biotech sectors in which I work, have been quick to forge these relationships, recognising the importance of commercialising scientific discoveries. The attitude of academics has been less progressive, with commercial collaborations the exception rather than the norm. Clearly something needs to change in order to increase the dialogue between academia and business for the good of the economy.

The Knowledge Economy

Since the 2008 economic meltdown, production and export from many Western developed countries has significantly slowed, in large part due to the pressure put on the system by cheaper alternatives in Asia. In order to stay competitive, the West has had to focus on those sectors where it can still lead the world. One such area is in the quality and number of university graduates our top academic institutions can produce. Highly trained ‘thinkers’, ‘designers’ and ‘innovators’ drive the progression of new technologies, creating new markets (and therefore jobs) by effectively creating sectors that did not exist before.

In this way, investment in the so called ‘knowledge economy’, propels economic development in ways that are difficult to predict and cannot be easily and quickly usurped by cheaper alternatives in Asia. It is therefore unsurprising that Western governments (and private entities) have been investing significant resources into nurturing our academic talent. Asian markets have not been blind to this, and have themselves invested heavily in research and education in an effort to catch up quickly. In order to stay ahead of the game, Western economies must leverage the small lead they have as soon as possible, by fully utilising the West’s knowledge resources.

Academic Attitudes

Having spent over ten years in higher education and academic research, I was able to witness first hand the attitude of academics to collaborating with commercial companies. All too often there appears to be, at best a malaise, and at worst a fierce opposition to, exploiting research efforts for commercial gain. Now, I undertook my PhD and post-doc studies at Cambridge, a university that prides itself on tradition and excellence, so it may not be the best barometer for measuring the attraction between companies and academics. Either way, all academics at all institutions should be encouraged to consider the commercial value of their research. They are not selling out. Far from it. They are buying in.

Academics should be made to realise that THEY are the most important resource Western countries such as the UK have for the future. Even the most blue sky research has a commercial application; even if it is ‘just’ the development of niche methods and tools for conducting that kind of research. These can be commercialised and sold around the world, driving future economic development, generating a return for the inventor and increasing workflow efficiency for everyone involved. It’s win-win-win.

Driving the Dialogue

Well, that’s the problem, so what can we do about it? This is where I urge you to get involved, valued reader. What can we do to foster links between academia and commerce? I can utilise my (brief) experience in the life science sectors to make a few suggestions but I think this conversation requires wider input, and your expertise. The economic livelihood of western society may depend on it!

Some ideas:

1. Educate

It may be necessary to educate academia to view commercial partners as another resource to be valued rather than shunned or feared. This will take a campaign to change academic attitudes.

2. Make it easy

If you are in the commercial sector and you want to leverage the creations of the knowledge economy then you need to make it as easy as possible for academics to contribute. For example, invite them to speak at your company (simultaneously sharing their wisdom) or take it a step further and organise larger seminars of conferences. You could even offer free ‘consultation services’, where you send your experts in to sit with scientists and discuss the best way to commercialise their research. It will take time and resources, but it might make sure you are on to the next big thing before anyone else is.

Please share your ideas in the comment section below.

QR codes in Life Sciences

QR (Quick Response) codes are the new fashion in marketing and ‘new media’ initiatives. But what are they, and are they really useful?

QR codes are ‘two-dimensional’ barcodes printed on products, business cards, posters etc, and encode information such as a webpage hyperlink. Modern smartphones equipped with a camera and access to the internet can be used to snap a quick picture of the code, which quickly takes the user to the intended supplementary content of interest. This might be a product webpage, demonstration video, pdf download or any other information to support the product / poster / article in question.

QR codes at conferences and shows

One place I see QR codes taking off within the life science arena is via company booths, posters and presentations at shows and conferences. For example, QR codes for demo videos would allow potential customers to visit a booth, discuss a product, watch a video on their phone and take that info away with them to assist with their buying decision.

In the same way, people scribble copious amounts of notes while walking around poster presentations (such as those providing data to back up claims about a company’s new product) … it would be much more efficient to just download a high quality version of the poster pdf to your phone by snapping a QR code. This could be combined with url tracking to provide analytics (number of QR-related downloads for example) or for lead generation via ‘sign-up to download’ microsites.

Encouraging consumers to use QR codes

At present the main hold up preventing the widespread use of QR codes is to question who are actually using smart phones and QR codes (is it really the decision makers / influencers?). Fortunately for our sector, scientists often tend to be technologically aware and many post-docs, group leaders, senior lab managers etc are already using smart phones to manage data and collaborations, keep in contact with friends and colleagues and perform web-based research.

Therefore, perhaps the main remaining stumbling block to the widespread adoption of QR codes is the continued consumer education required to emphasise how quick, easy and valuable QR codes are for accessing high quality, relevant information?

I’d love to hear your thoughts on the use of QR codes – feel free to leave a comment below!

Maximising Your Online Presence

Last week, I discussed how the internet is changing how we all do business. In the final part of this blog post on committing to content, I suggest how you can provide your clients and customers with engaging, interesting and valuable content, as well as advice for interacting with your customers online.

Maximising your online presence

They are many ways to enhance your online presence. As discussed last week, a good website is key for capturing your customer’s attention, interest (and business!). However, it is also possible to promote your offering via other channels, some of which are better for directly interacting with your customers. These include:

  • Blogs

Become a thought leader in your field by displaying your knowledge, both through your own blog and by commenting on the blogs of others.

  • Twitter

In many ways, Twitter is the ultimate opt-in list for lead generation. People choose to follow you and hear your updates, and can opt out as soon as they are not interested anymore. It certainly sounds like a qualified lead source to me! As well as a channel for announcing news, use Twitter to interact with your customers (via retweets and mentions) and provide them with interesting non-commercial content. If it’s good and interesting they will retweet it to their followers, but if it’s bad they will unfollow you with a click of the mouse.

  • Facebook

Facebook is used by many a graduation student but as the millennial generation ages, expect to find more and more decision makers on here, using it to interact with friends, colleagues and business contacts. Right now, it’s a great way to interact with younger scientists, many of which make the purchasing recommendations that drive senior staff to buy your products.

  • LinkedIn

In some ways, this is the more serious older brother of Facebook. Treat it as such, using it to interact with business contacts in a manner that exudes your sense of professionalism and commitment to excellence.

  • YouTube

Videos can reach your customers in a way words never will. Therefore, this medium is perfect for tutorial videos showing the benefits your products have. Perhaps you could interview a customer whose problem your system has solved? Creative new ways of using video is currently one of the best ways to capture the interest of your customers and help push them through the buyer cycle.

  • Flash-based media

Facilitating the creation of ‘rich’ media for internet browsers, this allows you to create games and other interactive online content. It can be costly but can also really differentiate you from your competitors.

  • Apps

Short for applications, these little programs run on smartphones and tablets. According to an Ofcom report, a third of all adults in the UK now use a smartphone. Therefore, how long before customers expect your kit to connect wirelessly to their phone in order to transmit data and let them know their experiment is complete…?

Top tips for quality online content

With such an array of options, getting your online mix right is essential. However, the success of any channel you use will depend on the quality of the content you provide. Below are a few points to help you maximise the attractiveness of your online offering.

1.   Be interesting

Science is an interesting and enthralling pursuit. Tell customers about what’s going on in your company, not as a sales pitch but so that they know you are as passionate and enthusiastic about science as they are. Don’t do much science in-house? That’s no reason not to get involved. There’s plenty going on, and I’m betting you have the internal expertise to provide insight and comment on cutting edge topics. Capture a reader’s attention, and you’ll capture their business.

2.   Solve problems and provide context

Don’t list every feature of every product, with no information on how it’s used to solve problems. Life scientists seek answers to real life technical, research and production challenges, not the fact that the product you sell is made of the reputation-enhancing, superpower providing, mega-shiny plastic. Incorporate this into your thinking, whether it’s in press releases, web pages, emailers or anything else that’s part of your marketing mix.

3.   Think like your customer

As well as solving their problems, you should phrase things using the types of language that your customers tend to use. Not only will this maximise your searchability on sites such as Google and Bing, it will also ensure that you and your clients can understand what each other is saying, quickly and accurately.

4.   Expertise is a product

Does your company have a myriad of PhDs, professors, engineers or consultants on staff? Then utilise them. Your customers don’t just buy from you because your products are good. They buy from you because you and your team know what you are talking about, built on a base of expertise and experience. Don’t be scared to make this obvious through twitter, blogs and thought leadership articles, whether hosted online or printed. You don’t always have to mention a product to be selling your company’s knowledge and values (somewhat like this blog post!).

5.   Engage

The web is all about two way communication. Don’t rely on shouting your message at your customers until they buy or their ears bleed. Find out what they want, then provide it. The web offers the best (and cheapest) targeted market research you could ever undertake. Comment on blogs, provide Q and A opportunities on your site and generally get yourselves out there!

6.   Get involved but use your common sense

The web tends to be indelible. Blogging, tweeting and commenting is a great way to increase your market presence. However, treat everyone with respect, patience and common courtesy – you never know who you will be doing business with in the future.

7.   Don’t write/post/blog/tweet for the sake of it

While constantly providing and updating the content you distribute is important for maintaining interest, a high level of quality and relevance is essential at all times. This way, your customers will continue to pay attention to your hard work (and excellent products and services!), rather than tuning out.

Achieving all this at once – not in the real world!

To achieve everything suggested over the course of these two blog posts takes a lot of time and money. For that reason, I’m not suggesting you run off and attempt them all at once. Instead, tackle one thing at a time and do it well. Does your website need a refresh – then go through it page by page making improvements. You want to start blogging? Then spend a bit of time commenting on the blogs of major thought leaders in your field. This will already help to raise the profile of your company, your expertise and ultimately your products! Rome wasn’t built in a day – neither was an effective online marketing campaign. Don’t rush and don’t over stretch. Set a small goal, achieve it and then move on to the next.

If you enjoyed these two posts, you should head over to David Meerman Scott’s webinknow blog and Steve Rubel’s blog for more of the same insight! They were my inspiration for this article.

This article was originally published by me on the Alto Marketing blog.

Bioproduction – Born in the 80s, but soon to hit new heights

Bacteria have been producing compounds for us since we discovered how to brew alcohol thousands of years ago. In 1982, we started giving them new genes, exponentially expanding the products they could make for our consumption. Recently, researchers in the US worked out a way to completely rewrite the genetic code of E. coli (1), a move that will no doubt usher in the next generation of bioproduction processes by removing the limits imposed by the natural biology of life.

1982. Famous for the release of the first commercial CD player, Michael Jackson’s record selling-album Thriller and the Falkland’s War. E.T. was in the cinemas and one-hit-wonder ‘Come on Eileen’ was on the radio. It was also the year that genetically engineered bacteria were approved for use in bioproduction, namely the manufacture of insulin. This was a significant milestone in the commercialisation of biotechnology, driving down the price of insulin, while increasing the uniformity and safety of the product (until then, insulin had been harvested from the pancreases of sheep and pigs).

We’ve come a long way since then. Genetic engineering is now carried out routinely in labs across the world and the access to an ever expanding list of fully sequenced genomes continues to provide new fodder for the craft. Indeed, the first ‘synthetic’ genome was recently created, built by piecing together bits of other genomes to create a completely unique bacterium. This month, researchers at MIT and Harvard took the evolution of synthetic genomes one step further, indentifying a way to rewrite the genome in a way that will allow us to build proteins that could never exist in nature (1).

Although the amount of proteins that can be created naturally is incredibly diverse, they are limited to a list of 20 fundamental building blocks, the naturally occurring amino acids. The genomes of every organism on this planet are written with this in mind, using specific motifs (known as codons) to code for each individual amino acid, which are strung together like beads on a string to create a protein. Although the code itself consists of 64 different codons, there is significant redundancy in the system, with a single amino acid often represented by more than one codon. In addition, there are several stop codons, which do not encode for an amino acid, instead acting like the full stop at the end of this sentence, instructing the cellular machinery that the protein is complete.

The researchers in the US took advantage of this redundancy to completely replace one of the stop codons in the E. coli genome with one of the other stop codons. The idea was to free this codon from its obligations as a stop codon, so it could be utilised for a completely different purpose.

Scientists could now take advantage of this ‘spare’ codon to create entirely new genes, capable of producing unique proteins containing an additional, user-specified amino acid. This might include those that have been designed by chemists to harbour favourable catalytic properties making them perfect for the rational manufacture of biological products.

Even more excitingly, the further development of this technique should make it possible to complete rewrite the genetic code, removing the redundancy and taking advantage of all 64 possible codons. As well as expanding the options available to biotechnologists, rewriting the genome of bio-productive bacteria would also likely render them insensitive to the sorts of viruses that have commonly plagued bio-manufacture processes.

There is still plenty of work to do before the new bacterial genomes are ready for use. For a start, the protein production machinery of the cell will need to be modified so that it can accurately take advantage of the repurposed codon. Once this has been achieved it will be possible to start assessing the cellular toxicity of editing the genetic code. Finally, safety issues concerning the custom editing of an organism genome will need to be assessed, in order to satisfy consumers and regulatory bodies that production using custom genomes is viable and acceptable.

Over the last 30 years genetically engineered bacteria have become a massively important production tool. If the new technique is a success, custom product design and batch production using microorganisms could become the method of choice for a wide range of applications… many of which are probably yet to be imagined.

Note: This post has been reproduced from the one I wrote for the Alto Marketing blog.

1) Isaacs F.J. et al. (2011). Precise Manipulation of Chromosomes in Vivo Enables Genome-Wide Codon Replacement. Science, 333: 348-353

Attracting Web Visitors: Commit to Content

Below is a reproduction of a blog post I recent put together for the scientific communications agency I work for, Alto Marketing. Find more great content over at the blog.

Easily accessible content available through the internet is changing how we all do business. This is especially relevant in the life science sector, as the clients and customers in our field tend to be tech-savvy and resourceful. Here I explore the importance of providing your customers with engaging, interesting and valuable content. Part 1 focuses on creating and maintaining an interesting and useful website, a keystone of any marketing program.

The importance of a website

The internet has levelled the global playing field for all companies, allowing even small companies to provide global offerings without the need for extensive physical infrastructure such as factories, retail outlets etc. Anyone from anywhere in the world can visit your website and buy from you. A website is a truly valuable marketing tool. However, to provide some perspective, in 2008, Google was already indexing over 1 trillion unique web pagesSomehow your information has to stick out from the masses.

Attracting visitors is the main goal of a website

Attracting visitors to your website is likely one of your primary business goals, along with capturing their interest and turning these leads into sales. After all, generating sales and revenue is how all companies will ultimately be judged.

Some visitors to your site will be interested in a specific product and will consider their search successful when they find it. However, others will enter your site not knowing what to expect, and it is these users who must be especially engaged and captivated, rather than hit with the hard sell. Either way, you have to ensure that people looking for a service or product you provide end up using your site and no one else’s.

What do visitors want to find on your site?

People are not interested in reading reams and reams of unappealing, blatant, dull webtext. Instead, try to think like your users:

  • What are they searching for?
  • What do they want?
  • What are their problems?
  • How do your solutions help?

In this way, their Google searches will lead to your website. Once you’ve caught their interest, you have to keep it by providing high quality content. Capturing their interest is not as easy as it would seem. People do not read in detail on the web. They browse and scan until they find exactly what they are looking for. If you’re not providing the right content, they will just move on to the next site with the speed of a single click.

It’s your job (and ours) to make sure that web users find your content first and that what they find is relevant, informative and interesting. This will encourage them to return again and again… and to tell their colleagues.

So how do I promote my products?

You can still promote your products. But customers won’t buy a product because you tell them how ‘efficient’, ‘useful’ or ‘forward-thinking’ it is. Instead, you have to captivate and engage with them. What are the benefits of your approach? How does your offering solve customer problems? Sell your solutions and sell your expertise.

Next week, we’ll find out how best to attract visitors to your site via your web marketing efforts, by making the most of your expertise, products and services and engaging with the visitors to your site.

Welcome to Paul Avery’s blog!

Welcome to my new blog – here I will:

  • Provide comment and analysis on interesting science, psychology and marketing topics.
  • Challenge your preconceptions on things you take for granted. I’m not saying I’ll be right, more that some things are worth considering in more detail.
  • Expand on my twitter posts to provide additional info on the interesting and unusual stories I dig up.
Mostly, I want you all to get involved.
Don’t agree with me? Let me know.
Think I’ve nailed it? Let me know (and thanks very much).
Did I miss something (or heaven forbid, get something wrong)? Put me right.
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