Listen Up: The Benefits of Social Listening for Biotech Companies

May 21, 2024

What’s the best way to get a snapshot on how biotech industry stakeholders feel about a certain topic? Listen to what they have to say online.

Social listening, also known as social media monitoring, involves systematically tracking online conversations to gain a deep understanding of audience sentiment, preferences, and behavior. It goes beyond simply counting likes and shares; social listening analyzes mentions, content, and conversations to identify emerging trends and track competitor activity. These insights, in turn, can inform strategic decision-making.

Life and Death Data

Across healthcare, understanding the nuances of online conversations can provide vital insights into navigating sensitive topics, addressing stakeholder concerns, and crafting effective communication strategies that resonate with key audiences. Consider, for example, how online conversations fueled vaccine skepticism during the COVID-19 pandemic, blunting the real-world impact of an unprecedented scientific achievement and measurably harming public health. With a better understanding of these conversations, what motivated them, and how they proliferated, public health officials might have saved more lives by getting more vaccines into more arms. In fact, researchers continue to grapple today with what went wrong online during the pandemic, and how it can be better managed next time.

Closer to home for biotech companies, issues like pricing may be especially well-suited to social listening. Drug prices are a sensitive and complex topic that can elicit strong reactions from patient communities and the general public. Consider how quickly the public has come to grasp the key issues surrounding a complex topic like pricing of one-time gene therapies. Just six years after Spark Therapeutics announced approval and launch of the first FDA-approved gene therapy, Luxturna, the public has grown accustomed to gene therapies priced at more than a million dollars for one-time administration. When Orchard Therapeutics announced earlier this year that it had priced its gene therapy Libmedly for ultra-rare metachromatic leukodystrophy at a record $4.25 million, they were met with a muted response due primarily to the clear life-changing impact of therapy, and a favorable health economic profile. For companies approaching their own product approvals, social listening can be a valuable tool for understanding how their own patient communities, healthcare providers, insurers and others may feel about price.

Similarly, social listening might help inform business strategy for companies looking to raise cash. It’s no substitute for careful financial analysis and frank conversations with investors, but having a good sense of market sentiment at various scales is incredibly useful for any biotech company considering an IPO or funding round. We all know that things have been rough as of late, but how much have they improved? Would it pay to wait a few more quarters for positive trends to continue? Fortunately, the biotech investment community is extremely active online and can provide insights into how a certain modality or disease area is perceived and how companies are faring. Having the insights of observers like Bruce Booth, Brad Loncar, Matt Herper and others all in one place and focused on a particular topic can provide another layer of insight when considering how and when to go to the well.

Anatomy of an Effective Social Listening Strategy

If you’re considering incorporating social listening into your broader digital strategy, you may be wondering where to start. There are several tactics that comprise a social listening strategy. While not an exhaustive list, the three tactics below are excellent starting points: 

  • Mention Analysis: This is the process of monitoring mentions of your company, science or key biotech industry terms across various social media platforms, such as X, Facebook, Instagram, and LinkedIn. By tracking these mentions in real-time, biotech companies can stay informed about what people are saying about them, uncover any challenges and identify potential opportunities.
  • Content Analysis: Social listening involves analyzing the content of those mentions to extract valuable insights. This could include sentiment analysis to gauge whether the conversation is positive, negative, or neutral, as well as thematic analysis to identify recurring topics or ideas. These insights can serve as content inspiration or inform nuance in a communications strategy.
  • Competitor Tracking: Social listening allows companies to monitor competitor activity, such as milestone announcements, data readouts, conference attendance and patient engagement. By understanding what competitors are doing and how audiences are responding, companies can identify areas for differentiation and strategic advantage.

In the biotech industry, staying attuned to online discussions can provide valuable insights into shifting patient needs, regulatory climates, and market dynamics, allowing for informed decision-making and strategic flexibility. In an industry that lives and dies by data, it seems almost foolish not to systematically track what’s going down online.


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