LinkedIn: The Quiet Force Transforming Biotech & Pharma

11/5/12Follow @xconomy

Mark Levin’s business is biotechnology, so it’s no surprise he knew zilch about a tech company called LinkedIn as recently as two years ago. But these days Levin sounds like he can barely do his job without it.

“I’m not the most social media savvy person. I haven’t used a lot of these tools at all,” Levin says, referring to blogs and Twitter. “But I’ll never forget, the first message I got from LinkedIn was an e-mail from what looked like someone called link-a-din. I remember asking myself about Mr. Link-a-din. I was trying to figure out ‘who the hell is this person?’”

Levin, a founding partner of Boston-based Third Rock Ventures and one of the more prominent biotech venture capitalists in the U.S., was a LinkedIn Luddite two years ago. To some extent, he still looks like one: his profile contains no photo, no professional biography, and only tidbits of information posted about his employment history. But appearances can be deceiving. He says he has amassed more than 5,000 connections, and the number keeps growing daily. He says he spends at least a half an hour per day on the site, sifting through more than 100 incoming connection requests a week, and firing off dozens more requests to people he wants to get to know. LinkedIn’s algorithms have gotten to know his tendencies so well, the site is constantly suggesting new people in biotech and pharma companies that he might want to meet. He often does.

Mark Levin of Third Rock Ventures

Levin became so obsessive at one point this year that LinkedIn temporarily shut down his account, until he called the company and assured them he’s a real person using the site for business. Just during a 15-minute phone interview with me on Friday, Levin said he got three new connection requests. One was from an MD that caught his eye immediately.

“About 18 months ago or so, I realized that is an extraordinary way to be in contact with people,” Levin says. “Our biggest challenge is to find great people. We don’t know everybody. And you can find a lot of great people here.”

While many in the tech press mock LinkedIn as an oh-so-boring compiler of mere resumes, it has become the indispensable online hub for networking in life sciences—an industry where relationships make the world go round. LinkedIn has a relatively puny user base of 187 million members around the world, compared to Facebook’s 1 billion, and there’s no question people spend way more time engaging with Mark Zuckerberg’s social network. But it’s also true there’s no question which site matters more to the life sciences. LinkedIn is the singular site for finding people in biotech, whether they are biologists, chemists, toxicologists, admin assistants, business development people, finance pros, or CEOs. There were more than 513,000 people in the LinkedIn database who self-identify as members of the “biotechnology” or “pharmaceutical” industry when I searched on those keywords Friday afternoon.

For journalists like me, this is an everyday reporting tool with almost as much value as Twitter, and possibly more. Even though I only use the basic free version of the site, it’s become an awesome clearinghouse of sources that I call on for help with scoops and analysis. I can slice and dice my network of 2,900 contacts by industry, title, location and more. It’s become a treasure trove of personal e-mails for sources, which I never have to manually update when people leave for new jobs, as they often do. It’s even turned into a place where people read a lot of my stories and the resource where I sometimes find new stories to pursue. In fact, I got the idea for this story by noticing that Levin and I have more than 500 connections in common.

Levin, as a venture capitalist, comes to the network … Next Page »

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  • http://www.lacertabio.com Carlos N Velez/Lacerta Bio

    Good article, Luke. I’m also a subscriber (since 2004!), and use LinkedIn a lot. One way we use it is to find consultants to work on projects with us on an ad HIV basis. Of course it’s also a great way to “meet” new people and forge new relationships. As a policy, I try where possible to have a follow up email or call with new contacts in order to cement the relationship. I’m disappointed that LinkedIn is dropping their Events feature. I think that’s a good tool for meeting people before a conference.

  • Respisci

    I returned to academia after a decade in biotech and have been constantly approached by students and post-docs with questions on how to get a job in industry. I suggested that they begin with using their connections via LinkedIn and was surprised to learn that most of them had no idea about its existence. I have encouraged them to get on, make connections and search the jobs. Even looking at the profiles of others can help them to sell their own skills and assets. And I warn them that it is not Facebook so stay professional.

  • http://twitter.com/PullanConsult Linda Pullan

    It is often the best way to find where someone I have met has moved to when their email stops working.

  • http://thenextelement.wordpress.com/ scientre

    I agree with Linda – over the last few years, pharma/biotech employment has become more “fluid” and LinkedIn is a great way to keep connections that may otherwise fall away.

  • http://twitter.com/MartinEglitis Martin Eglitis

    I am not sure I am entirely on board with the idea that LinkedIn connections are like trading business cards. But maybe I am leveraging the connections for more business-related purpopses. Because of that, I find it important from the first request to make the connection personal. While I agree with the personal follow-up, I think using the generic connection request short changes ones chances of making a connection. But I have been using LinkedIn for about 5 years and it gets only more useful professionally.

  • http://www.xconomy.com/ Luke Timmerman

    The fact that LinkedIn profiles are self-updated is key for me. I used to have old-fashioned paper Rolodexes stuffed with business cards A-Z, but all the numbers and emails became hopelessly out of date when people switch jobs, as they tend to do every few years (whether they tell you or not). You also had to remember the person’s name, and couldn’t filter on something like a cancer drug CEO in Raleigh NC. This is a way more efficient way to keep track of contacts.

  • Ellen Clark

    As a recruiter in the pharma & biotech niche, I of course use LinkedIn a great deal. At first I worried that the technology would put the end to the use of an executive search firm. But so many people are now on the site the situation has become just like a job board or other service that leads to an overwhelming number of candidates. Someone has to take the time to contact the people and check out whether they are a good fit for a position. Also everyone should realize that not all have signed up for LinkedIn. If you only recruit there, you might be missing the best candidate. And of course beware the profiles people self- post. There are a lot of false experiences listed and hyped profiles out there.Still there is no doubt that LinkedIn has become part of my daily life and does make it easy to find the person who recently changed positions. Linda, remember me? You were once a candidate for a search I had. Small world

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=734178852 Karl Schmieder

    Great article Luke. I appreciate your articles on the use of social media by biotech professionals and am incredulous as to how few are active using these incredible resources. I’m a very heavy LinkedIn user and have it open on one tab all day long. As @carlosnvelez:disqus mentions, it’s great to follow up with a phone call to cement the relationship. What’s funny is that people are still amazed that someone will call after making the connection.

  • http://www.xconomy.com/ Luke Timmerman

    Ellen—what kind of false experiences do you see posted on LinkedIn? Is it just people exaggerating their roles on various projects, or old-fashioned lying-on-the-resume kind of stuff, claiming degrees from Harvard etc that they don’t have?

  • http://twitter.com/GregEmmerich Greg Emmerich

    I disagree with this article and these comments. Sure, LinkedIn has some value as mentioned, but it will not be the driving force behind any innovation. LinkedIn is “dead” and has no means for collaboration. The only reason I know my generation uses the site is when they are looking for jobs. If you want your site to be successful in the future, you need to appeal to us.

  • Laura Shireman

    Interesting article, Luke! When I was looking for a job after graduation, an old friend I had lost track of found me on LinkedIn, told me her company had an opening, and I wound up with an interview and later a job offer from that interaction. I ultimately made a different choice job wise, but since then, I’ve been trying extra hard to make sure my LinkedIn profile is up to date!