AstraZeneca wants its scientists to interact on social media

silhouettes of people with social media icons as heads
(Rosaura Ochoa / CC BY 2.0)

AstraZeneca ($AZN) wants its scientists to get social. The Big Pharma company is encouraging its research teams to share data and collaborate on Salesforce ($CRM) Chatter, an enterprise social network it thinks can support its push to eliminate silos in its R&D operation.

Chatter is already an established part of the IT infrastructure at AstraZeneca. But, to date, uptake has been strongest among its sales staff. Marc Starfield, VP of IT for legal, HR, corporate affairs and global compliance at AstraZeneca, wants this to change. In an interview with British tech news site v3, Starfield outlined a workflow he hopes will gain popularity among researchers. "You find a result, you put it in an electronic lab book. You ask, can I link that and post it immediately to Chatter with some metadata behind it so anybody who's interested in that will follow that hashtag?," he said.

The workflow is a virtual representation of the open-plan offices AstraZeneca is phasing in to up the odds of serendipitous collaborative discoveries happening. But while scientists are used to chatting to peers in person about their work, the use of software tools to share and discuss data is a newer idea. Starfield is aware that attempts to make researchers use Chatter may be met with skepticism, or simply ignored, but he thinks that by identifying and championing users who instinctively get the value of the model, awareness of the benefits of this way of working will spread.

Starfield is working to turn senior executives into users and advocates of the technology through training programs. Over time, the hope is that a trickle-down effect will result in midlevel scientists using the platform more actively. "For every 100 people, one creates content, nine engage with it and 90 are passive. That's OK because they still get value. Our goal is now 10/30/60. So of 100 people, I'm looking for 10 to create good content, 30 to engage with it and share it and 60 to passively use it," Starfield said.

While Starfield is looking to executives to lead the way, the initiative is also likely to gain a boost from those on the lower rungs of the R&D ladder. Established scientists who came of age in an era before the rise of social media may be skeptical about Chatter, but for new graduates weaned on Facebook ($FB) sharing details of their life online is nothing new. "We'll hire 1,000 scientists in 2016, and that group will engage and they do work differently," Starfield said.

- read v3's feature