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Karin LiltorpKarin Liltorp, Ph.D., is currently working as principal scientist at Particle Analytical Aps., an analytical laboratory performing physical chemical characterization of pharmaceutical drugs.

I started my career as a chemist working two years at a hospital. Among other things, I obtained deep insight into identifying kidney stones and diagnosing patients based on the composition of kidney stones. I never used this knowledge afterwards and I might never use it for anything. So why am I telling you this? Just to say that I am definitely not the only one with a lot of knowledge not being put to use that might be very relevant for others in a big pharmaceutical company. For example, someone outside your normal sphere of internal communication might have important experience and information about chemical synthesis, clinical study design, or a special animal model, just to name a few, and you may never find that out … if there is no framework to share this information.

Employees in the pharmaceutical industry have tremendous knowledge when added together. Every employee has knowledge that is very seldom restricted to their current function. In order to use this information more optimally, internal social networks should be utilized more efficiently. By social networks, I do not mean the traditional intranet, but networks similar to Facebook. Yammer is an example of an “internal Facebook” where you can ask questions and share knowledge within a company, and it is used worldwide. However, very few pharmaceutical companies have implemented internal social networks.

According to Tom Hill, service manager of Internal Social Media at Bristol-Myers Squibb, Yammer allows individuals from multiple teams involved in different stages of the drug development process to quickly share information because Yammer conversations are cloud-based and available to everyone. He further states that sharing of information facilitates offline discussions that help reduce the number of meetings needed by teams. And who wouldn’t like to reduce the number of meetings?

Comparing an internal company network to Facebook might make it sound unprofessional, as no one is interested in others posting pictures of their lunch! However, a social network is a brilliant way of sharing information, asking questions, and generating new ideas. You can connect with everybody who you have scientific interactions with, and you might even be able to sign up for groups in your area of interest. Such a tool can help break down silos and corporate hierarchy as anyone can participate. Thus, internal social networking encourages people to connect and communicate with each other, thereby developing valuable insights.

Of course it requires “training” as there might be special issues concerning the pharmaceutical industry, especially when it comes to confidentiality. Further, people should be trained in actually using it. It might not be as easy as it seems: For instance, how do I ask a question without admitting that I need help? Depending on company culture, it might be difficult to expose your “weaknesses.” In its early phase, the network would need some early adopters to ease their colleagues into the new system and ensure that it thrives as a facilitator of communication and innovation. You never know when someone will need information on the composition of kidney stones!

What social media tools and techniques do you find effective to share knowledge in your professional setting?