Amy Cullinan

Amy Cullinan is probably the only SocialMedia.org member with a PhD in Microbiology and Immunology.

I was probably the only person who liked to write their PhD thesis.

She’s been a practicing scientist for most of her career. But according to Amy, with the difficulties around getting published, becoming established, and earning grants, the climate around academic science wasn’t for her at the time.

“But one of the things that I’ve known about myself since the third grade, was that I really liked the value of a good story,” Amy says. “I was a voracious reader and plenty of people told me I was a good writer. I like reviewing other people’s papers and telling their stories in science, and I was probably the only person who liked to write their PhD thesis.”

So she used her writing skills to jump from the academic side into an industry position in technical writing. But Amy decided she wanted to do something more than just write instruction manuals for experiments and eventually moved into marketing.

Now, Amy’s become the first Social Media Manager for Illumina.

Scientists don’t care about your photo or your tagline — they want to get right to the point of what that thing can do for them.

And like a lot of SocialMedia.org members, she got to the position just by offering to take it on.

“I think the key thing I bring is understanding what scientists — our primary customers — want to hear, how they want to hear it, and the order of importance they bring to certain things.”

“For example,” she says, “if you’re trying to get them to buy a piece of equipment, they want to see the specs and the data upfront. Scientists don’t care about your photo or your tagline — they want to get right to the point of what that thing can do for them.”

Amy explains that she understands the general skepticism and distrust of marketing among scientists because she used to feel that way too.

Another way she’s perfect for the job is that she can tell a scientific story accurately.

She can get up to speed quickly on complex issues and go deep on the things that are important to scientists. Part of that is not just talking about the company or their products, but the broader, more interesting stories — for example, what’s going on in the field of genomics.

“I think one of the most important things is to really listen to what’s going on,” Amy says.

“As you’re looking for more growth and influencers in a certain market, don’t forget to daily check in, whether it’s just monitoring your brand, or hotspots you need to let people know about. It’s a challenge to be everywhere at once, but it’s exciting.”

She also takes a scientific approach to finding out what works for Illumina in social media.

As you’re looking for more growth and influencers in a certain market, don’t forget to daily check in…

“It’s just about designing those experiments and letting them go to see what happens so you can take that information to refine your tactics.”

For instance, Amy was surprised when a Twitter chat for one of Illumina’s recently launched products fell flat. There had been excitement and chatter leading up the the event, but when it happened, no one showed up. From those results, Amy changed her strategy.

“That was really eye-opening. People are used to hearing things in a one-way conversation from brands. They’re not used to going back and forth with Illumina because we’re a big company. Our Twitter icon is just our logo — they don’t know who’s on the other side.”

Amy explains that a lot of scientists can also be afraid to ask public questions and look bad in front of their peers. So instead, she spun off a new Twitter account where it’s obvious that a human being is on the other side.

Another trend she noticed: Scientists can be creative, and they like to show that off sometimes.

One of her favorite projects was inspired by a group of University students. The students had created a tribute video to one of Illumina’s forensic identification instruments using LEGOs, stop motion, and the “Everything is Awesome!” tune.

“We saw this and kind of lost our minds.”

From there, Amy has lead Illumina in holding contests for live LEGO build challenges at events and other opportunities for user-generated content.

“It taps into the creativity that I know exists among scientists and gives them an outlet. We’re just so excited to see how creative people can be. And clearly the product tie is just an extra bonus,” Amy says.

“I’m looking forward to continuing along those lines with stuff that’s inherently fun and wildly sharable. I don’t think that anything else can quite do that like a really good social campaign can.”

Find Amy on Twitter and ask about her latest interests in genomics. Amy has been a member of SocialMedia.org since 2015.


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