“Social Media” doesn’t mean only using FaceBook for your personal photos and contacts. Many people in our industry are doing LIMS social media using public tools such as LinkedIn or private tools such as the LabWare LIMS / ELN discussion group.
Making the Distinction
I’d long been a proponent of social networking and using social media. As I attended meetings and conferences, I spoke to people about the importance of developing a network of people and place from whom they could get information. If they needed help on their software outside what their software vendor could provide. Or, what if they wanted to hire someone to work on their LIMS, either an employee or an outside consultant? What if they had ideas on how to handle situations based on their industry? What if they wanted to explore implementing these within their LIMS? Then, what if they and wanted to learn from others in their industry how to best address the issues?
My point has always been that, the more people you know within your industry and the more people you know who use your LIMS, ELN or LES software, the more likely you are to find the answers you need. In early days, though, most people would initially think I was talking about using their FaceBook account that they share with family members. I learned to quickly begin conversations stating that wasn’t what I was proposing.
LIMS Social Media: Specialized
It’s best to start with your software vendor if you want to get specific technical issues resolved. If you need a bug fixed, you have to start with this. Depending on the issue, you might begin with the support group. If you want to begin a more general discussion or ask for suggestions, some of the software vendors have private discussion groups you can use.
Discussion groups fall into the category of “social media.” What you’re doing in them is “social networking.” But these are specific to products. They provide specialized help for people working with those products.
LIMS Social Media: General
Other groups are more general to the industry. That doesn’t necessarily make them a good place to look for answers. I stumbled across someone’s unanswered question just before writing this post. That inspired me to write about this topic, today. It was a question that anyone working with that software product would find to be somewhat common. However, the question remains unanswered after six months.
Here’s the situation: a person wrote about their LabWare LIMS upgrade and asked for tips. They asked in a place that was more general-purpose. It was a place that was focused more generally on the scientific industry than on the software, specifically.
In and of itself, that’s not a bad strategy. Customers do sometimes want to get tips from people who are outside their specific vendor product discussion groups. Sometimes it’s because they think they can get a less biased response. Other times, it’s because they don’t have access to the group.
What made this a bad strategy, and why this question remains unanswered was two-fold. First of all, since the focus of the group is more general to science than to scientific software, I wouldn’t think enough LabWare LIMS users would be active in it. Second of all, I also noticed the group didn’t have much discussion, in general. In addition, since the person’s name is hidden, no-one outside that group is going to try to write to them to help them. I know I’m not going to join just to help that one person. That’s especially true when it’s a group that in which I generally have no interest. I’m sure others probably think the same thought, even if they were willing to help the person.
With all this said, there are times when we use social media that is entirely outside of our industry. The most common example is probably anything related to database use, whether it’s a query or administrative issues.
When you’re performing standard queries, you can most easily find information by doing a web saerch. This is true, whether we’re talking about something such as a SQL (Structured Query Language) command or a LINQ (Language-Integrated Query) command. SQL commands are now so ubiquitous that you can find great examples of even the most complex queries. If you want to learn to create a pivot table, alias your columns, anything you want to do has an example if you keep looking. LINQ isn’t nearly as commonly used but there are still many places to find good examples.
If you’re looking for specific administrative advice, there are still plenty of places to look. If you’re using SQL Server, Microsoft does have plenty of information. Even if someone asks about something I haven’t personally done with SQL Server, I can usually find a Microsoft web page to send them. If you’re using SQL Server, you should just get used to looking for these, by the way. But even for Oracle, it’s just so commonly-used that it’s easy to find places people talk about it. In forums, people will ask and answer questions. They might give examples. They will occasionally even look at your command to help you determine why you’re getting errors, if that’s applicable.
The Issue With Other Social Media
But let’s suppose you specifically want to know how to report logged samples from your LabWare LIMS Stability module. There are a LOT of tables and fields in there. As such, new people get overwhelmed when they start learning how all this links together. In addition, they eventually want to learn how to find a planned sample versus a logged sample. That isn’t obvious by merely looking at the database and a general-purpose site won’t help with this.
LIMS and Other Social Media Usage
If you go to a social media platform such as Stack Overflow you actually will find some examples that are specific to LabWare LIMS / ELN, Thermo Fisher SampleManager, or Labvantage LIMS. That is because it is so big and so many people use it that it has gained some critical mass in some of our most common industry products.
Many of the people in our industry share information and need advice on their database commands, database administration, programming issues and web-site programming. Thus, they they just naturally also happen to represent enough of the large LIMS users that there is actually a chance you might get some questions answered, that way.
If you’re using anything but the largest platforms, you’re much less likely to get LIMS, ELN or LES questions answered from these social media tools.
When to Use These Other Platforms
As I said earlier in this blog post, if you have a bug or other issues to pursue, you should start with your software vendor. Start either with their support group or their private discussion group. You are most likely to find people who can help you with your product-specific question in these places.
If this isn’t helpful, look for tools that seem to have any amount of discussion around your question. Your question will have to be appropriate for that tool. There are many people who don’t have access to these either, for one reason or another. This is a helpful strategy for them.
To give an example, while Stack Overflow does have some discussions around various tools that we use, they tend to be technical questions. I wouldn’t think it would be helpful to ask in there about using a LIMS for some new scientific process.. On the other hand, it doesn’t help if, like the person I mentioned who used a forum that doesn’t tend to address scientific software questions, you’re unlikely to get an answer. Even though that forum looks like it has potential for scientific process questions, if it’s not active, it doesn’t matter.
Look around a forum to see if there are questions remotely related to yours. Look to see if people in that social media platform are unresponsive to questions. If either is the case, there’s no harm in posting. Just be be aware that you’re unlikely to get a response. If a response is important, you should look for better avenues.
LIMS Social Media Final Points
For LIMS social media, consider what kind of information you need. Consider what types of people are going to be able to answer this. If it’s a technical question, you want to hear from the technical experts. If the question is process-oriented, you might want to ask someone specific to your industry.
You need to find social media that will have the most people like that. In addition, they need to be people who are willing and able to answer your questions. Whether you’re using a LIMS, ELN or LES, the issues remain the same. Sometimes, that is available through your software vendor. But, once again, it depends on the software vendor and the type of question.
You can post all you want to any and every public site you want. However, it doesn’t mean you’ll get an answer if it’s not a place where like people “hang out.”