Facebook has more than one billion daily active users and more than two billion monthly active users, and the social media platform claims that 400 new users sign up every minute. That kind of audience has continued to push advertisers to the platform, and 2017 became the first year that Facebook captured more than one in five U.S. digital ad dollars, according to eMarketer.

The platform is also never one to rest on its laurels as 2017 also brought several changes in the form of new offerings (such as Messenger, Live, Stories, and Spaces) and changes to its advertising platform, including increased transparency. However, the question for healthcare marketers is not whether Facebook is popular, but how they can best use the platform to reach their target audience. To find that out and more, PM360 asked 11 experts:

  • What are the keys to successfully using Facebook in 2018 for healthcare marketers and brands? What are the best uses of the social media platform for healthcare marketers to be sure they are reaching/engaging with their intended audience?
  • How should marketers approach some of Facebook’s more recent features such as Facebook Live, Facebook Stories, Facebook Spaces, Facebook Messenger, and Facebook Messenger Broadcast? Which, if any of these features, are most useful to marketers?
  • What will be the effect of Facebook’s attempt to increase advertising transparency? Will any of Facebook’s other new tools/changes for advertisers prove useful? If so, which ones are most important for healthcare marketers to know about?
  • What is your best advice for brands looking to engage with patient communities on Facebook? What do these communities most want from brands in these interactions and how can brands deliver?

Paul Murasko

At Sunovion, we’ve done a lot of work on Facebook and I’d offer two key pieces of advice. First, work through the patient leaders of existing Facebook communities by asking them what they need, and then work with them to create that useful content. Secondly, work with a partner that is already respected by the Facebook communities and knows the players. We work with advocacy partners and trusted thought leaders such as WEGO Health, who helps us interact with not just the top communities, but also many smaller groups.

The Facebook communities we’ve engaged are actively discussing treatments with hugely important, “do I take the next step” conversations happening. Patients go there to decide how and if they should discuss a treatment with their doctor. Brands should NEVER sell in the community, but should educate and inform—encouraging a robust patient/doctor conversation.

Advertising on Facebook

It’s now evident that nearly 100% of your Facebook content should be supported with an ad budget. For all intents and purposes, organic reach is dead for brands at less than 2% of reach on the platform. Facebook’s recently announced updates to their News Feed algorithm will prioritize posts from a user’s friends compared to organic content from brand pages. The change will focus on showing content that is performing well in terms of engagement (active discussion, likes, shares) to appear higher in the News Feed.

At the same time, ad rates on the platform increased by around 30% to 35%, so brands have to get clear on what they are driving, what they are measuring, and what their mechanisms for optimization are (http://bit.ly/2CSwaWC). Ultimately, while it is great that Facebook is returning to its roots as a social network, we should consider it as just one channel in a connected ecosystem—not the only game in town.

Dawn Lacallade

While Facebook has the best advertising and targeting platform, the recent changes limiting the ability to target consumers by condition or symptom might limit the use of Facebook by healthcare marketers in 2018.

Educational content created by healthcare industries is critical, but putting it in front of the audience will be trickier and likely more expensive. Facebook probably did not intend to reduce the value of condition and disease education, but it’s a side effect of their recent targeting changes.

With these changes, pharmaceutical brands should consider using influencer campaigns on Facebook, which has new tools for brands to boost posts by influencers (http://bit.ly/2FEKvYi). Influencers, whether a celebrity spokesperson or a fellow patient, have relationships with their followers that are based on trust, value, and constant exposure. Boosted influencer posts make it easier for big brands to reach their influencer’s followers, without having to create more content. This tactic can be especially useful for influencers who may already have a relationship with a brand or condition, such as Queen Latifah as an advocate for heart disease awareness or Andy Cohen and migraines.

Proper Community Participation

Medicine brands can also participate in existing Facebook communities that have previously gathered your targeted audience to focus your efforts. With community owner permission, brands can provide the education, compassion, and support that patients seek in communities, and in turn also increase their credibility with patients.

But keep in mind, brands could be perceived as interlopers in communities. To safeguard against this apprehension, brands must ensure they are viewed as transparent and acting as an advocate for patients. Pharmaceutical brands can warrant credibility within communities through a true patient perspective. Have a patient on staff, or advising the brand, to best understand how to participate and add value for the patients in these communities.

Larry Mickelberg

From consumers across therapeutic areas, to chronic disease patients, to caregivers visiting one of the 6MM health-related groups on the platform—our marketers increasingly view Facebook as a way to reach health audiences at scale, in a personalized way.

In particular, Facebook Groups are enabling people to connect around health issues that matter to them. Over 70MM people strong, Groups are separate, focused spaces on Facebook and can be great for finding communities, sharing ideas, collaborating on projects, and keeping track of conversations—all in one place.

We are also excited about the developments around Facebook Messenger and the recent Discover functionality, a hub inside Messenger for discovering new and interesting chatbots. We expect these kinds of chatbots to deliver important health and wellness content in real time to interested and engaged audiences.

Getting Started in 2018

For marketers in 2018 who have not yet built a branding page, do that first. And you can do it with existing, approved assets to learn and iterate over time. Start experimenting, test creative concepts and assets, and understand how the millions of members want to interact with your brands. You can also get access to consumer insights—that you simply can’t get anywhere else—to drive your brand planning efforts to new levels.

On Facebook, brands can provide awareness, education, and unique experiences about their products throughout the product lifecycle—from launch through maturity—leveraging Facebook’s unique consumer data. Some of the best ways to engage with patient communities are to listen; help them understand that they are heard; engage with them to allow two-way dialogue that may spark useful business concepts; and provide easy-to-find, easy-to-understand, and easy-to-share content to help their members manage day-to-day. This is a powerful node in the healthcare ecosystem that marketers can participate in to exchange value in new ways.

Gail Cohen

Most healthcare marketers understand the PESO model, but it’s important to deeply understand your online audience to unlock the true value of social media. How?

Do your research: It’s just as important to understand the platform as it is to understand how your audience uses the platform. Start with a listening study and apply key learnings to create content that resonates with your audience. Leverage Facebook’s advertising platform to maximize reach of that content to your target audience.

Be responsible: In a heavily regulated industry like ours, there are unique challenges in engaging with consumers digitally. It is critical to set and adhere to specific community guidelines, a set of rules to help govern conversation on your page. Distribute these guidelines to the community proactively and consistently post reminders.

Engage: Facebook is a conversational platform. While we work in a regulated environment, we must be able to engage in the conversation in a timely manner. Developing pre-approved responses and guidelines help streamline the process.

Be authentic: Place the community first. It’s crucial that the audience knows you care, are engaged, and are connected with them. Pose questions and listen to the answers. Apply learnings from these conversations to evolve the strategy and content on an ongoing basis. Ask the community for content. This will help ensure you reach your audience in a way that supports them and meets their needs.

It takes a village: Healthcare marketing on social media is multifaceted, requiring perspective from a specialized cross-functional team. Key stakeholders from communications, marketing, legal, medical, regulatory, and creative must work side-by-side to ensure success of any Facebook campaign.

While these tips are important, the social media landscape is constantly evolving. Stay apprised of new platform products, features, and algorithm updates and adjust your strategy accordingly.

Katie Sutherland

Increasingly, healthcare marketers recognize that a presence on Facebook does not have to include a commitment to two-way communication with consumers. More often, a Facebook page is used as a cost of entry to then advertise on the platform. Advertising on Facebook provides a targeted and immediate engagement opportunity. Once your templated brand page is established and your marketing objective identified, marketers can then match their objective to the most appropriate ad unit. Are you looking to increase awareness, drive the ask, or build loyalty and adherence? Facebook provides flexible ad formats to achieve these objectives.

Develop Creative Ad Units

The right ad format with impactful creative gains engagement from your target consumers. Strategic creative also enables the opportunity for consumers to engage with a healthcare brand from directly within the ad unit itself such as with video—never having to leave the Facebook platform. This provides immediate gratification and allows a brand to achieve its objectives within the ad unit—including sign up to programs and offers—while never forcing consumers away from their original experience.

In 2018, those brands that think beyond more traditional social media goals—connecting people and building communities—and rather focus on the reach and influence the platform can achieve with targeted advertising will outperform expectations. A brand can leverage Facebook to reach consumers through targeted ads of varying types across the platform all with varying objectives that align with brands across the lifecycle.

David Shronk

The best advice for healthcare marketers looking to leverage Facebook is a variation of wisdom from sales and marketing genius (and Seinfeld sidekick) George Costanza: “It’s not you. It’s us.”

The key to success can be found in embracing the chance to listen, learn, and adapt to what Facebook audiences are sharing. Facebook creates two-way relationships; marketing interactions that are too brand-focused will neither attract nor satisfy the right audience.

“It’s not about you” means remaining authentic; not only in content, but also in how you engage Facebook users and moderate discussions. Often, the most successful interactions are not about a brand, but rather about how people relate to living with a health condition and how that brand can contribute.

More Than Pay-to-Play

Forbes “2018’s Biggest Social Media Trends for Business” projects Facebook ultimately will close the door on organic reach for businesses in the News Feed. Forbes labels Facebook “a paid platform for companies, little different in this respect from traditional pay-to-play advertising channels like TV, radio, print, or billboards,” but I’d disagree.

For health, Facebook is fundamentally different from those advertising channels because its users are active, “get off the couch” healthcare consumers. The people most likely to make healthcare decisions (and interact with your brand) consume health content on Facebook. The platform helps you to understand audiences in their own ecosystem and evolve their understanding of your brand. Success lies in using Facebook on multiple fronts—advertising, sponsorships, partnerships with existing communities, and listening to and learning from interactions.

Armed with this information, brands can adjust marketing tactics to identify and attract the right audiences, in the right context—on Facebook and beyond. Patient communities will tell you what they want through their online actions and the smartest marketers will pay close attention.

Nadine Leonard

It has been an entire decade since Facebook began inviting brands and advertisers into the fold, yet pharma continues to flounder on how to best use the platform. At this point, it’s not enough to just pop up a sponsored post. With Facebook throttling organic reach and users becoming inundated with branded posts, healthcare brands need to look beyond the obvious advertising opportunities and find smarter ways to use the social platform. The most interesting opportunities to engage:

1. Venture into Video

Video remains content king on Facebook, but the best-performing have three qualities in common: Quick, visual, and quiet. Quick videos are palatable for shorter attention spans, highly visual content retains interest, and quiet (via closed captioning) videos are less intrusive and allow for on-the-go watching.

2. Go Beyond the Basic (Ad Formats)

When you first dip your toe into Facebook advertising, a simple “text + image” sponsored post makes sense. But you can only subsist on bread and water for so long. Instead, use other formats to enable your storytelling. Rather than a still picture of an RA patient hiking in Hawaii, why not show the experience via a 360° Video ad format? Or use the Canvas format to share a full-screen, interactive story of a couple managing Alzheimer’s Disease—all without leaving Facebook.

3. Get Busy with Bots

Consumers are now conditioned to expect on-demand, personalized content, and Facebook Messenger bots offer an interesting way for pharma to deliver—whether via educating on a disease state or facilitating financial support programs. While bots can live on multiple platforms and channels, Messenger bots are lower cost to develop, boast a nice U/X, and can be used in tandem with the advertising and targeting powers of Facebook.

Alessandro Renzi

Facebook is set apart by its ability to allow marketers to hyper-target their audiences. To take advantage of this, it is important to begin with the fundamentals of audience research in order to understand audiences at both a demographic and a psychographic level. Comprehension of an audience’s personalities, values, interests, and lifestyles is especially important for a healthcare marketer, as health can be a very personal and emotional topic.

The very nature of Facebook encourages users to be expressive and open, which creates opportunities for health marketers to emotionally connect with audiences. However, these connections must be authentic, so it is important to understand audiences at a psychographic level—unlocking insights into pain points, desires, and needs.

Some things to consider when applying this approach:

Content Creation

Whether you’re streaming an event on Facebook Live or diving into the world of virtual reality with Facebook Spaces, ask yourself if the content you’re sharing is relevant to your audience’s interests and values. If it is, you are likely to see engagement.

Influencer Outreach

Social media influencers have gained popularity due in part to their ability to personally relate to their audience. Partnering with an influencer who is already engaged with your audience can assist in creating a bridge of trust between you and your target public.

Facebook Advertising

An intimate understanding of your audience provides a clear picture of who to advertise to on Facebook. For healthcare marketers, using Facebook’s interest-based targeting is most beneficial, as it provides an avenue to target users based on an interest in a specific medical condition.

Facebook will always add features that enable brands to interact with users in new ways, but understanding your audience allows you to reach them in ways that transcend the newest feature and ultimately provides a solid, lasting Facebook strategy.

Robyn Doane

At Facebook, putting “users first” has always been a priority, so it’s no surprise advertisers are taking a back seat as Facebook drives toward greater transparency and less fake news. Users will soon have visibility to every message an advertiser is delivering, even a dark post served in the News Feed and promoted to a specific audience.

Pharmaceutical brands are likely to react in one of three ways:

  • Some brands will cling to their existing Facebook strategy to avoid the challenge of introducing a new approach to their medical/regulatory teams.
  • Other brands will begin limiting dark posts and move to creating more content within Facebook timelines. The content within timelines is already visible to all Facebook users.
  • Brands who are not currently on Facebook may be less inclined to consider the platform for the future due to both regulatory hurdles and the increased risk that their targeting strategy will be revealed to competitors.

Ultimately, it’s clear that Facebook will continue moving toward greater transparency. And as Facebook evolves, pharmaceutical brands can succeed by:

  • Maintaining a strong relationship with Facebook representatives who can provide timing and updates on transparency regulations.
  • Moving efforts to Click-to-Messenger ads, which directs users to a private and more personal 1:1 experience that can be more effective in building loyalty and trust.
  • Tracking competitors’ messaging strategies and pulling analyses of the conversations prompted under the creative to see where the brand stands with competitors.

Sean Standberry

Organic reach and effectiveness are virtually dead on Facebook, which means healthcare marketers need to make a stronger commitment to Facebook advertising in order to see success in 2018. The key for healthcare brands is to create a well-designed Facebook advertising funnel and combine it with storytelling. Marketers can easily determine how effective their stories and messages are not just based on engagement, but also based on how far fans are progressing through their advertising funnel. Ideally, marketers should create small wins throughout the funnel such as downloadable guides, health quizzes, giveaway submissions, pages viewed, or others to measure success.

I strongly urge healthcare marketers to take advantage of Facebook’s Lookalike Audiences. Marketers are able to upload their email lists, preferably an email list of their customers, and then Facebook will automatically find users who have similar demographics, interests, and behaviors of that audience. In other words, Facebook can leverage hundreds of data points to find a brand’s ideal customer, simply by uploading your existing customers’ emails.

The Value of Videos

We have run thousands of targeting tests on Facebook and have consistently found that Lookalike Audiences generate the best results, both qualitative and quantitative. Our go-to creative for Lookalike Audiences are video ads because they offer the ability to effectively tell stories. Videos about your customer’s real stories, pain, and solutions tend to really connect with fans.

Once marketers are engaging fans, then Facebook retargeting ads play a big part of driving fans down the Facebook advertising funnel. This allows marketers the opportunity to continue the story from last interaction with any particular fan. The platform offers the ability for brands to target people who watch a specific video. You can even retarget a fan based on how long they watched the video (i.e., 25% watched or 100% watched).

Holly Leggitt

Facebook (and social networks in general) have rapidly become primary resources for those looking for health information. From videos on diet and exercise to the science behind biologics, people are increasingly turning to social media to get educated and become informed. Brands have the unique opportunity through Facebook to reach, educate, and connect with these individuals in a way that they haven’t before. Through Facebook’s niche targeting capabilities, marketers can segment their audiences, tailor content, and be confident that it will be seen by the right individual at the right time.

However, studies show that Americans want to see more regulation on how social networks disseminate news—reflective of their increasing demand for transparency. This is especially important in an age of “fake news” and particularly relevant within the pharmaceutical and healthcare environment. That is why humanizing your brand’s identity and establishing a level of trust through increased transparency is essential to building and nurturing relationships with your consumers.

The Importance of Listening

Social communities provide patients with a voice, and brands with a unique opportunity to listen—an incredibly valuable tool that continues to go unappreciated. By really listening to the needs of patients—potential consumers and brand advocates—brands can confidently provide content that they know is valuable, helpful, and relevant. When engaging with these communities, place less emphasis on your own agenda and objectives and surround your core brand message with resources and information that these patients have expressed interest in consuming, so you can deliver on your brand’s promise of support and demonstrate your loyalty to them. As trust builds, so will these relationships, allowing brands to delicately introduce more product- or business-related messaging that doesn’t feel out of place, is appreciated, and trusted by these communities.


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