Advertising on Facebook can give a company a powerful competitive edge, especially for pharmaceutical companies where competitors may not yet have fully embraced social media. The opportunity to gain a significant advantage is immediate and enormous. Along with controlling the narrative of your product, Facebook gives you direct contact to build value with patients and clarify inaccuracies, can establish your company as an authority on products and conditions, allows you to directly retarget those who engage with your ads and posts, and provides extensive usable data about your target audience.
Pharmacovigilance and Facebook Ads
Pharmaceutical companies must comply with additional regulations that companies selling generic goods/services don’t concern themselves with. But with compliance comes opportunities.
Most ads will generate comments—both good and bad. If these include misleading claims (e.g. “This drug for treating acne cured my cancer”), the claims must be addressed and corrected using the company account. Any comments about adverse events (e.g. “This drug gave me headaches and nausea”) must be reported. While there is an option to turn off commenting ability on ads, engaging is generally a better approach.
When you advertise in other arenas—like TV for example—you have no control over what people are saying. Just because it isn’t being directly posted beneath the ad, doesn’t mean people aren’t talking about it. They are talking about it at the dinner table, with friends and family, in online forums, on Twitter, and on their own Facebook posts, tweets, and online groups.
Facebook gives the opportunity to directly respond to comments in an official capacity. While it takes time and should be done strategically, it’s a valuable platform for building trust, remaining current, and connecting directly with your target patients. More importantly, it’s the right thing to do to ensure that misinformation doesn’t spread, and provide as many people as possible the ability (opportunity?) to understand the risks and benefits of your drug.
Regardless of your level of direct engagement with them, patients are talking about your products online, and pharmaceutical companies have an ethical and moral obligation not to play ostrich and put the proverbial head in the sand to avoid coming across any potential comments containing adverse events or claims. Instead, address those situations and comments head-on with empathy, accuracy, and full compliance.
Compliance takes place in two areas: with Facebook’s advertising terms, and FDA regulations. Facebook’s terms do change so it’s important to keep up-to-date on them and pay special attention to pharma and medical requirements.
The FDA doesn’t have clear guidelines for Facebook ads, however, it’s 2014 OPDP guidance on social media provides a general framework for how to approach compliance building on all of the normal guidelines set by OPDP for general advertising practices.
Facebook allows for a special format with pharma ads that includes communicating special side effects. As with any new advertising content, ensure you’ve included an educational process for your in-house legal team on the implications and options of advertising opportunities.
Put Facebook to Work
These days, most people go online for at least some health-related information. While they’re online, Facebook is likely one of their destinations. Combining the search for health information with the specificity of Facebook’s data on each user allows you to take advantage of interest targeting with your advertising.
Because of the social nature of Facebook, ads need to flow with the news feed, using content that offers help, information, entertainment, or advice. Always remain consistent with your brand and messaging while providing information that users are looking for. What questions do patients always ask? Answer those in an ad.
Facebook has substantially invested in creating algorithms to target, engage, and convert. As your ads run, this algorithm is learning about who engages with these ads (and who disengages by hiding or blocking ads). Your first ad audience can lead you to a Lookalike Audience that is generated by Facebook based on other users similar to those who engaged with your ad. Use this power to reach the best patients and medical professionals for your campaigns.
In general, Facebook advertising is significantly underpriced from a value perspective in relation to other mediums. This won’t last forever. Facebook ad pricing will eventually increase as advertisers shift from TV to more meaningful social advertising.
Facebook allows you to deliver your message to specific people, so remember that HIPAA does not apply when marketing directly to HCPs. This means you can use retargeting to build connection and trust with them through value-added messages. Know who those HCPs are, engage with them, and leverage that data across platforms. For specific, measurable, brand messaging, social media is a clear winner for pharmaceutical companies.