Facebook and Pharmaceutical Healthcare Marketing

It’s Just a Facebook Page. Why Do You Need Strategy?

I am a content and search strategist. Sure, healthcare clients love an effective search engine marketing (SEM) campaign, and they love knowing that the customer relationship management (CRM) strategy you’ve built for their product enrollment supports long-term medication adherence and informed patient-to-doctor discussions driven by a branded doctor discussion guide (DDG).

But I am here to tell you, regardless of the brand, the product, or the industry, every brand thinks they need to have a Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube presence. They all say some iteration of:

“Come on. It’s Facebook. It’s Twitter. Let’s just take the content we have on our website and post it to social media. How hard can it really be?” — All clients, always and forever

As someone who spends the vast majority of his day thinking about the relationship of content to the working functionality of the Internet, I am here to tell you — putting up a branded or unbranded Facebook page within pharmaceutical healthcare marketing is not easy. Here are five reasons why:

1. The Content Has to Be Different and It Needs To Serve a Purpose

I can’t begin to tell you how many times I have heard a client suggest their Facebook page should consist of content verbatim from their website. This suggestion, while understandable, is highly annoying and terribly conceived. The reason: at the end of the day, most brands and clients view a company website as its foundation around which everything else revolves. For lack of a better analogy, clients and consumers have a heliocentric vision of what a website is and how auxiliary components orbit around it.

The heliocentric vision of a website.

You can argue, as I have, that Facebook can serve as a primary juncture for social transit however it isn’t the current view of the advertising ecosystem landscape. With every branded or unbranded platform orbiting around a company website, why in the world (solar system? universe?) would posting verbatim content in two different places, with one directly leading/linking to the other, be a good idea?

Look, while Facebook can be a primary point of social transit, it currently serves as a driver to a company website for patients, clients, and healthcare providers. This being the case, what sense does it make to post the same content on your branded or unbranded Facebook page that you already have on your website? Why would a patient or prospective investor want to see the same content in two different places?

The answer: they wouldn’t and they don’t. Forgetting about the overall search implications of posting content verbatim in two or multiple online locations, providing the same content over and over again in different locations creates a terrible user experience. It just isn’t a good idea.

Bottom Line: If you are planning on establishing a social media channel — Facebook or otherwise — it is imperative that the content be different from where it drives and, moreover, that the social content supports key performance indicators (KPIs) of the linked-to website content.

2. Align Goals Across the Spectrum

Before building a branded or unbranded Facebook page for a healthcare brand, or in actuality any brand, ask yourself these questions:

  • What is the goal of the Facebook page?
  • What is the goal of the website to which your Facebook page links?
  • Do the goals of your Facebook page and your website align?

If you can’t answer any one of these questions, and certainly if you can’t answer the overall goal-alignment question, you should think twice about the purpose and direction of your Facebook page/social media in-market tactic.

Too often companies go through an exercise in cognitive dissonance wherein they understand the inherent connective-tissue nature of a social media platform to its branded website; however, they forget to make the connection that for separate platforms to work as one, the goals of both platforms must align.

As such, before you publish your branded pharmaceutical Facebook account, ask yourself these questions:

  • As a traffic driver to my branded website, are we using our Facebook page to drive CRM registration?
  • As a traffic driver to my branded website, are we using our Facebook page to drive patient downloads of a DDG?
  • As a traffic driver to my branded website, are we using our Facebook page to drive users to purchase a specific product?
  • As a traffic driver to my branded website, are we using our Facebook page to drive users to a deep-linked or landing page designed to optimize conversions?
  • Understanding that Facebook is a driver to a branded website, do the strategic goals and KPIs of your branded Facebook page correlate to the strategic goals and KPIs of its website?

If you can’t succinctly answer these questions to properly align strategy across platforms, something is wrong with your approach to social.

3. Legal, Pharma, Facebook and the Truth

For the vast majority of industries who are not subject to FDA oversight, social platforms can be used to engage with consumers in an extremely, almost unfettered, creative manner. For companies like Nike or Adidas, social platforms can serve as a direct and instant line to consumers to test new marketing campaigns and lines of messaging.

Brands like Nike or Adidas have the ability to come up with a concept on a Monday morning, post it to the social sphere in the afternoon, gather feedback, and repost as a refined concept that evening. This isn’t the case with pharmaceutical advertising.

FDA & Healthcare Advertising

Propping up a branded or unbranded pharmaceutical Facebook page means running all concepts through a strict legal review process wherein, depending on the drug type, you can become extremely limited in the type of language and graphics your campaign utilizes. This process can take up to 90 days, depending on submission type.

For example, some oncology brands limit themselves to not openly state the medical condition its product — the medication — is meant to treat.

The reason for this is simple: healthcare marketing is governed by the principle of “better safe than sorry”. To protect against lawsuits, it seems as if pharmaceutical advertising is intentionally stripped bare of any concept that might imply a medication will accomplish its stated goal. It’s the reason every pharma ad you watch is couched in vagueness rather than directness.

Mulder is right. No government agency has jurisdiction over the truth, yet the FDA makes it critically hard to market to consumers via social platforms directly with intent and purpose.

4. Branded vs. Unbranded

You might have noticed that I have been using the terms branded and unbranded in terms of creating a pharmaceutical Facebook page. Due to oversight by aforementioned FDA regulations, healthcare companies are limited in how they can market their products to consumers and patients. A quick example of one of these regulations is fair balance.

“The FDA should make clear that the fair balance requirement for DTC ads prohibits only ads that convey a deceptive impression of the risk and benefits from the overall presentation of information, rather than those that fail to achieve a mechanistic balance between risk and benefit information because they do not present such information with identical emphasis.” — Source

Within DTC advertising — direct to consumer — the regulation of fair balance specifically directs advertising efforts of healthcare products to present an “accurate and fair assessment” of both the risks and the benefits of a medication.

“[T]he presentation of true information relating to side effects and contraindications is comparable in depth and detail with the claims for effectiveness or safety.” — Source

This is the reason for having a branded pharmaceutical Facebook page as well as an unbranded pharmaceutical Facebook page.


Within the branded page, the moment the branded medication name is mentioned with the condition it treats, all advertising from that moment forward must go out of its way to present:

Black-Box Warning Example

Within a branded space, advertising must adhere to FDA fair balance regulations. This is the reason why anytime you visit a branded pharmaceutical Facebook page, the messaging and visuals are purposefully neutered to ensure against any perceived or unintended medication benefits or consequences.

Make no mistake about it, fair balance guidance regulations make advertising a branded medication tough, yet the laws are in place for a very good reason.


Conversely, the unbranded Facebook space allows for more leeway in content (messaging, visuals, dos and don’ts). Since an unbranded Facebook page does not specifically mention a branded drug name advertisers have more leeway to utilize language and visuals that deeply educate the patient on a condition, treatment options, and benefits of one treatment type vs another, etc.

It should be noted — even though the unbranded space is easier to advertise within because the FDA does not review unbranded sites, pharma companies still impose self-oversight. The unbranded space does offer more room to operate, yet it isn’t the wild west.

So Why Does This Matter?

Before your client asks for a Facebook page, the question of branded vs unbranded needs to be asked. If a specific strategy and goals to accomplish that strategy cannot be determined, one or both might not be the best idea. Just because Facebook and other social platforms exist, doesn’t mean they are the best tactic to meet a goal.

5. Can You Keep it Going?

Lastly, and this applies to any Facebook page regardless of industry: can you keep it going over an extended period of time? Moreover, can you keep it fresh, interesting, useful, and engaging to both your target and unintended audiences during that time?

This is really where long-term planning and strategy come into play. Before propping up a social media platform for the hell of it, you need to ask yourself and your clients if there exists enough interesting content to keep the channel fresh, and, most importantly, if that fresh content can continue to support the overarching and shifting goals of your brand.

If the answer is “no” because you can’t build a strategy for the platform that ladders up to short- and long-term brand goals, there is no reason to maintain a social platform like Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, or Instagram. In the long run, it will only hurt your brand as a soon-to-be-forgotten island sitting out in the ocean of advertising materials you once thought to be a great idea.

It’s Just a Facebook Page. Why Do You Need Strategy?

For all the reasons mentioned above and more, before you think about propping up an unbranded or branded pharmaceutical Facebook page, you need a strategy.

Without one, you will fail.

Thanks for taking the time to get this far. If you liked this content, you might like “Unpalatable Truths in Drug Advertising” by Reg Manser, “How the Integration of AI Into the Work Place Will Power Positive Health” by Carl Frederique and/or “Why Caregivers Flock to Facebook” by Elizabeth Elfenbein

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