Facebook is a challenging tool for health campaigns

Facebook is free, and it reaches millions of consumers, often broken down by group. Thus, it can give a healthcare PR campaign access to a targeted, niche audience.

Facebook is free, and it reaches millions of consumers, often broken down by group. Thus, it can give a healthcare PR campaign access to a targeted, niche audience.

However, industry pros face a challenge using Facebook, in that it raises regulatory and legal concerns regarding the reporting of adverse events. Therefore, many pharma and health companies focus Facebook efforts on patient support and useful products instead of product promotion, says Sarah Morgan, director of client services at MCS Public Relations.

Morgan notes that Vistakon's Acuminder application, a Facebook reminder for people who wear contact lenses, is an example of a useful and properly orchestrated effort.

However, Facebook is not suitable for efforts for treatments of “embarrassing” conditions, because health is usually too personal to share with online friends, Morgan adds. Nor is it a place for healthcare companies to create a foothold in social media just because of its popularity.

“You have to ask, ‘Is there a strategic reason?'” says Peter Pitts, SVP and director of global health affairs at MS&L. “‘Is this an appropriate, robust tactic in our strategy?'”

To use Facebook, companies can build patient support groups without actually promoting the drugs and treatments that they sell. However, both Morgan and Pitts note that Facebook does not have a one-size-fits-all approach.

Matt Hicks, corporate communications spokesman for Facebook, says that what makes his company's platform complicated is that businesses cannot control members once they launch a page. However, Facebook does allow companies to remove its “Wall” and “Discussion Board” features to better monitor conversations, he adds. n

Key points:
  • Facebook efforts should reflect the company and its overall strategy
  • Campaigns must be useful for users, but still maintain regulatory compliance
  • Certain “embarrassing” health conditions are not a fit for Facebook

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