Two Simple Ways Pharma Can Use the New Facebook Features

Facebook health updates?

Let’s be clear on the title of this post. The key word is “MIGHT.” I put it in all caps hoping everyone would notice. I plan to share some more details on some of the new Facebook features that have been released (or will be shortly) and how these could be used in healthcare including by pharma companies. However, I’m not quite saying to run out and leverage these features or do exactly what I will describe. It still has to make sense. I’ll talk more about that in the rest of the post.

One more caveat…I’m not saying that Facebook is or will become some healthcare information destination (quite the opposite actually). However, it will be where more people look to gather advice from trusted friends just like they do now in real life whether in person or via, say, telephone. We often turn to friends for medical advice especially when that friend has personal experience with a particular condition. There’s nothing wrong with that. It’s part of the normal research process. This advice needs to be combined with other sources (especially a physician) to come up with a final decision. So, again, Facebook isn’t a replacement for other sources, but could be an additional source providing a very specific bit of information into the decision making process. For all of you thinking about commenting that Facebook shouldn’t be a healthcare information source, those last few lines are for you.

Onto the good stuff…

First, as you probably have heard or noticed, Facebook recently rolled out a bunch of changes to its platform. Some more are coming soon. I just wrote a post about how one of these coming features, called Timeline, might actually make in impact on healthcare. Before moving forward, I’m going to quickly skim over some of the changes and won’t go into a lot of detail about how these changes work or how they might impact brands and companies who use Facebook. If you want to catch up on all the new features and our point of view on what they all mean for marketing on Facebook, then I’ll invite you to download my company’s point of view on the subject: Major Facebook Changes and What They Mean for Your Brand (1913 downloads).

One of the new features that most interests me is Timeline. I think this is the most significant and powerful change that Facebook has made to the platform since perhaps they expanding it beyond people in college. Yes, that significant. It will change the way people share information, what friends see, how you present information about yourself, and how others see you. It’s worth watching the brief video from Facebook that describes Timeline to get a sense for it. Essentially, Timeline is a digital scrapbook of your life. It’s everything you’ve shared on Facebook and it also gives you the ability to fill in any significant moments since the time you were born that never made it to Facebook (likely because Facebook didn’t exist). The important thing for marketers to remember is that now when someone decides to Like your Page or share some of the marketers content, it goes to their digital scrapbook forever. So, the content must be compelling enough and meaningful enough to people that they are will to put it alongside everything else important in their lives. It’s a tough barrier for brands to overcome. You can read more about this in the POV paper I mentioned above.

The question then is what content will people include in their Timeline besides life’s interesting moments. Part of the answer is in another new feature that Facebook has added for developers to use, which changes the way people can interact with content. No longer do people simply have the option to “Like” something, they can essentially do any action verb with it. You’ve probably already seen updates from friends in your News Feed announcing something like: “Jonathan is listening to The Rolling Stones via Spotify.” Those are the new action verbs that Facebook has termed Gestures (sometimes referring to them also as “the Open Graph”). Instead of liking the Stones (which I do), I can share with my friends that I am listening to them. I can share that I’m reading an article or cooking a recipe. These options are really only limited by the imagination of the developer. You can read a bit more about this concept on Facebook’s developer blog and also in the POV paper.

So, this lets a developer create a recipe site, for example, that let’s the user share that they cooked the recipe or that they ate it. In the mock up below, you can see there are a couple of buttons that let you indicate that you “Cooked It!” or “Ate It!”.

Notice that there’s a new type of permission box (in the upper left in the first image) asking for permission to add these actions to the user’s Timeline.

So, now after giving permission, if you do clicked “Ate It!”, then something like this would show up in your Timeline.

If you start to perform a number of actions that come from the same application (in this case it’s called “Recipes I Love”), then you will have a box added to your Timeline that shows all of your latest activities within that application. Keep in mind that “application” here could refer to an application that lives entirely on Facebook or one that runs essentially in the background of your website similar to how “Like” buttons are integrated now.

Facebook is calling these “Aggregations,” which makes sense I suppose.

What is important about actions like this and the applications that leverage them is that Facebook is giving significant weight to them when determining what you see in your News Feed. Their direct quote: “With the Open Graph, your app becomes a part of the user’s identity and social graph. Through a single API, you’re able to deeply integrate into the key points of distribution on Facebook: Timeline, App Views, News Feed, and Ticker. As users interact with your app, actions are displayed on the users’ Timeline and their friends’ News Feeds and Tickers. With the Open Graph, you’ll be able to create a deep, persistent connection between you and your users, and drive new users to your app.”

With the new updates to the way the News Feed works (see the POV paper), it’s harder for brands to get content into those Feeds. If your content doesn’t show up in those Feeds, then your Page pretty much doesn’t exist. I wrote a full post about this concept a while back, but the main point is that most people navigate Facebook by looking for interesting things in their News Feed. They don’t decide to directly go to your Facebook Page and check out what’s happening every single day. That’s not how Facebook works. So, if your content isn’t in their News Feed, they forget you even exist. Actions that involved the Open Graph, as the quote from Facebook indicates, will get priority in the News Feed (that’s why you see so many stories about Spotify).

The question now becomes what actions might pharma and healthcare companies create that people might actually take. I’ve already said a number of times that people aren’t likely to indicate that they “Like” certain treatments. Like this:

There are two reasons why people might not want to share this information. First, it’s a bit odd to “Like” a drug, especially one for erectile dysfunction. Second, most people wouldn’t want to share that they are in any way associated with a medical treatment, instead preferring to keep this information private. This is especially true for more potentially embarrassing conditions. However, if you skim through your News Feed, you probably will notice people sharing some healthcare information about themselves. It may be a quick report on the fact that they’re sick or something very specific about their disease. For example, I’m friends with a few people that share a ton of details about their diabetes and what the latest is with their treatment. I think you’ll see more of this in the future as people become more comfortable with sharing this information. People will also become more sophisticated in using tools that allow them to better (and more easily) restrict certain updates to a small group of friends. Facebook recently added Lists that make it much easier to do this. So, maybe you only share your health information with a close circle of friends who have the same disease. That’s easily possible now.

With this in mind, can there be actions relating to healthcare that people might want to share? Instead of “Liking” a drug, how about this instead?

Now this is something that a person might be far more inclined to share publicly. I’d also argue that they are more likely share this versus the somewhat awkward “Jonathan Richman Likes Lipitor.” The new Open Graph options for Facebook allow me to create something for the Lipitor website (or any other property, including mobile) that would let a person indicate that they “Researched” Lipitor instead of “Liking” it. Sure, some people might not be interested in sharing anything about the fact that they are researching Lipitor much less actually taking it. However, you would probably find that if you posted an update like this, that you’d get quite a few comments and questions. Some of your friends are likely to weigh in with their experience with the drug or even offer their help with your research. All of this information could be additional inputs that makes your research even better. Again, it’s not for everyone, but the new options do allow for a more healthcare friendly language around certain activities. “Liking” a disease doesn’t make much sense, but maybe this does.

It’s all possible with some of the features that Facebook has enabled. As I said in my last post, I believe that giving up a little bit of your healthcare privacy can be a good thing. There’s a great story of how one woman inadvertently used Facebook to save her son’s life. If you share some information, the feedback and information you get back from your friends might be well worth the small amount of privacy that you give up. Again, it’s not for everyone and it’s not that common today, but it will be more routine in the future. No one would have thought that people would routinely share their location with the world 10 years ago, but it’s commonplace (and encouraged) today thanks to the check in.

So, with all that’s possible, can healthcare and pharma companies rethink what Facebook means and how they can create connections to their companies and brands? I think there are definitely opportunities with the new features on Facebook. It’s not plainly obvious how best to leverage these features and what makes the most sense, but it’s still early days. These features should be evaluated on a case by case basis to see if there is some connection. Completely ignoring these features isn’t the best option, so it’s best to evaluate them.

Also, don’t forget about the feature that Facebook added a couple of months ago that allows pharma and healthcare Pages to add a footer that is always visible, which can be added to the bottom of your Facebook Page. This can be used for disclaimers or other information that you always want visible. This post includes a video demonstration of exactly how to implement this feature. You can see this feature in action on this Facebook Page for Curital, an imaginary pharma product I created.

 Creating applications and integrating them into your existing digital marketing (no matter who you are) can be complicated. Our company, Possible Worldwide, has already done a great deal of research with these new features and have a number of development applications already out there. If you’re interested in figuring out how these features work and if they make sense for your brands, then feel free to contact us.

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