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Seven Tactics to Create Community Engagement with Non-Branded Facebook Pages (Part 1 of 2)

by: Heidi Kenyon

Content Strategist

Many of us use social media only as consumers, enjoying humorous cartoons, pictures of friends, and updates from family. But the way business uses social media is much different: it’s deliberate, goal-oriented, and measured. Some types of businesses, such as the pharmaceutical industry, conduct social media marketing under governmental constraints.

The pharmaceutical industry is heavily regulated, with the FDA keeping a careful eye on what brands say and how they say it. As digital marketers in the health care industry, we pay a lot of attention here: not only to what pharma can and can’t do, but also, in the absence of strict guidelines about social media, to what it is doing.

The FDA has not issued guidelines specific to the pharmaceutical industry’s use of social media. Despite this, some companies have begun making forays into Facebook. While there’s an increasingly important place for corporate, branded accounts, such as the award-winning Boehringer Ingelheim Facebook page, the patient communities growing on non-branded pages are also a valuable marketing tool for pharma.

One of the primary measurements of success for these communities is user engagement. Pharma can achieve fantastic user engagement by using seven key engagement tactics. I’ll define these tactics here; a follow-up post will discuss how various non-branded Facebook pages have employed the tactics, and to what effect.

The Value and Goals of Non-Branded Properties

Some pharmaceutical companies have explored the use of non-branded web sites to build patient communities. Among the value these communities provide to pharma is their ability to:

  • Increase awareness and adherence. The stronger a community of patients and supporters, the more likely patients are to learn about, seek, and keep up with treatment.
  • Drive traffic to other non-branded promotional initiatives. When people trust content, they’re more likely to follow links and engage with other programs and offerings.
  • Create goodwill. Community sites and social media platforms provide value to users. The more helpful, supportive, informative, and useful the platform, the more value it has; this generates appreciation and goodwill toward the brand.

Non-branded Facebook pages are another means of creating digital community; the same benefits apply on that platform, as well. Denmark-based pharmaceutical company Lundbeck sponsors a non-branded U.S. Facebook page for the Huntington’s Disease community. Communications Manager Katie White says, “Our ‘Moving Together for HD’ Facebook page is a natural extension of our patient education and support.”

Figure 1: Lundbeck U.S.'s Moving Together for HD Facebook page

In order to provide this value to pharma, non-branded Facebook pages should:

  • Assist the community in growing and connecting with each other by
    • encouraging attendance and discussion of events.
    • encouraging two-way communication between users.
  • Provide value to users in the form of information and resources, including any brand-sponsored patient assistance programs.
  • Set up the brand as a leader in the disease community; increase trust in the brand.
  • Identify and engage more patients.

Best Practices: Seven User Engagement Tactics

Getting users to engage with posts requires the use of seven important engagement tactics.

  1. Accept User Comments. Facebook is about interaction: successful pages must allow user comments. This is tricky for pharma. While pharmaceutical companies are responsible for content they produce, there are still no rules governing their responsibility for content produced by users, such as user comments. What if a user posts an adverse event or mentions an off-label use? (More on this in Part 2.) Because comments are fundamental to user engagement, it’s worth the innovation, planning, and effort required to mitigate this risk:
    • Be ready. Have a damage control plan in place. When creating posts, consider all possible ramifications and responses, and plan a course of action to take in case commentary runs amok. Are you prepared to delete comments and accept the consequence of users realizing they’ve been censored? Are you able to respond to comments in a timely way? Are you willing to let negative comments stand in the interest of an open, sharing community?
    • Monitor Carefully. Facebook has a handy Notifications section in the page Admin Panel that tells page administrators of all recent user activity on the page. Check often and then manage unacceptable comments according to your damage control plan.
    • Restrict User Comments. Page administrators can create a “moderation blocklist” in the Permissions section of their page settings. The presence of a blocklisted keyword in a post or comment automatically withholds that post or comment from publication; administrators have the opportunity to review blocked posts and comments and choose whether to allow them to appear on the page. For example, non-branded pages may choose to include their drug’s brand name in the blocklist.
  2. Respond to User Comments. Engagement isn’t a one-way street; successful communities have dialogue. User questions should be answered and comments addressed in a way that feels spontaneous and genuine; likewise, negative comments or comments which open the brand to risk must be dealt with immediately. Addressing these comments head-on is preferable to deleting them: users don’t want to participate in a community where they’re being censored.

    Within the regulatory limitations of the industry, though, how can this be done? It’s possible, with a strong commitment to the Facebook platform, an innovative page admin team, and a regulatory team willing to consider new methods.

    • Lundbeck, for example, has set up a special system with their internal review team allowing one-day or even same-day turnaround for approval of day-to-day posts and conversations. White cites the company’s strong backing: “Most importantly, we have a long-term commitment to social media from our leadership team and our internal review team, and we have processes in place to prioritize the review and approval of content.”
    • Other admins have a long list of pre-approved responses which can be applied to user comments as the situation warrants, so they can respond to comments quickly. While this path requires careful content crafting to prevent an impersonal, manufactured tone, and also requires attention to the all possible permutations of comments to a given post, it allows admins to provide timely responses. Follow-up can be done later with approved language, if necessary.
  3. Tag Users in Responses. Unless they make a point of returning to the page to check, users will not know that they’ve been addressed. Tagging users in the reply triggers an email from Facebook informing them they’ve been tagged (depending on users’ individual settings). A conversation is more likely to ensue when users know they’re being answered. (Learn more about tagging.)
  4. Aggregate and Post from Events. Use Facebook’s events feature to compile a list of nonprofit events, webinars, disease-related book signings, etc., as a benefit to users. Many families in disease communities, however, can’t attend events; here, Facebook communities can provide another value by posting interviews, photos, and more content from the event so that those unable to attend can at least get a sense of the event.
  5. Like and Engage with Other Pages. This is free exposure for a page to a niche audience. For example, the MS Voices page, for the Multiple Sclerosis community, likes the page of MS Views & News (a nonprofit organization). The MS Voices page can therefore post on MS Views & News’ page; posts there will be seen by MS Views & News users.
  6. Use Interactive Tabs or Additional Functions. Page goals should include keeping users on the Facebook page for as long as possible; the more time users spend on the page, the more value they will find and the more they will interact. Interactive tabs or functions within the Facebook page, such as videos, games, and information, help keep users on the page, and provide them with information and resources.
  7. Utilize User-Generated Content. Allow the community to share their experiences first-hand. You can solicit contributions via posts and have them emailed for evaluation and internal regulatory review. Material generated and privately submitted by users, whether stories, pictures, videos, or something else, gives the page’s content a very genuine feel. It gives users a sense of ownership of the page. And, despite the fact that this material must pass through review just like internally-created content, it can be considerably less expensive to produce.

In the next post in this series, I’ll look at six non-branded pharmaceutical Facebook pages, their use—or lack thereof—of these tactics, and the effect on their user engagement.

Filed under: Content Strategy

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