Seven tactics to create community engagement with non-branded Facebook pages

Heidi Kenyon

Toolhouse, Inc

Heidi Kenyon continues our medical communications theme this month by exploring ways in which pharma can use Facebook to their advantage, for example by setting up or sponsoring a non-branded Facebook page. According to Heidi, there are seven tactics pharma can use in order to achieve fantastic user engagement. Read on to find out what they are…

Despite the lack of clear regulatory guidance for pharma in social media, 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.

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 US’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

o encouraging attendance and discussion of events

o 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


“While pharmaceutical companies are responsible for content they produce, there are still no rules governing their responsibility for content produced by users…”


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? 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 blacklisted 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.


“Engagement isn’t a one-way street, successful communities have dialogue.”


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.

4. Aggregate and post from events. Use Facebook’s events feature to compile a list of non-profit 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 &amp, News (a non-profit organization). The MS Voices page can therefore post on MS Views &amp, News’ page, posts there will be seen by MS Views &amp, News users.


“Material generated and privately submitted by users, whether stories, pictures, videos, or something else, gives the page’s content a very genuine feel.”


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.

The proof is in the pages

To demonstrate just how effective these tactics are, I reviewed six non-branded Facebook pages, examining the content of their posts and evaluating their user engagement by comparing the total number of likes, comments, and shares per post1,2. (Because the number of page likes varies so wildly between the pages, depending on the size of the disease community, user engagement figures are shown in Figure 2 below as a percentage of total page likes.) The pages included are:

Changing Possibilities in Hemophilia, sponsored by Novo Nordisk

Parkinson’s: More Than Motion, sponsored by UCB

I Am ProHeart, sponsored by Bayer

Moving Together for HD [Huntington’s Disease], sponsored by Lundbeck U.S.

Sounds of Pertussis, sponsored by Sanofi Pasteur and the March of Dimes

MS Voices, sponsored by Pfizer


Figure 2: The tactics used by six non-branded Facebook pages

Figure 3 below compares three factors for each page: the total number of posts in the period, the user engagement score (the percentage of total users who engaged with the page), and how many of the seven engagement tactics each page is using.

Only two pages employ five or more of the seven tactics, these have the highest percentage of user engagement by a wide margin. The Moving Together for HD page utilizes five tactics and sees an average of 13% user engagement. The Changing Possibilities in Hemophilia page utilizes six and sees an average of 11% user engagement.

Bryan Hanscin, Senior Brand Manager for Hemophilia Marketing at Novo Nordisk, says it’s important to understand how a page is performing. “We do monthly analytics for all of our properties, including the Changing Possibilities in Hemophilia Facebook page,” he says. “We break down posts by type and topic, look at user engagement through several different lenses, and basically try to understand what’s working and what’s not. We’re agile enough to adapt our tactics based on that information.



Figure 3: User engagement on six non-branded Facebook pages

It’s simple: the pages using more engagement tactics have higher percentages of engaged users.

What about the risks?

Adverse event reporting and mention of off-label use

Adverse event reporting and the mention of off-label use are some of the biggest risks that pharmaceutical companies face in any situation where input from the public is possible. Some companies address this issue head-on, with a tab for adverse event reporting such as that on the Parkinson’s More Than Motion page or with language like that used on the Moving Together for HD page’s About tab. Careful use of the moderation blocklist and close monitoring of comments can also help reduce the risk. Given these safeguards, the possibility of adverse event reporting, or mention of off-label use, on non-branded pharma Facebook pages can be manageable.


“It’s simple: the pages using more engagement tactics have higher percentages of engaged users.”


Goodwill goes both ways

Despite risks, some page administrators find that the goodwill behind their non-branded pharma pages is returned by users. Asked whether Lundbeck has had to engage in damage control, Communications Manager Katie White says, “What we’ve experienced is that comments and questions from the [Huntington’s Disease] community have been aligned with the spirit and intent of the page, which is to share experiences and connect to HD resources and education.”

Tactical success

Pharma must continue to walk a very fine line — between the flexibility and agility expected by social media users, the process of internal review, and the lack of regulatory guidance — to use non-branded Facebook pages as part of patient communities.

The seven tactics described herein have been shown to increase user engagement. With equal parts caution and innovation, and while maintaining a sense of trustworthiness, page administrators can employ these tactics and create others, to the benefit of both the pharmaceutical companies and their patients.


1. Posts between November 14 and December 21, 2012, were evaluated to determine the type of content they employed. Polls were excluded from the evaluation.

2. User engagement and total number of posts were evaluated for posts between December 1 and December 28, 2012. Polls were excluded from the evaluation.


About the author:

Heidi Kenyon is a Content Strategist and Copywriter for the digital marketing agency Toolhouse, Inc. Toolhouse specializes in creating digital experiences, including social interactions and online communities, for medical and technology brands.

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