How Pharma Can Leverage Facebook Health Support Groups


Whether newly diagnosed or having a condition for decades, whether a chronic or curable condition, patients are looking for information and to connect with others – and more than ever they are doing this in Facebook groups.

With 2.38 billion active global users, Facebook is a dominant leader in social media with a core feature of its success being groups.  Introduced 15 years ago, more than 400 million users belong to a Facebook group. Categories include health, hobbies and interests, marketplace, travel and community, among others.

From a health perspective, groups offer support forums for many patients and caregivers managing various health conditions.  According to GlobalWebIndex 2019, 52% of those researching healthcare on social media are looking for recommendations on managing a condition and 31% join and participate in support groups.

Conversations in health support groups on Facebook are generally considered to be a safer environment than commenting on blogs or forums because these groups are closed, conversations are private from those outside of the group and admission is managed by group admins, who also moderate conversations.

Despite these safeguards, privacy concerns are still regularly associated with Facebook.  Announced at F8, Facebook is addressing concerns around anonymity by now allowing health group members to ask questions and share information without their name appearing in the post.  This is being facilitated through group admins, who will curate questions and posts to share anonymously.  The expectation is that this will attract additional patients and caregivers to the platform, while encouraging those already in Facebook support groups to share and participate in more conversations.

Opportunities for pharma:

With the changes above rolled out in late Q2, there are several opportunities for pharma to increase awareness within the patient community.

Social listening to inform your strategy: It’s equally as important to know what patients are saying about a condition as it is to know where they are saying it. Social listening can help unlock patient perceptions about a health condition, brand, or its competitors.  By monitoring conversations on social, pharma brands can identify patient pain points and education gaps around a health condition. Additionally, by adding focused brand or competitive keyworks into social listening search queries, pharma advertisers can identify misconceptions about their brand, sentiment versus competitors, or even patient advocates. There are many social listening tools that can assist pharma marketers with identifying these real time health conversations. While users can enable certain privacy settings on their account to prevent their posts from appearing in search results, insights from public patient conversations are instrumental in uncovering their needs and establishing an appropriate content strategy for your brand.

Facebook allows users to sift through public conversations on the platform for these findings, however conversations within many of the closed heath groups are not accessible via listening tools and search queries. When looking to Facebook for information about a condition or your brand, it’s important to consider:

While Facebook limits our ability to mine these closed groups, analyzing user activity and growth is a true indicator that your audience is active on the platform.  Let’s say you are representing a rheumatoid arthritis brand.  You’d begin by asking yourself the above questions, where you’d find there are over 100k patients and caregivers participating in RA support groups on Facebook.  With no transparency into the members and conversations within these closed groups, marketers need to be creative when developing their targeting strategies since a highly engaged audience has been identified on the platform.

Facebook health groups attracting more patients & caregivers: It’s important for pharma brands to be where patients and caregivers are. While many Facebook users are using the platform to network with friends and family, Facebook’s decision to make groups the focal point of its platform redesign increases the likelihood its users will engage in more intimate conversations on the platform.

From a pharma lens, new features designed to foster anonymous peer-to-peer conversations around health conditions makes health support groups on Facebook more appealing than ever. Facebook’s shift to more private forum-like conversations has the ability attract more patients and caregivers to the platform, which creates massive opportunity for healthcare advertisers.

One of the main benefits of social has always been its capability to deliver highly engaging ad units at low CPMs. Pharma brands now have the means to do so, in a contextually relevant environment where health conversations are happening.  Through a wide range of dynamic ad units, brands can promote awareness, drive website traffic, showcase videos, grow CRM databases, capture app installations and more!  Many brands start by focusing on one objective that most clearly aligns with their strategic imperatives and if successful, then expand to a more holistic social strategy.

Recommendations and next steps:

It’s no longer a question of if Pharma should be engaged on social, but a question of which platform is right for your brand. At CMI/Compas, we take a listening first approach to identify where these conversations are happening and what users are saying before developing strategy. Updates such as Facebook’s emphasis on health groups will continue to make peer-to-peer health conversations more prominent, allowing for more contextually relevant advertising on these platforms. While Facebook will continue to place limitations on our ability to target patients with sensitive health conditions, its initiative to grow health communities is evidence that Facebook can be an effective platform for Pharma promotion. If you’re interested in discussing how this can impact your brand, please reach out to the CMI/Compas team.