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Facebook Inc. (NASDAQ:FBC) is planning an event in June dedicated to health and designed to promote ad sales to the pharmaceutical industry. The initiative behind the event is called “Facebook Health.”

Facebook’s move is seen to be in reaction to similar overtures to pharma by Alphabet Inc.’s (NASDAQ:GOOGC) Google and Twitter Inc. (NYSE:TWTRC), both of which have already hired large teams to work on pharma ad campaigns.


Strict Rules

One of the main sticking points to drug company and medical sector ads on social media has to do with the strict regulations that come from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). A drug company, for example, would be allowed to target someone who “liked” an advocacy page or who fits a certain demographic.

The company would not, however, be allowed to run ads specifically targeted to someone based on a condition or disease Facebook believes or knows that person has.

Tweaks Needed

Because of the regulations in place as well as other unique features of the pharmaceutical industry, Facebook needs to develop tweaks to its advertising product that allow companies to advertise legally and responsibly as well as effectively. One anticipated focus would be mobile video and it is believed this has been a focus of the “Facebook Health” team.

One such tweak Facebook first unveiled at a conference in November is its scrolling ISI feature. That feature allows drug makers to stay inside Facebook's limits for text and photo copy but still be able to incorporate required safety information.

Pharma Has Been Slow To Enter Social Media

For all the reasons mentioned, not to mention the general inertia of the industry, pharma has been slower than other sectors to shift ad budgets from TV and print to digital. This makes pharma an especially attractive target for Facebook (and others in social media).

Research firm eMarketer estimated that in 2016 pharma and health care spent just $1.64 billion on mobile and online advertising. The firm projected the number could rise by almost a billion dollars to $2.55 billion by 2019.


A Deeper Dive Into Problem Areas

Facebook’s desire to appeal to the drug and medical industry – not to mention that of both Twitter and Google – requires special attention to not just regulatory issues but also the potential for misinformation based on the very nature of social media.

There is, of course, the problem of not spelling out side effects, which may be addressed with Facebook’s ISI scrolling feature. There is also the problem of customer comments and interaction with drug company social media pages that creates or promotes misinformation.

Since that misinformation can also be generated on pages over which the company has no control, it’s important for drug companies planning to advertise on social media to constantly monitor public comments in order to effectively correct misleading information when possible.

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