Monday, March 05, 2012

Facebook Timelines for Brands and The Implications for Pharma Companies

Welcome to “Brand Narratives & Storytelling”

Written by Michael Spitz, VP Channel Engagement at Ignite Health

Something absolutely unprecedented has happened in digital: The most powerful movers and shakers don’t react to the immediate needs of their customers, but actually shape those needs by creating compelling communication devices and platforms that none of us can live without. The key to this success is the ability to mirror how we naturally communicate with the tools we use to communicate; Apple and Facebook have revolutionized the world by innately understanding people first, then tech. And with every update they up their game in terms of engendering communication experiences that are increasingly compelling, customized, and connected.

On February 29th Facebook announced sweeping changes to the way brands market on the platform, including coupon creation, premium ad products, real-time insights, and the introduction of Timeline for Brand Pages. Set to go live March 30 with a testing grace period until then, the new Brand Page user experience enables brands to tell their stories in the same way people narrate each other’s lives, and follows a format nearly identical to personal timeline pages: highlighted by a cover photo stretching across the top, with content chronologically arranged in criss-cross fashion down the page, with tabs running along the top instead of the left side.

Nothing could be more glorious for marketers, who have historically grappled with one-way, poorly targeted push channels that have gotten in the way of as much as encouraged communication and behavioral change. Stunning advances in social media and mobile make messaging increasingly relevant and engaging, heightening the likelihood for conversion. So marketers the world over are rejoicing over this amazing opportunity for brands to tell their stories and captivate eager, participatory audiences with even more customized content, real time two-way dialogue, and personalized engagement.

Unique Challenges & Opportunities for Pharma

But as pharma marketers we already know that our playing field is radically different. Patients and healthcare professionals aren’t shopping, and pharmaceutical companies are highly regulated. So every exciting improvement in social media often sends a shudder down the halls of pharma, further exposing them to adverse event reporting, reputation management concerns, and the promulgation of misinformation. Compounding these worries is user privacy, as the public dissemination of patient and even physician information opens up a Pandora’s Box of legal, ethical, and even clinical challenges.

The good news is a vast majority of pharma social communications are corporate and unbranded initiatives, ones where risk aversion and creative expression need not be mutually exclusive. So for campaigns outside the boundaries of FDA/OPDP the new Timeline Brand Pages could hold amazing promise and usher in new era where pharma can begin to tell its own narratives and engage the public in a manner truly transparent, credible, and trustworthy. With that in mind, let’s take a look at each new Facebook feature, and discuss its direct implications for the industry. Our goal is to decide whether or not and how our pharma clients will be able to take advantage of the new layout, and what kind of insights we can provide them as valued digital partners.

Cover Photo & Fair Balance Concerns

An 851 x 315 pixel photo runs across the top of each Timeline Brand Page. Photos can be easily swapped out and offer an inviting masthead starting the brand narrative and beckoning engagement, but cannot contain any text whatsoever—raising our first pharma-specific issue, and a potentially serious one at that. Since the real estate is both above the fold and one of the few pieces of static content on the otherwise highly dynamic Timeline, one would hope to anchor requisite indication and safety information in this area. But since that’s precluded by the no-text rule, pharma will be forced to house the ISI in a custom content area, accessible through one of the page tabs. Obviously our clients take the prominent and ubiquitous display of fair balance extremely seriously—so many legacy brands will likely be forced to remove their pages, while those willing to migrate must address these challenges. An ideal solution could be a pharma-specific cover photo rule and template designed to feature scrolling ISI on 60% or so of the area, but in lieu of that we must be cautious about our recommendations for branded content on Facebook, and alert our clients to this limitation.

Timeline Content Areas & White Listing

Brand Page administrators will be given control over each post, able to make some larger than others, as well as hide them. The new “pinning” feature a la Pinterest lets admins place content prominently at the top of the timeline for as long as seven days. Most importantly for pharma, Facebook has informed us that White Listing WILL be made available, enabling eligible pages to completely shut off all commenting and “Likes”. The process for getting White Listed is similar to the current approach of working with regional Facebook reps assigned to larger clients, so we advise reaching out directly to Facebook to ensure eligibility and expeditious processing.

Challenges will remain, however, for legacy Brand Pages migrating to this format because their Wall content is sparse or non-existent. Additional challenges raise their head in the “Friend” areas as seen above, where users will be able to see other friends who have liked the page, and related friend content could be dynamically generated and shared in a manner that could be unwelcome, inappropriate, or even considered a violation for a healthcare audience valuing privacy above all. Once again, Ignite highly recommends that Facebook reps be engaged early and often in this process to ensure the features and functionality sets fall safely within regulatory boundaries, and the results communicated to brand teams in a manner that’s simple and actionable.

Administrator Panel & Direct Messaging Capabilities

Facebook has taken a new and highly functional approach to Brand Page management with a panel that appears at the top of pages for administrators. The tool presents a real-time snapshot of topline insights, people Liking the page, all notifications, and even an inbox for messages received from fans. For the first time administrators will be able to directly and privately respond to messages sent to the Brand Page, but only in response to those messages already received—great for consumer goods marketers but again potentially highly problematic for pharma, opening the door to the risk of adverse event reporting. So alert your pharma brand teams of this functionality, and the need to address this direct conduit of information accessible to anyone who likes your page.

Page Tabs & Static Content

Moved from the left margin to the top of pages right below the Cover Photo, page tabs allow access to custom content and even apps, although these subpages can no longer act as default landing areas. Fortunately for pharma, these areas are ripe for larger buckets of static content ill-suited to the chronological criss-crossing format, such as detailed drug information repurposed from the branded, including all requisite fair balance information—but since traffic is automatically driven to the Timeline area devoid of these opportunities, the problem of presenting ISI in a fully compliant manner remains a significant one.

Summary & Recommendations

The good news for pharma regarding the new Facebook Timeline Brand Pages is the fresh and exciting way company narratives and unbranded educational initiatives can come alive. For branded content the outlook remains hopeful as White Listing remains in effect, enabling all user-generated commenting and Likes to be shut down. But the bad news is a prominent area for required safety information will be one click away, a situation likely unacceptable for most med/leg teams. Additional concerns revolve around the “Friend” boxes, where others who have liked the page are revealed, and custom content from an individual user’s friend list could become visible. Legacy pharma brand pages will also have to grapple with migration issues—so now is the time to take advantage of the 30-day moratorium and test period before go-live on March 30th.

To summarize:

  • White Listing will be allowed for branded pharma pages
    • Engage your med/leg teams and Facebook reps immediately
    • If you’re already White Listed, figure out your migration strategy
    • If you’re not White Listed, begin the process now
  • Potential obstacles
    • Fair balance will be problematic as Cover Photos will NOT allow text
    • Friend boxes could also be problematic

  • Best practices
    • Explore and experiment with the Facebook Timeline Brand Pages that have already launched
    • Take advantage of the one-month moratorium to test and tweak the page

  • Key takeaway
    • Crawl before you walk, and if possible wait until the new format goes live before leaping on the new look and feel

If you manage any existing pharma brand pages on Facebook, then preview the Timeline layout and present the complete user experience to your med/leg teams as soon as possible. Explain the opportunities and challenges described above, and determine, first and foremost, if the features and functionality expose your client to risk, mindful of the unique sensitivities of both unbranded and branded content. For the latter, make sure fair balance can be properly handled within the new format to client expectations, and ensure any and all communication and content between users and the client company and between the users and each other through the Brand Page is thoroughly controlled, monitored, and wherever necessary eliminated. If a new page is being considered, we heartily recommend engaging the White List process with your Facebook rep immediately, and designing a fresh look and feel mindful of the new layout. The bottom line: Partner well with your brand and med/leg teams on the one hand, and Facebook on the other to ensure your Facebook Timeline Brand Page for pharma—whether unbranded or branded in nature—is fully compliant.

Additional Resources

Take a look at what others are writing and commenting about the new Facebook Timeline Brand Pages:

Official Facebook Announcement

Mashable Overview

Business to Community Overview

Techcrunch Overview of New Ad Tools

Search Engine Watch POV on engagement

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American Cancer Society Wins Ignite Health’s Charitable Giving Video Contest

Ignite Health Donates $4,000 to the Winner of “The Love War,” a Social Media Experiment that Gamifies Charitable Giving

IRVINE, California – February 17, 2012 – Ignite Health, an inVentiv Health company and leader in healthcare communications, announced today that the American Cancer Society is the winner of “The Love War” (, a social media-driven experiment that the company launched on Facebook on February 1, 2012 to encourage users to record and post personal videos that “show their love” for charities. As of midnight on Valentine’s Day, February 14, 2012, the American Cancer Society received the most video posts of the nine selected charities and secured the $4,000 donation prize from Ignite Health.

“We sincerely appreciate when companies like Ignite Health apply their compassion and experience to help people in need and advance causes that seek cures,” said Shauna Levine, Senior Relay For Life Manager at the American Cancer Society. “We were amazed by the outpouring of emotion and love captured on these videos, and want to sincerely thank Ignite Health for this Valentine’s Day gift brought forward through such heartfelt caring and sharing.”

Putting the experience of healthcare professionals, patients, and their caregivers first, Ignite Health, a customer experience agency founded in 2000, is committed to pioneering innovations in communications by leveraging emerging technologies and channels. “’The Love War’ embodies the spirit of our agency,” said Fabio Gratton, founder and Chief Experience Officer at Ignite Health. “We combined our passion for health, our understanding of science and technology, and the skills of our internal Ignite Labs team to help create this unique social donation experiment.”

Ignite Labs, an internal think tank at Ignite Health, was created to help infuse constant innovation into the agency’s client work, as well as explore the possibilities of new platforms and technologies to evaluate their feasibility and effectiveness for broader applications.

Gratton added: “Everyone is talking about the explosive potential of combining game mechanics with social media, in particular, user-generated video content, but there are many variables that can impact the success of these programs. The logic behind social engagement is not always obvious. For example, what makes people do something in one circumstance doesn’t always apply to another. This is also true about technology platforms. Someone might be comfortable posting a video on their family’s YouTube channel, but not if it’s being shared on a Facebook fan page.”

For this project, Ignite partnered with VYou, an innovative social video platform that facilitates instant sharing and almost real-time video conversations. Along the way, by heightening awareness of worthy causes, this initiative created excitement for nonprofit organizations such as the American Diabetes Association, the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, and the National Multiple Sclerosis Society.

VYou Premium Partnership Manager, Erik Stern, said: “We enjoyed the opportunity to be the go-to technology for crowd-sourced video content. This was a very unique and well-executed example of using VYou to connect people to a worthy cause.”

Pauline Phan, President of UC Irvine’s Colleges Against Cancer, an organization that brings together college students, faculty, and staff members nationwide who are dedicated to fulfilling the mission of the American Cancer Society, added: “We loved this contest. Imagine what a better place the world would be if more companies with the imagination and wherewithal of Ignite Health devoted more of their expertise and time to creating charitable social experiences like this one.”

To further support organizations such as those featured in the contest, Ignite Health is expanding “The Love War.” While no longer a contest, the campaign is now available on an ongoing basis, allowing people to continue using online video posts to show their support for worthy causes.

About Ignite Health

Ignite Health ranks among the top 20 healthcare agencies and was a finalist in 2011 for MedAdNews' Agency of the Year. With offices in Irvine, Calif., and New York City, Ignite Health offers clients a broad range of fundamental best practices and digital excellence to create unstoppable momentum for brand success across the continuum of a brand's lifecycle. Ignite Health is an inVentiv Health company. For more information, visit

About inVentiv Health

inVentiv Health, Inc. is a leading global provider of best-in-class clinical, commercial, and consulting services to companies seeking to accelerate performance. inVentiv’s client roster includes more than 550 pharmaceutical, biotech, and life sciences companies. With 13,000 employees in 40 countries, inVentiv rapidly transforms promising ideas into commercial reality. inVentiv Health, Inc. is privately owned by inVentiv Group Holdings Inc., an organization sponsored by affiliates of Thomas H. Lee Partners, L.P., Liberty Lane Partners, and members of the inVentiv management team. For more information, visit

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Vince Parry
Ignite Health

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