I’m currently headed to Chicago to speak at SoCRA’s conference, Harnessing Social Media to Advance Clinical Research. My presentation, which is titled “Great Facebook Pages for Research Sites,” focuses on three of my favorite things — social media, patient engagement, and research sites.
I presented at SoCRA’s social media conference last year on the same topic and received overwhelmingly positive feedback. So I’m excited to present v2 of this presentation, which I’ve significantly improved and updated. (It’s truly astounding how much Facebook has changed in the last year!)
The core of my presentation is a 6-part framework that research sites can use to engage and recruit patients on Facebook. My hope is that by sharing this framework with research sites, they’ll have a more systematic and effective means of using Facebook, allowing them to connect with patients in ways that weren’t previously possible.
A blog is not the ideal medium to share an hour of content. But I’d like to share a basic outline of my framework, which is described below. Depending on what feedback I receive, I may drill deeper into particular aspects of the framework in future blog posts.
Interested in learning more about this topic?
Why Facebook For Research Sites
Before I describe my Facebook patient engagement framework, here’s a quick rundown of why sites should seriously consider a Facebook presence:
- 71% of US online adults are on Facebook (sites outside of the US should check their country stats before jumping into Facebook)
- Social media sites like Facebook are extremely effective at the top of the marketing funnel (awareness), which is where patient recruitment has been weakest
- Facebook seamlessly combines organic and paid reach into one platform, creating powerful symbiotic patient recruitment opportunities
- Facebook’s advanced targeting, which continues to improve, offers unprecedented ability to cost-effectively engage the right patient population
- Research sites, for a variety of reasons, are positioned to use Facebook more effectively than sponsors and CROs
The Facebook Patient Engagement Framework: An Introduction
Here is the process that I recommend research sites use to engage and recruit patients on Facebook:
- Step 1: Prepare a foundation.
- Step 2: Design to shine.
- Step 3: Grow your audience.
- Step 4: Engage your audience.
- Step 5: Recruit participants.
- Step 6: Optimize your results.
Before we discuss each of these steps, it’s important you understand several caveats, clarifications, and comments.
First, the use of this framework need not be limited to Facebook. The 6 basic steps are appropriate for other social media platforms, but keep in mind that the processes within each major step will vary among platforms.
Second, the steps are intentionally ordered but will often be addressed in tandem as well. For example, sites just getting started on Facebook should spend more resources addressing steps 1-3. Conversely, sites who are strong on steps 1-3 should spend more resources addressing steps 4-6.
Third, this framework was specifically created for research sites. Does that mean it’s useless for sponsors and CROs? Absolutely not. Some of the basic concepts can absolutely be useful for sponsors and CROs. But if you are a sponsor or CRO, please keep in mind that some aspects of this framework don’t apply to you.
Lastly, steps 3-5 are what I call the Patient Relationship Engine. These steps are where the magic happens. Furthermore, the interplay between these steps determines important things like how you structure your ad campaigns and how you evaluate your analytics. For the sake of brevity, I won’t go into much detail about the Patient Relationship Engine but I wanted to introduce the concept since I will mention it.
Step 1: Prepare a Foundation
Sites should begin by planning their operations, determining messaging, and defining success. This step is probably the least sexy of them all, but it’s essential that you create a strong foundation before jumping into Facebook.
In terms of operations, you’ll want to determine your resourcing, delegate responsibilities, and decide how you’ll handle tricky issues that might arise. Common tricky issues include negative fan feedback or IRB and regulatory issues.
To determine your messaging, you’ll need to know your audience, your research site, and Facebook as a platform. What do I mean by “know your research site?” Really think about your site’s voice, personality, values, and whatever makes you unique. These qualities, when communicated through your Facebook messaging, are what humanize your site in a way that other marketing cannot. Don’t pass up the opportunity.
And of course, you’ll want to define success. Think about your business objectives, determine your key performance indicators, and set timelines for hitting your performance targets.
Step 2: Design to Shine
When people think of design, they tend to think of aesthetics. And certainly aesthetics are an important part of this step. You’ll want to make sure you have a visually appealing cover photo on your Page, for instance.
But design is about more than aesthetics.
Great design on Facebook means supporting your brand/goals and leveraging Facebook’s unique qualities. So, for example, you’ll want to make sure that you’ve chosen the appropriate type of Facebook Page (yes, there are several) and that the information on that Page is optimized for your needs.
Step 3: Grow Your Audience
Next create awareness of your Page by getting posts into the News Feed of non-fans who are in your desired audience.
You can grow your audience in a number of ways, both organic and paid. Examples of possibilities include:
- Leverage existing resources (lists, supporters, etc.)
- Promote in other marketing (online and offline)
- Partner with other organizations
- Advertise on Facebook
This step is no doubt important, but it tends to be overemphasized. Do not be seduced by the lure of large fan counts. Quality of fans is much more important than quantity of fans.
Step 4: Engage Your AudienceIt’s critical that you ensure your fans are seeing and engaging with your content regularly.
You can use a variety of tactics to engage your audience. But the value of individual tactics tends to ebb and flow as Facebook evolves. So I’d rather leave you with some timeless strategic advice that’s powerful not only on Facebook, but across all social media. Plus, after monitoring many site Facebook Pages, I think this piece of advice is most needed.
Relentlessly provide value to your audience.
When you provide consistent value, your fans will consistently engage with your content. That, in and of itself, is a good thing. But what’s better is that Facebook rewards greater engagement by providing you with greater visibility in your fan News Feeds. So what you get is a virtuous circle where greater engagement reinforces greater visibility, while greater visibility reinforces greater engagement.
And the converse is also true.
If you post mostly promotional content, your fans will not engage with that content. Then Facebook will penalize you by reducing visibility in your fan News Feeds. So what you get is a vicious circle where less engagement reinforces less visibility and less visibility reinforces less engagement.
Step 5: Recruit Participants
The Patient Relationship Engine that I referenced earlier is about stacking micro commitments and connections with your audience before presenting them with patient recruitment messages.
To use a dating metaphor, ask for a first date before you propose marriage.
If you focus on your relationship with patients first, you will have better results, not to mention provide a better experience for patients. Furthermore, fans will use social media to amplify your message on your behalf (think word of mouth — turbo-charged).
In terms of the mechanics of recruitment posts, here’s some basic advice:
- Test and rotate multiple posts
- Be succinct
- Eliminate medical jargon
- Use powerful imagery
- Use a strong, clear call to action
- Track your results
Step 6: Optimize Your Results
Remember the business objectives, key performance indicators, and timelines you defined during step 1? Now it’s time to use those, in conjunction with testing and analytics tools, to measure and improve your return on investment.
When choosing social media metrics, you have no shortage of options. And that’s the problem. Due to overwhelm, people commonly track too much or not enough. Those tracking too much typically look at everything in Facebook’s Insights dashboard, which is almost like tracking nothing. Those tracking not enough typically track only likes, which is next to useless as a metric.
Instead, I generally recommend that sites focus on three major metric types corresponding to the Patient Relationship Engine. The specific metrics you choose within each of these types will depend on how you’ve defined success in Step 1.
- Reach – Who is hearing your message
- Engagement – Affect your message is having on people who hear it
- Conversion – Activity tied directly to business goals
Several free tools are available to help you with this step. Here’s the three I’d recommend you start with:
- Facebook’s Insights dashboard
- Google Analytics
- Facebook’s Ad Reports (if you are advertising, which you should be.)
Improving the Facebook Patient Engagement Framework
This framework is a work in progress. I welcome your feedback on potential improvements or areas of interest.