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Facebook is serious about getting pharma on board with social media.

You remember Facebook, right? The number one or two website in the US and the world? The place where people spend insane amounts of time playing games, posting photos, and chatting with their friends? I know you know of it, because I’m almost certain that you have a personal profile on it. 

You may have wiped it from your professional memory because for the last few years, Facebook spent a lot more telling us that it wanted our business than actually learning what it was like doing business within pharma. They were playing B2B footsie, occasionally bending their very retail-oriented rules about commenting and interaction when a brand reallyreallyreally needed them to turn off comments (read: spent a lot of money buying ads on Facebook). 

But you were probably right for writing the FB off as a place where pharma should fear to tread.

So it was surprising to see that Facebook has taken itself to the woodshed and returned a changed company. They really are serious about bring pharma into the fold, going so far as to put together a team of six full-time staffers dedicated to pharma. This team will teach any brand manager or agency willing to listen the lessons learned from the early adopters. They have regular newsletters describing new ways of targeting customers, building brand awareness and driving engagement. They will sit you down and walk you through a deck describing all the ways they can help you achieve your brand goals.

You might be interested in hearing that FB can reach hundreds of thousands of pharmacists, nurses and doctors (and based on numbers I’ve seen, assume 60-80% penetration). They can segment pretty well by specialty type, demographic-type, and geography.

They can also help you build a page that abides by your particular MLR needs. No longer is Facebook pretending all companies are the same: they are serious about getting pharma into social.

And that’s great news. Except one small detail.

While I’m all for getting pharma to embrace the twenty-first century and admit what we all already know (everyone, including your doctor, your mother, your pharmacist, your nurse, your support group, your physical therapist, your KOL, and your pharma executive are all on social media and using it quite a bit), Facebook may have a bit of problem: clicks on their ads aren’t all by people.

Someone has uncovered evidence that as much as 80% of ad clicks that businesses pay for on Facebook are by “bots.” Now, in this world of indexing spiders and other crawling bots, we expect a few clicks on any ad to be worthless because they aren’t being made by a person (good luck persuading a piece of software to ask their doctor about Humira). And it’s safe to say that this traffic is about 1% of traffic we end up paying for. But 80% is outrageous.

It would be easy to say that this is how Facebook is artificially inflating click numbers to charge you more (and if last month’s earnings report is any indicator, everyone in FB is aware of the value of charging clients money: Zuckerberg lost more than $420 million yesterday!), but there’s no real proof. It’s just as likely that bot-writers focus on their software on Facebook because that’s where people are. However, it’s not obvious what their motivation would be to fake-click on links.

As this story grows (and it will, as the “GM says FB ads aren’t effective” story is still fresh in our minds), Facebook will have it’s hands full managing the PR. They will need to prove 1) that it is not doing the fake-clicking and 2) that it is working towards eliminating the problem. Otherwise, all their hard work in building a targeting system we want to leverage will be almost worthless.

Provided it can fix both parts of the fake-click issue, Facebook will be well-positioned to become an effective pharma marketing partner.