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By now, it should be evident that social media platforms can help pharmaceutical brands build meaningful connections with patients, caregivers, and healthcare providers. 

However, with so many competing platforms, deciding where to allocate resources can be a challenge. You can pursue social networks (Facebook, Twitter), opt for media-rich sites (YouTube, Instagram, Snapchat), or post information to content-sharing platforms (Reddit). 

To select the platform that will reach your target audience most effectively, you’ll need to understand the nuances of where you’re advertising. In addition to having unique advertising rules, each platform uses its own ad formats and attracts differing audience demographics. 

We’ve provided a rundown of each option below to help inform your decision. Keep in mind, though, that demographics are just one component of any social media platform. Each platform has its own culture, which needs to be acknowledged in your advertising.

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A case for using social media in pharmaceutical marketing

According to the Pew Research Center, just 5% of American adults used social media in 2005. In 2019, that number has risen to 72%

Social media isn’t just for younger audiences, either. While 90% of 18 to 29-year-olds use at least one social media site, 40% of people 65+ are on social media, too. 

No matter whom you’re looking to reach as a pharmaceutical brand marketer, your audience is on at least one of these platforms. And nearly all social media platforms allow pharmaceutical brand advertising (Pinterest and LinkedIn are notable exceptions). 

The number of social media users across demographics presents a clear opportunity for pharmaceutical brands to reach nearly anyone who could benefit from their outreach efforts, including patients, caregivers, and healthcare providers. 

These same platforms have targeting options that help you narrow your reach to the people who need your information the most. In addition to the precise targeting available, you’ll be able to track engagement data on these sites, allowing you to refine your targeting and messaging over time. 

Perhaps most importantly, you’ll be able to reach patients, caregivers, and healthcare providers in a way that feels organic to them. Whether your pharmaceutical ad appears in a news feed on Facebook, is listed as a suggested video on YouTube, or shows up as a post in a Subreddit, your ad has the opportunity to serve as a natural (and unobtrusive) part of the online experience. 

Before advertising on social media, understand your pharmaceutical brand’s audience and values

As noted in our pharmaceutical ad strategy guide, when choosing which platforms your pharma brand will advertise on, you’ll need to have some information already: 

  • Know who your audience is (age, gender, interests, and behaviors). Some platforms attract a younger audience and would have few HCPs. Other platforms attract niche communities, offering opportunities to reach narrowly targeted audiences, such as rare disease communities, and HCP specific groups. 
  • You’ll need to know what resources you have available (photos, videos, content). Most platforms require visual media. Other avenues work best with long-form content. If the required resources are unavailable, you may consider hiring an outside ad agency that specializes in pharmaceutical content. 
  • Finally, you’ll need to understand your brand’s values. Each platform contains its own identity and values, and you’ll want to make sure it is appropriate to your brand image. 

Once you’ve clearly defined your brand and audience, you’re ready to assess the merits of advertising on each social platform.

User demographics and pharmaceutical advertising restrictions, by social media platform

To help you quickly assess whether a specific social platform is worth considering, we’ve created a grading system on the friendliness of each platform toward pharmaceutical advertising. 

Pharmaceutical Advertising on Social Media Friendliness Grading System. A. Clear Guidelines, B. Guidelines Lack Clarity, and C. Advertising Prohibited.

In addition to providing a friendliness grade for each platform, we’ve listed user demographics and assets required to advertise. 

You can use our rating system and demographics data to help you determine which platform(s) work best for your pharmaceutical brand’s campaign.

Facebook

Used by nearly 70% of adults in the U.S., Facebook is a place where people connect with communities, share insights into their lives, mingle with friends, and catch up on the latest news. 

Users contribute a mix of photos, videos, and text to the platform, making it a flexible place for advertisers to utilize their assets. 

User demographics for Facebook in the U.S.

Rules for pharmaceutical advertising on Facebook 

When it comes to specific regulations and rules for advertising pharmaceutical products, Facebook’s official guidelines provide some answers. Facebook lists several restrictions to health advertising:

  • Ads can’t imply the reader has specific personal attributes, including disabilities and medical conditions. 
  • Ads cannot promote the sale or use of unsafe supplements (which are defined at Facebook’s sole discretion). 
  • Ads cannot contain before-Ideand-after images. Additionally, ads can’t contain images that depict unexpected/unlikely results. 
  • Ads cannot attempt to create negative self-images in order to promote a health product. 
  • Ads and landing pages cannot contain deceptive, false, or misleading information.
Facebook does not allow ads that imply a user has a specific condition. For example, you cannot say, “Depression getting you down? Get help now.” Instead, you may be able to say, “Depression counseling.”

How to advertise a pharmaceutical product on Facebook 

According to a representative with Advertiser Support, a company that wants to advertise a pharmaceutical product on Facebook would first need permission from a Facebook account manager. 

The caveat is that brands cannot request an account manager be assigned to them. Instead, Facebook assigns account managers at its own discretion. 

In addition, Advertiser Support could not disclose what would make an account eligible for an Account Manager. 

Assets you’ll need to advertise on Facebook 

Facebook is a content-rich platform, friendly to long-form content, video, and imagery. To advertise on Facebook, you may need: 

  • FDA-compliant content (long-form is okay)
  • Written permission to advertise on Facebook from an account manager (required)
  • A branded or unbranded Facebook page 
  • Imagery (static is okay)

You should consider advertising on Facebook for your pharmaceutical brand if your goals include: 

  • Gathering data about your most engaged patients, HCPs, or caregivers
  • Reaching a narrow audience (for example, advertising an orphan drug)
  • Reaching your existing Facebook page followers
  • Growing your Facebook followers and engagement
  • Generating brand lift and/or brand awareness 
  • Driving conversions on a patient education or HCP websites
We gave Facebook a B. 
Perhaps most telling of its openness to pharmaceutical advertising, Facebook held a Health Summit in 2017 designed specifically for educating pharmaceutical marketers. The company also created a page dedicated entirely to pharmaceutical marketing in Italy. It appears that Facebook is headed toward embracing pharmaceutical advertising. At the same time, the instructions for getting permission to advertise pharmaceutical products on Facebook are vague, making it a challenging platform to navigate for first-time advertisers.

Instagram

Owned by Facebook, Instagram is an image-sharing platform that attracts a younger audience than Facebook. Most users are 18-34. Very few users are 55+. 

Since Facebook owns Instagram, if you advertise on Facebook, you can choose to reach Instagram users, too. That said, if your goal is to reach an older audience like retired seniors or mid-career HCPs, you may want to opt-out of Instagram altogether. 

User statistics for Instagram in the U.S.

  • Number of users: 100.5 million in 2018
  • Age of users: About 58% of users are 18-34 years old. 
  • Gender of users: 57.1% female and 42.9% male 

Rules for pharmaceutical advertising on Instagram

Again, Instagram is owned by Facebook and follows the same advertising policies. 

Assets you’ll need to advertise on Instagram

Instagram is a visual platform. To advertise on Instagram, we recommend you have: 

  • Visual content — the more, the better. 
  • A strong and personable brand voice
  • A Facebook page 
  • A business profile on Instagram 

You should consider advertising on Instagram for your pharmaceutical brand if your goals include: 

  • Reaching patients, healthcare providers, and caregivers who are younger than 45 years old
  • Improving overall brand awareness and brand lift
  • Influencing consideration or brand selection
  • Driving conversions on patient or HCP education websites
We gave Instagram a B. Instagram follows Facebook's same, somewhat vague policies for advertising pharmaceutical products.

Twitter

Perhaps best known for stirring drama among brands and celebrities, Twitter is a platform made for short sentences and a get-to-the-point approach to conversation.

Notably, 50% of users are 30+, making this platform a friendly gathering place for millennial, generation X, and boomer adults. 

User demographics for Twitter in the U.S.

  • Number of users: 48.65 million
  • Age of users: About 38% of people ages 18-29 say they use Twitter. In addition, 24% of people 50+ say they use Twitter.
  • Gender of users: 24% of women use Twitter, compared with 21% of men 

Rules for pharmaceutical advertising on Twitter

Twitter has a policy page dedicated to clarifying its rules for advertising health and pharmaceutical products and services. 

Restrictions on health and pharmaceutical products vary based on the specific product, and the country the campaign is targeting. 

In the U.S., Twitter has these rules for pharmaceutical product advertising: 

  • “Advertisements from pharmaceutical manufacturers are permitted with restrictions. These advertisers may only target the United States and are only allowed with prior authorization from Twitter.
  •  Advertisements for medical devices are permitted.
    • Medical devices that require FDA premarket approvals or notifications are only allowed with prior authorization from Twitter.
    • These advertisers may only target the United States”

The policy applies (but is not limited) to advertisers of pharmaceutical and medical products (prescription and non-prescription), pharmaceutical manufacturers, regulated medical devices, and clinical trials. 

How to advertise a pharmaceutical product on Twitter

To launch an ad campaign on Twitter, you’ll need to get permission to advertise your product. 

You can get permission by filing a support ticket. To file a support ticket: 

  1. Sign into your ads account
  2. Navigate to the help tab
  3. Select Ads Eligibility & Policy
  4. You’ll see a dropdown menu appear. Select the option, “I have questions about advertiser policies.” 
  5. Scroll to the bottom of the page. 
  6. Fill out the support ticket. Under “Please describe your issue,” explain that you are a pharmaceutical manufacturer or brand who wishes to become eligible to advertise on Google. 
  7. Submit your ticket.
To advertise a pharmaceutical product on Twitter, you'll need to Navigate to the help tab and then select Ads Eligibility & Policy.
To advertise a pharmaceutical product on Twitter, you’ll need to Navigate to the help tab and then select Ads Eligibility & Policy.
Once you select Ads Eligibility & Policy, you'll need to select, "I have questions about advertiser policies."
Once you select Ads Eligibility & Policy, you’ll need to select, “I have questions about advertiser policies.” From there, you’ll be able to fill out a support ticket.

You should consider advertising on Instagram for your pharmaceutical brand if your goals include: 

  • Reaching patients, healthcare providers, or caregivers from 25-64 years old
  • Increasing traffic to a branded or unbranded website
  • Reaching a primarily male audience 

Assets you’ll need to advertise on Twitter

Twitter is a bite-sized content platform. To advertise on Twitter, you’ll need:

  • Short snippets of content with strong CTAs
  • A landing page for your branded or unbranded website

YouTube

If your target market is online, it’s safe to assume they frequent YouTube. Owned by Google, YouTube is a video sharing platform enjoyed by 83% of all Internet users in the U.S. 

Internet users visit YouTube to watch videos covering virtually any topic imaginable, including entertainment, news, educational, and tutorial videos. Videos are uploaded to YouTube by brands, companies, and individuals, who are nicknamed “creators.”

User statistics for YouTube in the U.S. 

  • Number of YouTube users: 192 million in 2018 
  • Age of YouTube users: With nearly all adult internet users using YouTube, the age range runs across the spectrum. But, while more than 91% of U.S. adults 18-29 say they use YouTube, 38% of adults 65+ use the same platform. 
  • Gender of YouTube users: According to Google, the average YouTube user is just as likely to be male or female. But, according to self-reported data, more men than women say they use YouTube (78% compared with 68%). 

Rules for pharmaceutical advertising on YouTube

When creating a pharmaceutical brand or product campaign for YouTube, you’ll need to refer to Google’s healthcare and medicines advertising policy. For a comprehensive breakdown of these restrictions, refer to our blog post, “Basic Rules for Pharma Advertising on Google”). 

Google states: 

  • Prescription drugs can only be advertised in Canada, New Zealand, and the U.S. 
  • Pharmaceutical manufacturers can use prescription drug terms in ad text and landing pages, but Google must first certify the advertiser. 
  • Some pharmaceutical products and supplements are restricted or not allowed. 

How to advertise a pharmaceutical product on YouTube 

You’ll need to apply for Google’s healthcare products and services certification before you advertise your pharmaceutical product on YouTube. 

For step-by-step instructions, refer to “Basic Rules for Pharma Advertising on Google.”

You should consider advertising on YouTube for your pharmaceutical brand if your goals include: 

  • Reaching nearly any adult in the U.S. with compelling video content
  • Targeting user personas who are likely to view videos on specific channels or topics
  • Increasing brand awareness and communicating company values
  • Collaborating with a YouTube Creator or Influencer to promote a patient education website or resource

Assets you’ll need to advertise on YouTube

YouTube is a video-based platform. To advertise on YouTube, you’ll need:

  • A Google Ads Account or Google Marketing Platform Account
  • Permission from Google to advertise your product
  • Video assets (these may include 6-second snippets, 15-20 second non-skippable ads, or longer skippable videos). Ideally, you’ll have multiple videos to test. 
We gave YouTube an A. YouTube has a clearly defined advertising policy for pharmaceutical and healthcare products, including a set path for approval. Plus, with YouTube’s similarity to television advertising formats, pharmaceutical advertisers will find this platform is a friendly entry into online advertising.

Snapchat

Known for its augmented reality (AR) filters and 24-hour user-generated content, Snapchat is a platform where the 34 or younger crowd goes to edit images and videos and share the resulting content with friends. 

User demographics for Snapchat in the U.S. 

You’re unlikely to find many Gen Xers or Baby Boomers on Snapchat, so if the patients, caregivers, or healthcare providers you’re targeting are in the 45+ demographic, you may want to consider a different platform. 

On the other hand, if you’re advertising to younger consumers seeking solutions for conditions like allergies and skin conditions, Snapchat may be an appropriate medium for your pharmaceutical brand.

  • Number of users: 79.7 million in 2018 (United States)
  • Age of users: Snapchat’s users tend to be younger (most are 18-34 years old). In fact, nearly all (73%) of adults 18-24 say they use Snapchat, compared with 47% of adults 25-29. 
  • Gender of users: An equal percentage of adult men and women report using SnapChat.

Rules for pharmaceutical advertising on SnapChat

In addition to providing policies applicable to all advertisers, Snapchat offers industry-specific guidelines for pharmaceutical brands. Here is a brief rundown: 

  • Snapchat allows prescription products to be advertised in select countries, including the U.S. and Canada. 
  • Your advertisements may only target countries where your product is legally approved. So, if your prescription product is approved in the U.S., but not in Canada, you may not target Canada in your advertising.   
  • Over-the-counter medicines can be advertised in most countries, with a few exceptions (Colombia, Iraq, Lebanon, Romania, Spain, and Turkey). 
  • You must set your age targeting to 18+ when advertising health and dietary supplements in certain countries, including the U.S. 

How to advertise a pharmaceutical product on SnapChat

Getting your pharmaceutical brand set up on SnapChat is a quick process:

  1. Create a SnapChat account
  2. Once you create your account, you’ll be prompted to create a business account. 
  3. After you create your business account, you’ll have access to your new ad account, where you can launch and manage your ad campaigns. 

You should consider advertising on SnapChat for your pharmaceutical brand if your goals include: 

  • Reaching patients and caregivers who are under 35 years old
  • Testing interactive content like AR lenses with younger audiences
  • Being seen as a current, in-the-know brand 
  • Generating downloads for an app

Assets you’ll need to advertise on Snapchat

Much like Instagram, Snapchat is a visual medium. To advertise on Snapchat, you’ll need: 

  • Visual content (may include 6-second video or images)
  • Content that is appropriate for viewers as young as 13 years old. 
We gave SnapChat an A. Although Snapchat has only recently started publicizing its openness toward pharmaceutical advertisements, it has clearly defined guidelines in place.

Reddit

Reddit is a content-sharing platform comprised of networks of communities (called Subreddits) segmented by interest. On Reddit, you’ll find communities sharing advice about specific health conditions, like diabetes and chronic fatigue syndrome. You’ll find physician assistants and nurses sharing camaraderie among their peers. 

A potential advantage of advertising on Reddit is the ability to target niche communities. But, if the communities are too small, you won’t be able to target them. One customer service representative said that only the top 5,000 Subreddits can be targeted, making the platform challenging for rare disease communities. 

User statistics for Reddit in the U.S. 

  • Age of Reddit users: While only 11% of adults say they use Reddit, 22% in the 18-29 age bracket use the platform.
  • Gender of Reddit users: In 2016, about 67 percent of Reddit users in the U.S. were male, although it’s worth noting the platform has subreddits with a mostly female audience. 

Rules for pharmaceutical advertising on Reddit

Reddit allows prescription drug advertising with certain restrictions

According to its health and pharmaceutical advertising policy, “Reddit restricts the promotion of certain health and wellness products and services. In addition to our own policies, all advertisements must comply with applicable laws, rules, regulations, licensing requirements, and industry standards. Advertisers are responsible for geo-targeting in compliance with country-specific laws and regulations.”

The policy also notes that: 

  • Prescription drug advertisements and pharmaceutical manufacturer advertisements must be pre-approved by Reddit 
  • Ads can’t make false, misleading, or exaggerated health claims

How to advertise a pharmaceutical product on Reddit

The process for getting your pharmaceutical brand set up on Reddit is straightforward: 

  1. Register a Reddit account
    Provide:
  • A username (visible to the public)
  • Password
  • Company name
  • Business email address 
  • First name
  • Last name
  • Industry (select Health and Pharmaceutical)

2. You’ll be redirected to https://ads.reddit.com, where you can add your billing information and create your campaign.

3. Once you’ve created your draft campaign, you can submit your ad, which sends it to Reddit for manual review.  

You should consider advertising on Reddit for your pharmaceutical brand if your goals include: 

  • Reaching a younger demographic (18-29)
  • Targeting a primarily male audience
  • Targeting people in niche communities

Assets you’ll need to advertise on Reddit

  • A small amount of text for your headline (300 characters) 
  • A destination URL 
  • An image or a video 

Digital platforms that prohibit pharmaceutical advertising

While most social networks and content sharing platforms allow pharmaceutical advertising, there are exceptions. 

The most notable exceptions to pharmaceutical advertising online are Pinterest and LinkedIn. 

Pharmaceutical advertising on LinkedIn: Not allowed

LinkedIn’s policy states that, “LinkedIn does not allow ads related to prescription pharmaceuticals, drugs or any related products or services. Ads that promote illegal drugs, highs, herbal medicines and treatments, psychoactive effects of substances, or aids to pass drug tests are all prohibited.”


Pharmaceutical advertising on Pinterest: Not allowed

Pinterest bans the advertising of branded or unbranded pharmaceutical products, whether they’re intended for humans or animals. 

The bottom line about social media advertising for pharmaceutical brands 

The platforms listed above can make pharma brands more approachable and humanize the customer journey in ways that were impossible even ten years ago. Social platforms today provide a space where users and advertisers can share information, resources and connect on a one-to-one basis.

When included as part of your broader digital advertising strategy, you’ll be in a position to glean insights based on real users, achieve your online advertising goals, and establish meaningful connections with potential patients, caregivers, and HCPs.