Facebook as a driver of better health outcomes?

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We all know the story of how Facebook began, but what is less clear is where it is going. It continues to be the dominant social platform, and through new features and acquisitions, increasingly meets many, if not all, of our social and even information seeking and entertainment needs. Have a question about where to vacation? Get advice from friends and stalk their photos on Facebook. Looking into a new job candidate? Check out their Facebook page. Didn’t catch last night’s game and looking for reactions? Search it up, on Facebook. And so it goes. Increasingly it is becoming a forum for health information. Have a headache? Find a doctor, or ask a friend, or join a group, or research a product. On Facebook.

Facebook’s entry into health shouldn’t be a surprise to any of us. With 1.5 billion consumers on the platform, Facebook is a massive data source for learning about attitudes toward health and wellness. One in four on the platform are willing to share information about their health, and in reality the number that actually do share is much higher. And, with four million health support groups, Facebook is an on-demand health support service of sorts.

Beyond all this, the reality is that healthcare professionals are people too. Their worlds are colliding, and just like you may check work email from the couch at night, they are on Facebook connecting with friend and colleagues and often share their opinions and perspectives on health and health matters. We created a private group for a physician support role several years ago and hoped to enlist 5,000 members over a year. The programme signed 8,000 and now has close to 12,000 participants because it was convenient given they were on Facebook anyway, and contextually relevant in that the support the group provides is helping them in their roles in the physician office.

So, what’s going on at Facebook as it relates to health? Finally they have amassed a staff of talented and experienced digital health pros to bring their offerings to health industry clients. One example is Sachin Nanavati, a leader in digital health who has joined Facebook Health’s team. This is a critical moment for brands, and a great opportunity. Over the years, brand managers have been frustrated with Facebook’s lack of support for the health industry – low responsiveness from sales, lack of understanding of the regulated environment, seeming unwillingness to create health-specific products. With this energetic new team, they are actively out there engaging brands and bringing products to life that can have a real impact on health experiences of their audience and ultimately improve health outcomes. Over the coming weeks, I’ll share details on some of the specific services. They range from paid to earned opportunities and Facebook seems open to talking about what else is needed.

In the meantime, think about Facebook’s broader ambition and network of complementary sites and services – WhatsApp, Instagram, Messenger – and then newer acquisitions like Oculus VR and services like Live. It is clear that there is a plan, and it is big. Think about how this ambition could apply to health and the opportunities are endless. Data and the impact on public health could be huge. Partnering with a service like IBM Watson Health and creating personal health coaches or an early warning system is a tremendous opportunity, thus formalising an approach to patient communities and creating unique ways for them to connect. Same for healthcare professionals – as they look to network more and more, how will Facebook support that? It’s all mobile anyway, but are there new tools tied to the mobile device and wearables that interact with Facebook in a smart way? And more simply, finally bringing health brands into the family so they can engage the people they most want to help is an urgent and immediate opportunity to impact outcomes – for Facebook, for health marketers, for healthcare providers and, most importantly, for patients and caregivers.

Check it out, or drop me a note if you want to dig in – erin.byrne@ghgroup.com

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