How pharmaceutical companies use Facebook to engage customers

October 30, 2019

Written by Katherine K. Ellis
Pharmaceuticals depiction

We’ve covered the pharmaceutical industry in depth before, but which brands are getting high engagement on Facebook and how has media covered them in 2019? We take a look at the data to see what’s resonating and how the narratives change across platforms.

Coverage of pharmaceutical companies has remained pretty consistent in the past few years, but engagement is lower in 2019. While there have been about 230k articles covering the pharma industry each year since 2017, in 2017 and 2018 engagements reached the millions while the most engaged articles for 2019 so far have barely broken 250k engagements.

In 2018, there were a few widely covered stories in the pharmaceutical world that contributed to higher engagement, chief among them the sentencing of Martin Shkreli who raised the price of the drug Daraprim by more than 5,000 percent, and the recall of Tris Pharma’s infant ibuprofen.

The narrative this year seems to be following stories from previous years, detailing pharma’s involvement with the US opioid crisis and the varied repercussions. When we dove into the data for coverage of the top pharmaceutical companies specifically, the coverage was similar:

In the top ten most engaged stories about specific pharmaceutical companies, the coverage focused again on fines and consequences for major decisions made by executives of the companies. While the top ten featured mostly mainstream publishers, others like,, and made the top ten, though all three have been flagged by multiple third-party fact checkers for their coverage.

There were more mainstream publishers that cover pharma when we looked at engagements to websites alone, but Grit Post and Return to Now also made the top ten. Article count didn’t make a difference in engagements. For example, nbc had over 600 articles about pharma and came third, while Grit Post wrote four and had 10k more engagements on those four articles.

Pharmaceutical companies’ owned media

While the narrative within media focuses on incidents within the pharma industry, a look at the top companies’ personal Facebook Pages tells a different story. The top posts for pharma on Facebook present a different narrative, but are also less engaged than their earned media.

With the exception of the number three spot occupied by Bristol-Myers Squibb, Boehringer Ingelheim was the most engaged pharmaceutical company on Facebook by far. Their posts, all photos, took the rest of the nine spots.

Though Boehringer Ingelheim has seen successful engagement on their content, it’s worth noting that per Facebook’s advertising policies, pharmaceutical companies cannot promote the sale of prescription pharmaceuticals or over the counter medicines. 

Boehringer’s strategy seems to be more of a human interest angle, with stories and photos that connect deeply with their audience. Their average interactions per post are above 5,000, and reactions to posts were overwhelmingly positive, with Loves outnumbering Angrys on all of the top ten most engaged posts. 

When we looked at Angrys alone, the most Angry reacted post was from a niche audience that was upset about a channel GSK chose to advertise on, rather than the collaboration with WellChild itself. Even taking that into account, the most Angry-reaction post only totaled 463 Angrys. While two of the other top ten “most Angrys” posts were related to changes of profile photos to rainbow logos for Pride month, both of those ended up on the list of the most “Loved” reactions for pharma companies on Facebook.

The most shared posts didn’t rack up many opposing opinions either, with different companies inspiring people to share the posts into their own feeds. Videos were the most popular when it came to sharing, some even clocking in at 2 full minutes. Boehringer Ingelheim still took seven of the top ten spots and are really connecting with their Facebook audience through well-produced videos.

What’s striking is the disparity between how these companies represent themselves and how they are portrayed in their earned coverage. Those that know how to engage their audiences on Facebook are winning in terms of engagement, and there’s room for other brands to change the conversation by considering sharing stories on other platforms. 

If you’d like to monitor your brand coverage over time, check out NewsWhip Analytics.

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