Strategy, Health Providers

How to Target HCPs in Social

PUBLISHED: 4/21/2020

If you’re in the business of reaching the niche audience that is health care providers, you’re probably feeling the squeeze of not being able to reach them online. You’re likely limited by conference cancellations, or you’re facing budget cuts due to an uncertain economic climate after all of this is over.

So what should you be focusing on? Social media is typically not something that comes top of mind for reaching doctors and health care professionals. However, it’s often forgotten that doctors and health care professionals are people too, and they use social media like most consumers, checking their social networks multiple times a day.

So how can you reach health care professionals on these channels? While having an organic presence allows users to find your brand once they’ve been reached, it does little for reaching new consumers or raising awareness in an active way. This is why it’s recommended to have a budget set aside for paid social campaigns. This is where the true benefit of targeting the right people, at the right time, with the right message comes to play.

Breaking down the channels:

Using Owned and Third Party Data

It goes without saying that using your own data lists should be one of the top ways to target users online. These lists of emails and phone numbers can be uploaded, not only to all the major social channels, but they can also be uploaded into other channels like search and display engines to help target or exclude known health care providers. If you don’t have these contact lists, they can also be purchased by third party data collectors and migrated onto social engines, but be sure to work with a reputable company that can not only create accurate lists, but also allow you to import into the social platforms. Since the health care market is so niche, and coming across databases can be difficult, there are some unique native targeting capabilities for health care marketers to take advantage of.

Facebook and Instagram

The platform:

As the largest social network powerhouse, Facebook and Instagram have some very strong targeting capabilities built into the platform. Since Instagram is owned by Facebook, social ads for both platforms are seamlessly integrated at no additional cost. Even if your brand only has a Facebook page, you can run an Instagram ad using the Facebook page as the “host” for the ad. However, you must have a Facebook page to run in-feed ads. So if you don’t already have one, build that first.

The targeting capabilities:

One of the few social platforms with granular level data that can target HCPs by:

  • Education Level: Doctorate Degree
  • Field of Study
  • Job Title
  • Employer
  • Household Income
  • Employed in the Healthcare and Medical Services Industry

Additionally, Facebook allows owned (your own contact list of emails and/or phone numbers) as well as 3rd party audience integrations with key data partners like Acxiom, Oracle, GFK, LiveRamp, Segment, and more.

The cost:

No minimum spend levels; however, in order to serve ads to an audience, the audience size must be larger than 1,000 matched users.


The platform:

Twitter has continued to be the go-to source for news-related content. If you are involved in health care conferences or webinars, you are likely leveraging Twitter to amplify your brand’s reach or capture key conversations through branded hashtags. That’s why it’s recommended to leverage Twitter with these types of events and conversations for reaching health care professionals.

The targeting capabilities:

Twitter is very robust and active when it comes to sharing health-related content; however, on the backend, they have done away with a lot of their behavioral targeting capabilities. For that reason, Twitter relies on more contextual targeting around interests, keywords, and followers of specific accounts relating to HCPs.

Some of the key targeting capabilities are:

Keywords and hashtags. Ex: neurologist, health care provider, previous and current year’s conference hashtags, medical terms.
Conversation topics – this works for targeting brands, like the followers of American Heart Association, or specific TV shows that you know your target audience follows – these can be paired with TV campaigns if you know your commercial is being aired during a specific segment.
Followers/lookalikes of targeted brands: competitor brands, medical journals, key opinion leaders/influencers (like Kevin Pho M.D.).

The cost:

Like Facebook, there is no minimum to purchase; however, keep in mind that targeting on Twitter is designed to be broader, so it may not be as refined as some of the behavior or self-reported data. Like most platforms, how much your investment will be depends on the marketplace and your audience size. Twitter tends to perform better from an awareness and engagement level than a direct response and conversion. Leverage Twitter more as an introducer channel to introduce and engage your audience to your brand and get them started on their decision journey.


The platform:

Touted as the strongest B2B social media platform out there, LinkedIn takes advantage of users’ self-reported job data and interests. With this data, LinkedIn allows several additional layers to fine tune their audiences that aren’t available in the other channels. The additional tie-in with Bing search targeting allows for broader targeting capabilities across channels and platforms.

The targeting capabilities:

LinkedIn has really upped their targeting game in the last year. If you have not run a LinkedIn test for a while, maybe it’s time to revisit. We have had some excellent success in the past across several industries. Despite the more expensive CPMs compared to the other channels, LinkedIn has some strong targeting capabilities that can really help fine tune and reach health care providers such as:

  • Job Experience: functions, seniority, job titles, member skills, and years of experience
  • Education level: Degrees (MD, PharmD, PhD)
  • Company names and size (such as specific institutions and locations)
  • Member age – to further narrow down on experience
  • Interests: Member groups (pharma business, pediatrician endocrinology, cardiovascular surgery, etc.)

The cost:

As mentioned before, LinkedIn is one of the pricier social platforms compared to the other channels. However, that’s the premium to pay for the hyper targeted and relevant audiences. Like the previous channels, there are no minimums in spend, but you will need to have a sizable audience to really get the most out of the platform. The active users on LinkedIn also fluctuate and could also be a contributing factor for the more expensive CPM, so we would recommend running a head-to-head test against Facebook and Twitter to maximize reach.

SERMO, Doximity, and Figure 1, and Skipta

The platforms:

I would be remiss to not include these platforms as they tout themselves as niche social media networks and HCPs use these the most for professional use.

These are well-guarded sites that require users to prove they are health care providers, so you can rest assured you are reaching the right people with little to no wasted impressions. Health care providers mostly use these platforms to ask one another questions around diagnostics, treatment options, and research. They are not truly there to engage with brands and their products. That’s not to say that there is not a place for brands here, it just means that brand content needs to be catered to fit that mindset if they want to see success.

The targeting capabilities:

Due to the nature of verifying their profession and the active nature of the platform by health care providers, the targeting capabilities of these types of channels are extremely granular and relevant. On the previous channels mentioned, not all users may include targetable information in their profiles. That’s where the true value of these platforms shines, and allows marketers to target HCPs down to their specialty.

However, there is another key difference between these platforms and the typical social media networks like Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. These HCP platforms require working and negotiating with a representative and do not have self-serve advertising platforms that users can launch, bid, and optimize on ads. So, why is that important? The cost.

The cost:

This is one of the biggest differentiating factors between these channels, as most of these require a somewhat hefty investment, requiring a minimum of $100,000. For those brands with a fairly robust budget to test these platforms, along with some of the above social networks, this may make sense. However, having run a few head-to-head campaigns, Facebook and LinkedIn do have similar reach with more engagement and conversions. For those brands with more conservative budgets, maximizing the reach and investment in those platforms may make more sense for a pilot campaign.

Wrap Up

The key to a successful campaign is knowing your audience, where they are, and leveraging each platform for its strengths.

Facebook performs best across each phase of the funnel and performs very well in mid to lower funnel tactics.
Twitter is great for conference support (physical and virtual) and awareness messaging on a broader targeting scale.
LinkedIn is excellent for job-related targeting, with strong upper and mid funnel messaging capabilities.
HCP social platforms like SERMO, Doximity, and Figure 1 are hyper granular, which may serve as a strong awareness driver at a premium price point. Make sure the content aligns with what HCPs are there to consume, which is information and education.

When thinking about health care marketing, social media is often overlooked or placed on the back burner in lieu of more endemic and offline tactics. In this digital age, it’s crucial for a holistic communications strategy to include social channels for reaching consumers where they’re most active, with the right message, at the right time.