Social Media Influencers in Healthcare and Pharma: What’s Their Role?

What exactly is a social media influencer? A social media influencer is a person who has built a reputation as being a credible source of information online.

But do social media influencers play the same kind of role when it comes to healthcare and pharma? Let’s take a look.

Quantifying social media influencers’ impact on awareness and sales

Social media influencers can be found on every social media platform. – Source Looking to social media influencers for advice makes sense when you’re shopping for fashionable jeans, your next great vacation, or even inspiration for your fitness regime. Most retail brands agree. According to the research firm L2 Gartner, 70% of retail brands are working with influencers through Instagram partnerships. Why Instagram? Because 72% of Instagram users say they’ve made a purchasing decision based on something they saw there. Only friends and family hold more sway than social media influencers in the purchasing decision. – Source The PR and content agency, Good Relations, conducted a survey of 1,000 consumers. In their Good Influence Survey 2017, they found that 57% of those surveyed bought something solely on the recommendation of a social media influencer. Only friends and family had more sway (83%) regarding purchasing decisions. When looking at which segments were most important to consumers by age, they found:

  • 18-24 year olds were most interested in what social media influencers had to say about entertainment, retail, and tech;
  • 35-45 year olds focused mostly on food; and
  • Those over 45 focused on health and travel.

While health may not be at the top of everyone’s list of interests, there is plenty of evidence that when faced with a health issue people turn to the internet and social media for information. Studies by Pew Research Center and PwC Health Research found that:

  • 35% of adults in the US have gone online specifically to “figure out” some medical condition.
  • 16% of internet users went online in the last year to find others who might share the same health concerns.
  • Nearly 90% of people in aged 18-24 (i.e., millennials) would trust health information or engage in health activities found on social media.

Health and its related topics are part of the mix for all age groups when it comes to social media.

The unique social media influencer landscape for healthcare and pharma

Certain aspects of healthcare and pharma (among them government regulations) have traditionally presented marketers with a challenge when trying to connect with their target audience. Now with the vast majority of people turning to the Internet for health information, the way people shop for healthcare and pharma is beginning to resemble retail. Significant numbers of people look for info about patients’ experiences online – Source Social media is having an impact on the doctor-patient conversation. By sharing information and experiences, social media influencers shape the expectations and questions their followers have for their doctors. But their impact isn’t limited to the doctor’s office and the pharmacy counter. Social media influencers are also having an impact on B2B companies. With their mentions of cutting edge technologies and services not directly available to the consumer social media influencers are creating expectations and building demand among patients that can only be addressed by payers, insurers, and providers. Social media influencers come from many different walks of life. – Source

Professionals, advocates, and patients replace tastemakers

As people search online for information related to their health concern they are finding the mix of social media influencer for healthcare and pharma differs from the retail space. Instead of tastemakers, healthcare and pharma social media influencers include industry experts, researchers, policy makers, medical professionals, advocates, and patients. Some of these social media influencers base their insights on professional experience and formal education. For others their insights are based on personal experience and independent study.

Regulatory restrictions shape social media influence in healthcare and pharma

Another thing that distinguishes social media influencers for healthcare and pharma is the regulatory restrictions they face. In addition to the FTC’s disclosure requirements, some communications about pharma and medical devices are subject to FDA guidance. Earlier this year, Kim Kardashian faced push back on an ongoing campaign for Diclegis that generated an FDA warning letter two years ago. Operating in a regulated industry, it’s understandable that some brands and social media influencers are concerned about the negative consequences of a poorly conceived or poorly executed campaign. Brands and social media influencers can navigate these dangers by practicing transparency and authenticity, along with always complying with regulatory requirements.

Facebook is the most popular social platform among patient influencers

While Instagram is the dominant channel for retail social media influencers, many health industry expert, researcher, policy maker, and medical professional social media influencers can be found on Twitter. WEGO Health found that patients and caregivers identified Facebook as their top channel for sharing information about health-related topics. Patients and caregivers prefer Facebook for health information. – Source

Health agencies now recognize the positive impact of social media’s influence

National and transnational health agencies have gone beyond recognizing the impact of social media to encouraging its use to provide health education and emergency notifications. Both the CDC and WHO formally recognize the potential for social media, and presumably social media influencers, for reaching underrepresented and hard-to-reach communities and individuals.

Social media provides opportunities to do more by doing good

When used as an educational platform, social media presents an opportunity for social media influencers to do more than encourage people to buy a product or service. It presents healthcare and pharma social media influencers with the opportunity to do good and improve lives. Doing good can mean reaching out with a health awareness campaign like #AdvocateForArthritis, or soliciting donations to pay for healthcare and supplies when disaster hits, or recruiting underrepresented patient groups for drug trials. Social media influencers can do more than influence buying decisions, they can help those in need. – Source

Engaging social media influencers in healthcare and pharma for bigger impacts

The traditional social media influencer engagement models are familiar

When establishing a social media influencer program, most marketers think of inviting influencers to the program/campaign and events, providing influencers with gifts or benefits, co-creating content, and providing influencers with financial compensation for their promotional efforts. These are the traditional way of engaging the services of an influencer.

Today’s social media influencer engagement model has expanded

At its 2017 Influencer Marketing Huddle, Onalytica identified seven main engagement models for brands working with social media influencers. Not all of these models are generally recognized. Not all social media influencer engagement models are widely recognized. – Source: Onalytica Within these seven models, social media influencers can act as an advocate for the health issue or condition that they care about. Acting as an advocate drivers deeper relationships. L2 Garner reports, advocate influencers generate the strongest relationships with an 8% rate of engagement as compared to celebrities that generate a 1.6% rate of engagement. Let’s break down each of the seven models to better understand the role of social media influencers:

Model #1: Community engagement

By following and engaging with healthcare and patient communities online, brands have an opportunity to listen as well as share their message. Start with social listening. Listen for topics and issues that are important to your customer. Listen for more than mentions of your and your competitor’s brand. Listen for how your brand and industry are regarded by the community. Use what you learn to inform your message. And find ways to address your customer’s concerns. With 20% of consumers online joining social media forums or healthcare communities, these communities provide plenty of opportunity to share information and support in a targeted manner. Among people with chronic conditions, 25% turn to social media to find people facing similar health issues, many find them in healthcare communities. Community engagement may even help you find your ideal social media influencer to partner with. People are using social media to find information about and support for health issues. – Source

Model #2: Employee advocacy

When social media influencers are matched with internal SMEs and evangelists the result can be highly engaging, informative media. Hospitals are making use of Facebook Live to produce must-see TV with patient social media influencers. The NICU department of Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin partnered with a preemie mom to broadcast the story of #BabyMadeline – Source Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin partnered a preemie mom with SMEs from their NICU to broadcast the story of #BabyMadeline on Periscope. Over three days the project generated 994 total viewers. These results convinced Children’s Hospital to continue broadcasting. They now broadcast demonstrations and Q&A sessions via Facebook Live generating organic views in the four figures and organic reach in the five figures. The Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin has generated impressive reach with its Facebook Live broadcasts. – Source

Model #3: Invite influencers to your event

Inviting social media influencers to your event is one of the most traditional ways to engage with influencers. Having a notable person in attendance adds a spark to the event, both while it’s happening and afterward. An opportunity to meet and take a photo with a notable person adds excitement for those at your event. After the fact, your event will likely receive continued mentions in social media, both in the influencer’s and your attendees’ feeds.

Model #4: Create influencer generated content

People put more trust in user generated content (UGC) than content created by a brand. By extension, influencer generated content (IGC) is also more trusted. One of the most successful ICG campaigns ever was the ALS ice bucket challenge. Once the former Boston College baseball player and ALS patient Pete Frates took the challenge and shared it on YouTube the campaign took off like wildfire. Eventually, it raised $115 million for the ALS Foundation. The advantage ICG campaigns have over UGC is two-fold. First, influencers are reliable leaders in their communities. They already have a built-in audience who is engaged in their niche. And second, an ICG lends itself better to coordination. It’s easier to stay on-message when working with a particular influencer instead of leaving the campaign to spread organically. People put more trust in content created by users. – Source

Model #5: Invite influencers to your program

Inviting an influencer to your program in a defined role, like brand ambassador, is another traditional approach to engagement. This approach establishes a formal relationship between your brand and the influencer. Depending on how you define the program the influencer can be called upon to make appearances, create and share content, or something else. Because the association is so explicit, it’s important to have a good fit between the brand and its message and the influencer and their image.

Model #6: Gifting/benefits

Many brands provide influencers with gifts with the expectation that the influencer will share something good about the brand with their audience. Such gifts can include swag or a trial version of their product or service. This can be a bit of a risky approach. There’s no guarantee that the influencer will share anything about the brand or product with their audience. And there’s no guarantee that what they share will be positive. It’s prudent to be clear about expectations up front.

Model #7: Financial compensation

Finally, a brand can simply hire an influencer outright and pay them for their efforts. This financial compensation can be in exchange for making appearances, generating and sharing social media content, participating in focus groups, or any number of activities aimed at promoting your brand. This model of engagement can be akin to hiring a spokesperson. And just as with working with a spokesperson, the relationship with the social media influencer must be disclosed.

Some cautions that apply when working with social media influencers

Regardless of the engagement model used, brands see a clear benefit to engaging with social media influencers when it results in their message being amplified and followers making purchases. Don’t lose sight of the fact that working with social media influencers needs to be a two-way relationship. Both the brand and the social media influencer need to benefit in some way. Also, whenever social media influencers and brands enter into a relationship they are required by the FTC to clearly and conspicuously disclose that relationship.

The impact of social media influencers is being felt in healthcare and pharma

With social media influencers freely sharing their experiences and knowledge online, their followers are demanding more from their healthcare providers. The nature the conversation between doctors and patients has changed. We’ve also seen indications that healthcare and pharma are moving toward a purchasing model that is more like retail. Patients now research their options for and make decisions about healthcare providers and medical treatments based on what they learn in social media. Perhaps it isn’t surprising that national and transnational health agencies are actually engaging in social media to influence people’s health now that they’ve seen the benefit. Looking ahead, social media platforms will continue to evolve. Ten years ago Instagram didn’t even exist. But it’s unlikely that social media influencers will ever go away completely, not even in healthcare and pharma. Social media channels will continue to evolve, but influencers and word-of-mouth campaigns aren’t going away anytime soon. – Source What role do you see social media influencers playing in your marketing plans?

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