Why Bigger Isn’t Necessarily Better for Patient Influencers

Influencer marketing, as we think of it today, is a relatively young field. As social media has become more and more popular, brands have begun to recognize that working with so-called influencers often has better results than more traditional forms of advertising. Influencer marketing can be a valuable tool with great results, including higher engagement and a better ROI. This is true in most industries – and healthcare is no exception. Patient influencers offer healthcare companies an enormous opportunity.

Patient communities, by and large, are a passionate group. Many people with health conditions follow at least a few patient influencers on social media. These fellow patients are people they trust and eagerly engage with. They truly do influence their audiences, largely because of their authentic, relatable portrayal of life with illness. Many people with chronic illness feel isolated and engaging with other patients on social media can feel like a lifeline.

For the healthcare company looking to dive into influencer marketing, you might assume that the larger a given patient influencer’s audience, the better. After all, the bigger the audience, the more people might see the content. While that seems logical, the truth is that influencers with more modest audiences actually tend to drive more engagement. An influencer with a huge audience might get more eyeballs on the content, but engagement is where the real value is with influencer marketing.

To What End? The Impact of Patient Influencers with Modest Audiences

Speaking from an e-commerce perspective, Sidney Pierucci calls these influencers with more modest audiences micro-influencers. In his research, he’s found that engaging micro-influencers is a cost-effective way to increase both engagement and social buzz.

Micro-influencers matter in a big way. – source


A healthcare company is likely to see significantly better results when running a campaign with a patient influencer when compared to employing traditional creative. In a WEGO Health case study, comparing traditional creative with that which was created by Patient Leaders – members of WEGO Health’s vast network of patient experts, opinion leaders, influencers, and advocates – the results were clear. Patient Leader creative drove more traffic and engagement.

When a patient influencer who already has the trust of his or her audience engages with your brand, some of that trust naturally follows. Gaining patient trust is one of the biggest hurdles many healthcare companies face, so this is one of the most valuable aspects of working with patient influencers. This is especially true for pharma and insurance companies, as recent polls have shown a decided lack of trust from patients. Engagement is great but improving how patients see you is perhaps even better. It is vital to always be thoughtful about the type of campaigns you run with the patient influencer, so as not to lose any of that trust.

Another reason that patient influencers with smaller audiences might be more worthwhile is just the fact that there are so many relatively small, niche groups within patient communities. There are some diseases and conditions that just aren’t as well-known and some that just don’t affect as many people. These groups often feel marginalized and ignored. Even within larger patient communities, like breast cancer, there are a number of smaller groups within the whole. Often, patients will engage more within a sub-group. Engaging with patient influencers who speak to these niche groups is a big opportunity. Making a concerted effort to make these groups feel seen can help improve brand perception.


Insights From a Patient Leader

Charis Hill, a Patient Leader with Ankylosing Spondylitis, writes that “no one seems to know we exist.” This is despite the fact that 2.7 million Americans have spondyloarthritis, the broader category AS falls under. Of her advocacy work as a Patient Leader, Charis says:

My focus is on helping raise awareness in the general public about an invisible community that doesn’t get enough attention. I think that can be viewed as an incredibly powerful reason for health and medical organizations to partner with people like me, whose audience and engagement may not reach millions of people per month, but whose work is crucial to the growth of awareness of a common disease. For a company to choose to be at the forefront of supporting Patient Leaders who represent an entire marginalized disease community is a really powerful thing to claim, I think, especially as diseases such as spondyloarthritis will continue to grow.

Charis also points out that there is a unique opportunity for healthcare companies to engage with those “who seek to build a bridge between patients and healthy allies, rather than primarily focus inward to the patient community.” When patient influencers and brands work together in this way, there is the potential to transform many lives. An influencer marketing campaign focused on improving awareness and general advocacy could ultimately lead to more funding for research or lead to positive policy change. Importantly, it could also make a marginalized community feel seen and supported. This could be transformational. A brand that helps this happen alongside patients would certainly gain a lot of goodwill and trust in the process.

Ultimately, patient influencers can help healthcare companies achieve many different goals. Working with patient influencers with modest but engaged audiences can improve brand perception and trust, increase brand awareness, ramp up engagement, build social buzz, and even lead to conversions. When working with a patient influencer, you are a de facto advocate for the patient community, but the patient influencer and their followers may become advocates of sorts for you as well. That all of these potential results come in a cost-effective package means a better ROI. That said, some of the most important benefits of effective patient influencer campaigns are a bit harder to measure. Improved trust and brand perception will definitely pay off over time, even if they are harder to quantify in the moment.


Choosing a Patient Influencer

You can certainly consider the size of an influencer’s audience but remember that those with a modest following tend to have higher engagement than those with an enormous following. Engaging with a more niche group of patients rather than the broader chronic illness community or the cancer community or any other broad group will likely have better results. Rather than focusing on quantity of followers, shift your focus to quality. Consider whether your values and goals align with those of a perspective patient influencer. Consider whether the patient influencer and the patient community they represent have a need that you could help fill.

Be prepared to potentially meet some resistance. The average patient influencer is likely to be picky. Just as their audiences are engaged with and care about them, many patient influencers are very discerning and protective of their audiences. Transparency and empathy are vital when trying to start a relationship with a patient influencer. There is also a resistance by many to the very notion of influencer marketing. That said, when a healthcare company is thoughtful and respectful and wishes to add value to a patient community, a patient influencer partnership can lead to good things for all parties.

A 2017 survey by Bloglovin’ found that a majority of American women find influencer marketing posts that feel inauthentic to be off-putting. Sponsored content that doesn’t feel genuine is not going to lead to engagement. For the most part, patient influencers care too much about their communities to post content they don’t stand behind. A healthcare company that understands this and creates a partnership with the patient influencer is likely to see very positive results.

The value of patient influencers is clear but finding the right fit can sometimes be a challenge. Luckily for you, we’ve already done much of the legwork! WEGO Health, with its robust network of more than 100K Patient Leaders, can help you find the perfect fit for your influencer marketing campaign.


Practical Tips for Success

Once you’ve found a patient influencer, here are some best practices to keep in mind:

  • Don’t go overboard. 37% of women have unfollowed an influencer who posts too much sponsored content. Similarly, mix it up and allow the patient influencer to feature a variety of content types as part of the campaign.
  • Make sure you’re offering value of some kind. What sets this kind of creative apart is that it’s not an ad, at least in the way we traditionally think of advertising.
  • Consider the endeavor a partnership. A patient influencer can be a good teacher. Listen to what they have to say.
  • Temper your expectations. Patient influencer campaigns can help you see some direct results quickly, but they should also be thought of as part of a long-term strategy, helping you improve trust and brand perception.
  • Follow up! Engaging with patient influencers and acting as an advocate shouldn’t be a one-and-done experience. After showing the patient community that you support them, follow it up with consistent action.

Influencer marketing using patient influencers is an opportunity too big to ignore and patients with only modest followings may ultimately provide better results. How will you tap into the power of patients in your upcoming marketing campaigns?

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