The influencer marketing industry is experiencing extreme growth, jumping from a $1.7 billion in 2016 to an expected $6.5 billion this year. The healthcare industry has a lot to learn from other industries that are applying influencer marketing practices successfully. As a company that connects life sciences companies and pharma with patient influencers, we’re often asked about the strategies behind our choice of patient influencers and the benefits of collaborating with different audience sizes.
In this series, we’ll be breaking down the different segments of influencers to outline the benefits of each. What all influencers have in common is what their name suggests—the ability to influence their audiences. The size of the audience and the degree and depth of that influence varies.
To kick off our series, we’re discussing micro-influencers. Micro-influencers are earning more attention and accolades from industry experts, and for good reason. For life sciences companies, the bottom line is that patient micro-influencer campaigns will likely lead to better engagement and a higher ROI than traditional creative and even mega-influencer campaigns.
What is a Micro-Influencer?
The definition of “micro-influencer” varies from source to source, but a general consensus among experts is that micro-influencers have a following from 1,000-100,000 people. They are often recognized as more relatable by their audience compared to celebrities or influencers with followings in excess of 100,000.
While not celebrities themselves, micro-influencers may have a recognizable, celebrity-like reputation within a specific niche. For example, a micro-influencer within a certain health condition community may be seen as fairly “famous” within that circle, but wouldn’t necessarily be known to people outside that niche.
Micro-influencers’ greatest strength is their engaged audience. According to AdWeek, 7.4 percent of micro-influencers’ followers will directly engage with content, compared to 2.4 percent for a macro-influencer (someone with a following of 100,000+). Unlike those with too many notifications to handle, or a team executing social media posts on their behalf, micro-influencers have a follower count small enough to feel more like a series of conversations with friends, and the influencer is personally engaged with their audience. While they may have celebrity status within their niche community, they haven’t been propelled to the level of fame that would make them unreachable and unrelatable.
Many online patient communities – especially in the rare disease space – serve limited populations. We find this is often misconstrued as a weakness, but it’s another one of the micro-influencer’s unique strengths. Their reach is more limited than those with larger followings, but their impact is much greater. As WEGO Health’s Chief Strategy Officer, David Goldsmith wrote in Forbes, a micro-influencer may reach fewer eyeballs overall but, “they can reach the eyeballs that matter.” A micro-influencer lives in the sweet spot of optimal patient trust generally because they have built up their following over time with transparency, empathy, and authenticity.
Micro-influencers in patient communities have built a strong reputation based on their authenticity. When they talk, their followers listen. They take more stock in recommendations and are more likely to take a specific action on the basis of these recommendations.
We see from our experience running campaigns for large pharma brands that influencer-driven campaigns can lead to high-value actions on the part of their followers. In one WEGO Health survey of over 400 patients, more than nine in ten patients (93%) said they would ask their physicians about health information shared by a trusted influencer. More than four in five (87%) said they are likely to speak to their doctor about a particular medication after hearing about it from a trusted patient influencer.
Trust transference is another benefit of working with micro-influencers, especially for pharma companies given their struggle to gain and maintain patient trust. Micro-influencers who have worked hard to earn the trust of their followers are not willing to trade that away. Endometriosis patient influencer Kat Leena says, “I have never accepted anything that doesn’t align with my values and have built my reputation on that. The patients trust me on that, so I don’t compromise on it.”
Many patient leaders already discuss specific products and medications they use to aid in managing their condition and are open about their personal experience. What matters most is that they talk about a product with the same authentic, honest voice their followers expect.
Audience engagement through influencers more often than not outperforms traditional creative in the healthcare space. This WEGO Health case study demonstrates how original, patient influencer-created content increased website traffic 7x in comparison to traditional creative from the brand. With the primary goal of building consumer brand awareness and trust, micro-influencer marketing helped to propel this campaign beyond the brand’s KPI goals.
Ultimately, the value of a micro-influencers comes down to their authenticity and trust, both of which translate into higher engagement. In the context of influencer marketing, micro-influencers are more cost-effective partners to work with, increasing the brands’ ability to and maximize ROI. Reaching the right people with a less significant investment sounds too good to be true, but with micro-influencers, the opportunity is as real as the stories they have to tell.