Social influencers are helping brands, including those in the pharma space, reach their marketing goals through online exposure. A mindful approach can help ensure you’re providing honest and impactful messaging in a responsible way.
Given that 82% of Americans are on social media, the reach of social influencers has the potential to be significant. Whether they’re leading customers to alluring lip gloss brands or high-quality vacuums that won’t break the bank, users with considerable followings on social media are helping companies in many industries humanize their products.
The pharmaceutical industry is likewise catching on to the power of collaborating with patient influencers—those with chronic conditions who document their lives and advocate for more research to find medical solutions. Partnering with patient influencers can be a smart marketing move for companies in the pharmaceutical market. In a 2022 Healthgrades study, more than half of all respondents had more favorable attitudes towards big pharma brands following the quick development of the COVID-19 vaccine—but there’s room for improvement.1 Elevating patient voices and supporting their treatment needs can give your pharma brand a boost, driving more prescriptions and building more consumer trust.
Nonetheless, pharma marketers need to remain cautious, as medications can come with risks and potential side effects that don’t accompany other consumer products—which can make influencer-driven marketing a tricky endeavor. In this article, we’ll touch on these concerns, what to keep in mind, and more.
What Defines a Patient Influencer?
While “influencer” may bring to mind celebrities posing with recognizable luxury items or posting videos promoting new products, the world of patient influencers is vastly different. Patient influencers build dedicated social communities and are more focused on sharing health-related experiences than showcasing a company’s latest product or service. Many patient influencers fall under the “micro-influencer” category, which include accounts that have between 10,000 and 100,000 followers, according to creator management agency GRIN. Audience numbers may not always reach the millions, but patient influencer communities are often more niche, engaged, personable, and close-knit. Publicly sharing personal medical information is not easy. That’s why patient influencers who share their health stories and encourage others to keep the conversation going garner a deep appreciation from those in their community wanting better condition awareness.
One example of a patient influencer is Michelle Lee, known as @psoriasiswanderer and @ohmichellelee on Instagram. A strong advocate for psoriasis awareness, Lee chronicles her personal experiences through photos of her flare-ups for over 30,000 followers across both accounts. She also shares treatment options that have helped clear her skin, clarifies misconceptions about psoriasis, and encourages community conversations to build support.
Such social advocates carry prime opportunities to demonstrate how medications can make a difference. By showcasing real people telling real stories, consumers can learn how medications or products could impact their lives—and these stories are more genuine, transparent, and moving than a typical advertisement.
In Patient Influencer Marketing, Ethics Are the Priority
Advertising the effects of pharmaceutical products warrants extra care and consideration. Medications can affect different people to different degrees, so marketers must be careful to find the balance between catching the consumer’s attention and over-promising.
For example, if a brand-name topical skincare treatment completely cured one person’s cystic acne, that doesn’t mean another person with the same condition will experience the same results. Many healthcare consumers know that all bodies are different and may react differently to the same medication depending on pre-existing conditions, lifestyle choices, allergies, and other factors. It would be ethically and medically irresponsible to promise that the medication would produce the same result for every person.
This is why it’s important to be mindful in how you promote products through social media. A patient influencer’s testimonial about how a medication has changed their life for the better can often be compelling enough for prospective patients to believe that they’ll get the same results—without considering how side effects and efficacy vary by person. It’s critical not to mislead consumers.
To prevent the spread of misinformation or inauthentic representations of products in influencer marketing, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) published Disclosures 101 for Social Media Influencers in 2019. The brochure, designed to help creatives comply with legal expectations surrounding pharma advertising, includes guidelines instructing individuals to:
- explicitly state financial and personal relationships with a brand in every endorsed post.
- be wary of foreign laws, as direct-to-consumer pharma marketing is only legal in the U.S. and New Zealand.
- only speak about a product that was personally tested.
- provide authentic opinions about the product—if it didn’t work well, influencers shouldn’t advertise as otherwise.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is also adamant about influencers keeping product claims grounded in truth, and offers several resources to help brands and influencers mitigate the spread of misinformation.
While these guidelines are intended for influencers, pharma marketers should also keep them in mind when planning a collaborative campaign to ensure all parties are aligned with legal expectations.
How to Recruit Patient Influencers for Responsible Pharma Advertising
For a topic as personal and sensitive as healthcare, pharma marketers shouldn’t work with just any influencer; you must seek out great candidates who are well-versed in the medical condition your product aims to treat. It’s important to remember, however, that these influencers are actual patients who are giving their time—and possibly health—to promote your new product, so nurturing a relationship with them and their respective community is essential to a successful campaign.
When searching for a compatible patient influencer to partner with, ask questions such as:
- Does their condition qualify them to be treated with our product?
- Has their doctor cleared them to begin treatment using our product?
- Are they qualified to speak about the medical topic we’re currently discussing?
- What is their brand message and does it align with ours?
- Do their values align with our company’s overall mission?
Once you’ve found the best social advocate to work with, start thinking about compensation and the terms of their participation. Be sure to outline mandatory disclosures the influencer must include with every post, and compensate them well for their service to your brand. Consider offering them your promotional product for free. And of course, serve as a solid support system during their treatment journey. Throughout this partnership, your goal should be to amplify the influencer’s voice and foster their online community while providing a vetted treatment option for their followers who may have the same chronic condition.
In a 2022 BrightLocal study, 49% of consumers said they trust reviews as much as personal recommendations. Empowering patient influencers to give their honest thoughts and opinions on your product shows prospective consumers that your brand values authenticity as they do.
Teaming Up with Influencers for a Better-Informed Patient Journey
When crafting your next direct-to-consumer marketing campaign, consider partnering with a qualified patient to bring awareness to a chronic condition and its possible treatment options. There are many potential patient touchpoints on their journey to finding care, but the key is engaging them with information that brings insight, guidance, and perspective into their condition.
For that reason, Healthgrades partnered with patient influencers like Michelle Lee and Jaime Sanders—author of the blog The Migraine Diva. In her featured Healthgrades article, Sanders shares her struggles finding a doctor to treat her migraine pain, citing lingering disparities in care. With Healthgrades’ goal of facilitating better patient-physician connections, her story was crucial in showing all patients the importance of finding the right doctor at the right time.
Healthgrades offers a variety of direct-to-consumer pharma advertising placement opportunities to give your social campaigns more traction. Our PatientConnect Hubs are pivotal ad spaces for pharma brands looking to reach niche target audiences. Brimming with patient testimonials, physician insights, explainer articles, and breaking research, Healthgrades’ PatientConnect Hubs give visitors thorough and up-to-date information about the chronic conditions they live with.
By advertising your brand on Healthgrades, you’ll be reaching more qualified patients among the largest audience of commercially-insured consumers searching for care.2 With our Guided Physician Search tool, Healthgrades helps patients find the right doctors right after viewing your ad, keeping your brand top of mind as they make their next appointment.
Get in touch with Healthgrades today to learn more about how we can elevate your patient influencer partnerships for better-targeted engagement.