Upstreaming Influencers in Health Marketing

Updated on April 12, 2023

Paid social has become a cornerstone of pharmaceutical marketing campaigns, and with good reason—patients are increasingly using social media as a source of health information. For some, it may even be a primary source. According to a recent study, nearly 1 in 5 Americans trust health influencers more than medical professionals in their community. Against this landscape, it’s clear that the source of authority has shifted from one-on-one with a whitecoat, to one-to-many though social influencers. 

Pharma has been slower to engage with social over the years, and influencers more specifically. It’s time to speed things up. 

Roughly 90% of healthcare marketers indicate they have social media in their 2023 budget and 56% of pharma marketers said they would include influencers in their 2023 plans. But most brands are not fully leveraging influencers or content creators to drive brand awareness and consideration the way advertisers in other categories are. In part, this comes from the sometimes-siloed nature of influencer partnerships due to contracting. Often, brands are planning influencer programs with their PR agencies, siloed from larger media plans. In order to yield the greatest impact, they should leverage media specialists for paid promotion strategies further upstream in the process, instead of adding this function once the campaign is developed. Social media platforms are pay to play – to have the most impact, paid amplification is critical and media strategists should be onboarded from the outset. 

Marketers have worked with the social platforms for years to develop new tools to share reliable health information with consumers. The next frontier for pharma advertisers is partnering with creators to bring audiences reliable information about health conditions and treatments – thus “influencing” them to take action. 

Shifting from spokesperson to creator culture

Creator content presents an opportunity to connect with patients with empathy and humanity. When consumers are interacting with a health-related handle or looking for a condition on a social media platform, their expectation is to discover patient communities or learn about personal approaches to managing their condition. Creator or influencer content allows a brand to play a role in patient or thought leaders’ authentic stories, experiences and health journeys. The role of the brand is to participate, while ensuring the content being amplified is valid, verified and medically-sound information. 

Using spokespeople had been an important tactic for brands to show human impact and drive connection with consumers. While spokespeople still have a role to play, creator content has demonstrated higher rates of engagement. These creators can offer an empathetic reflection of what the patient is experiencing, forging a deep connection with a consumer and, as a result, potentially shortening their journey to treatment. However, working with influencers is different than working with patient ambassadors. Creators need flexibility to develop content that fits their voice, and the autonomy to do so. This will ensure more authentic – read, powerful – connections with the audience. 

Power to the people

As a consumer, creator content is discoverable on social media in searches or feeds in what can feel like an organic matter. This helps imbue that content with a level of authority and increases the degree to which a user trusts the information. But engaging with creators is strategic and should be part of a brand’s media plan from the outset. 

Given the power that creator content can have within a brand’s communication strategy, this tactic should be considered earlier in the media buying process than it currently tends to be. The influencer’s content, like any branded creative elements, must exist in lockstep with the media plan to ensure strategic alignment and sufficient investment. Influencer marketing can no longer exist as an afterthought and a separate initiative that is siloed from the overall brand strategy. 

Patty Ryan

Patty Ryan is GVP Paid Social at Publicis Health Media.

Ben Visich

Ben Visich is SVP Product & Solution Design at Publicis Health Media.