With advertisers preparing to spend up to $15 billion on influencer marketing by 2022, pharmaceutical and biotech companies are increasingly (and carefully) engaging trusted health social influencers to connect more authentically with consumers.
As pharma starts to leverage a multitude of high-engagement channels like influencer marketing, online communities, and virtual health services, the industry finds itself in a unique position to reimagine traditional DTC efforts and peer-to-peer communication--going beyond TV-ad celebrities or one-off Instagram relationships limited to short-term PR value.
When it comes to motivating consumers to take action with their health, and especially inspiring people to speak to a doctor, pharma needs to be thinking about new ways not just to reach, but to activate patients.
Enter social health.
Social health - the digital means by which health consumers engage with each other and their health - has broad applications for the healthcare industry overall. When we think of social health, we might think solely of social media, but social health is bigger than that. It's the connection, community, and socialization of patients across the entire social sphere including communities, groups, messaging, video and audio.
Patients rely on social connection and online interaction to discover, connect, validate, and share. According to research from WEGO Health, 79% of patients look to connect through various types of social media to find answers to questions about their own personal experiences. After a doctor visit, 76% use social media to ask other people about their experiences with medication, conditions, and diagnoses.
Social health serves as a means for people to access real-world patient experiences and peer-to-peer advice. It can serve as an important check and balance, filling in gaps after a TV ad campaign, a #sponsored Instagram story, or an all-too-short physician interaction.
Patients trust other patients.
The WEGO Health survey data shows only 14% of patients surveyed mostly or completely trust lifestyle influencers, while 51% mostly or completely trust patient health influencers. When it comes to branded pharma products, the survey was even more positive for patient health influencers: a total of 85% of patients said they would be somewhat or very receptive to an ad from a patient influencer promoting a drug related to the patient's condition.
After medical professionals and healthcare systems, patients ranked online health publishers and patient online community leaders as their most trusted sources of health information.
In fact, Health Union survey findings show that 87% of people living with chronic conditions who asked questions online were seeking input from other patients.
Patient communities play a critical role.
Online health communities are trusted sources by patients for information and connection, as well as the support they need to take ownership of their health.
"When used consistently and skillfully, social support, adaptive engagement and active moderation provide a dynamic community experience for individuals with chronic health concerns, ultimately promoting better physical and mental health," says Amrita Bhowmick, MPH, MBA, Health Union's Chief Community Officer and an adjunct assistant professor at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill's Gillings School of Global Public Health.
By integrating multiple channels and building authentic relationships, advertisers can reach their audiences at key moments in trustworthy online health communities and as they connect with patient health influencers. Jessica Botting, Director of Social Media at leading life sciences marketing agency, Klick Health, adds, "The most important thing is understanding patients' journeys to their core, and evaluating how your brand can make meaningful connections at each stage of the journey."
Putting the power of social health into practice.
Online health communities and patient influencers, working in tandem, serve as a critical information and support system along every step of the patient journey. For pharmaceutical and healthcare marketers, patient communities and their leader/influencers present a strategic opportunity to support a full-funnel marketing approach — and to put authenticity and transparency at the forefront.