Influencer Marketing for Healthcare: What You Need to Know

Healthcare marketers have an overwhelming number of tools, techniques, and platforms to connect with their audiences.

The challenge is narrowing down the choices to what’s most effective – and understanding how changing patient behavior is affecting the process.

One strategy that is gradually moving into the spotlight: influencer marketing.

What is it? Why should you consider it for your healthcare brand? What does it take to make it pay off?

Let’s break it down now.

What Is Influencer Marketing?

In simplest terms, influencer marketing is promoting something through people with the ability to shape the perception of your brand. These people are called influencers.

Think of Michael Jordan in Nike commercials. Or William Shatner as the Priceline Negotiator. Their popularity put them in a position to influence their fans’ buying decisions.

Influencer marketing has been around in healthcare for decades, though it has significantly evolved these past few years. You might remember one of the most popular early examples: when Bob Dole did TV commercials for Pfizer to promote Viagra.

Now, a lot of influencer marketing is happening virtually – whether it’s forums, social media platforms, or blog posts.

Why Consider Influencer Marketing in Healthcare

A host of factors make healthcare a great fit for influencer marketing.

First, traditionally paid advertisements aren’t as cost-effective as they used to be. The average person is exposed to thousands

of promotional messages every day. We’ve grown so accustomed to seeing them that we are starting to tune them out subconsciously – a phenomenon called banner blindness.

This overwhelming, cutthroat competition for limited attention, as well as audience skepticism, are driving healthcare marketers to reconsider their tactics. Paid ads still have a place, but only within the context of what audiences are truly looking for: building relationships.

Audiences are already connecting with healthcare influencers and participating in virtual communities online. Influencer marketing simply introduces the conversation on those platforms.

With something as critical as health, credibility is everything. Influencers, who have earned their audiences’ trust, come across as more believable than even the most polished messaging from a healthcare brand.

Finally, the internet has changed the way people are managing their health. A wealth of information and reviews about symptoms, providers, and treatment options have empowered them to become equal partners in the process. These research stages are great opportunities to communicate with influencers.

How to Use It Well

Influencer marketing has a long history in consumer products like cosmetics, tennis shoes, perfumes, and clothes. It’s one of the highest ROI marketing strategies, averaging an incredible $6.50 for every dollar spent.

There is tremendous potential for the healthcare industry as well. Wired magazine published an article featuring WEGO Health, a Boston-based web platform that connects pharmaceutical companies, medical device manufacturers, and hospital systems to social media influencers.

Here are a few things to keep in mind to make influencer marketing work for you…as well as some examples of brands who have successfully pulled it off.

1. Decide on Your Specific Marketing Goals

Influencer marketing can help throughout the entire scope of the process – all the way from awareness of a health condition, to diagnosis and treatment, and follow-up.

Here are just a few ways influencers grow healthcare brands:

  • Become “the face” behind special marketing campaigns or social media initiatives
  • Consult/comment on marketing materials to make them more effective
  • Create content you can share on your social media platforms
  • Endorse brands with formal testimonials (as long as they comply with the FTC)
  • Offer access to wider (and different) audiences
  • Raise awareness about causes, health conditions, new solutions, etc.
  • Recruit patients for surveys and focus groups
  • Speak on panels or at events

One Chicago hospital, Edward-Elmhurst Memorial, brought in professional race car driver Danica Patrick to speak at their “Healthy Driven” event. She added some star power and unforgettable moments, which you can see below:

Bottom line: influencers aren’t one-size-fits-all marketing solutions. The best choice for you depends on your goals.

2. Find the Right Influencers That Align with Your Goals

Once you’ve decided on your marketing goals, it’s time to find the best influencers to achieve them.

Who qualifies as an “influencer” anyway? Celebrities and other public figures come to mind immediately, but the label is actually much broader.

Influencers can include:

  • Public figures – Celebrities, politicians, athletes, etc.
  • Qualified peers – These are “normal people” who have experienced the same health issues as your audience. Their insights make them someone to listen to, relate to, and trust.
  • Subject matter experts – Providers, scientists, and healthcare organizations

Many healthcare influencers are individuals, but they don’t have to be. An endorsement from an influential non-profit association, like the American Cancer Society or AMA, can be just as powerful.

One woman, Barby Ingle, has dealt with a chronic pain condition ever since getting in a car accident 15 years ago. She has turned her experience into patient advocacy. Here’s a Tweet from Amino Health discussing one of her Facebook Live streams:

Here’s a screenshot from the Skin Cancer Foundation website that explains its seals of recommendation. These can make all the difference to health-conscious shoppers searching for the best sunscreens and lotions to minimize their risk of skin cancer.

Where do you find influencers like this?

Start by paying attention to the people and organizations already talking about your brand. If former patients are sharing positive experiences on blogs and social media accounts, it’s easier to develop influencer relationships organically.

You can also reach out to “bigger names.” Social listening tools BuzzSumo and Keyhole are great for finding the top influencers for specific hashtags, keywords, and subjects. Platforms like WEGO health, a networking platform for influencers and healthcare brands, are also popping up.

Remember, popularity doesn’t necessarily equal influence. It might be better to partner with a knowledgeable, well-connected influencer with 10,000 Twitter followers than a celebrity with 1 million. You have to take into account how well their audience fits with the message you want to convey.

Poor targeting is why reality TV star Kim Kardashian faced a backlash after promoting the morning sickness drug Diclegis on her Instagram account. People complained that she had no medical training. The content wasn’t a good fit for the stuff she usually posts to connect with followers.

3. Measure The Results

One of the biggest challenges of influencer marketing is measuring your return on investment. Which influencers are most effective? And in which applications?

Fortunately, digital tools are making this process easier. Healthcare brands can check their analytics to see how many visitors are coming from each influencers’ content and compare performance. You can even assign influencers unique URLs (short links) to help with the tracking process.

Working with the right healthcare partner is the best way to make sure every marketing effort gets tracked and is easy to access and understand.

Tapping into the Power of Relationships

Influencer marketing is a fancy term, but the idea behind it is simple. Partner with people your audience knows, likes, and trust. Then have those partners share your message for you.

Doing it well comes down to knowing your goals, choosing the influencers who align with them best, and tracking the results like you would with any other marketing effort.


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