Pharma-Influencers Are On The Rise

This New Trend Is Sick

If you had to list the various industries that partake in influencer marketing, what would be the first three off the top of your head? Cosmetics, fashion, sporting goods? These are definitely the most common ones, if only because they are plastered on our social media feeds all the time. When it comes to listing ‘genres’ of influencers, we might expand our categorization to include fitness, health, food, travel, photography and so on. But it is rare (if ever) that we consider the pharmaceutical industry as one that also engages in influencer marketing.

Here’s a surprise: They do.

WeGo Health

This infographic is taken from WeGo Health, a company that specifically works to connect healthcare with Patient Leaders — influencers in the world of medicine. From the pyramid, it is apparent that they regard influencers as only second to experts themselves i.e. nurses, doctors, and medical practitioners.

Why are Patient Leaders so important and highly regarded?

A lot of the reasons might overlap with why businesses choose to engage influencers and brand ambassadors for their campaigns, but some might differ. Let’s explore 3 reasons why Patient Leaders are influencers just the same and equally important in their industries.

1 – Familiarity with the Product

An influencer who promotes Fenty Beauty is likely to be an organic user of the product. He or she has experience with removal, application, and wear, so their reviews of the Pro Filt’r Foundation, for example, is both genuine and accurate. This is the same with Patient Influencers who recommend a particular medication, remedy, therapy, or exercise for certain illnesses. Because they have first hand experience with the illness and recuperation, other patients are more likely to take advice and direction from them, than from a pharmacist or doctor who cannot relate to an individual’s personal experience beyond a certain level.  

2 – Shared & Lived Experiences

In typical influencer marketing, we’d identify ‘shared experiences’ through generic markers like age, gender, and country demographics. It can be assumed that a 20 year old woman in Singapore uses makeup similarly to a 23 year old woman in Thailand — age (which dictate skin conditions), and geographical location (which dictate weather conditions) result in a similar experience of wearing foundation out for an entire day.

These ‘shared experiences’ amongst patients, however, are a lot more personal and specific. If I suffered from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) for example, I would be hesitant to take wellness advice from someone with Depression, despite the fact that we might fall into the same demographic groups. These experiences cannot be generalized, simply because of their highly sensitive and particular nature.

Additionally, a doctor can only tell you what medication is supposed to do and what kind of side effects to anticipate. A patient who has taken the medication, on the other hand, can provide a detailed account of his/her lived experience, which far supersedes medical predictions.

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I’ve had implants inside my chest for over a year now and have zero regrets. The upside to all of this: I now have a 1% chance of being diagnosed with breast cancer. The downside? I lost all feeling in my breasts and, well, let’s just say they aren’t the most natural looking things all the time. I wrote about it all today on Breast Reconstruction Awareness Day 🙂 I also wrote about what no one talks about – what it's really like to be intimate after a double mastectomy. Lastly – I discuss a new technique designed to restore sensation in breasts after surgery (mine are completely numb). Science is so cool. Link in bio. @resensation #resensation #breastreconstructionawarenessday #breastcancerawareness #mastectomy #partner

A post shared by Lesley • The Road Les Traveled (@lesleyannemurphy) on

3 – Brand Awareness and Sales

Ultimately, drug companies are here to make a profit just like any other business out there. That being said, they are going to try and sell you a product no matter what it takes. Influencers, on the other hand, are not pushing for a hard sell. What is more important to them is the connection they have with their audience, so ads and sponsored posts are intermittent, threaded between their own content. This almost makes it seem like they are telling a story in a way, and occasionally highlighting the consumer products that are integral in their lives.

While they are rewarded monetarily for their posts and engagement rates, their living is defined by the organic content that they put out there on their own. Products simply help them along. According to WeGo, their system operates on a two-pronged basis. Drug companies who want to engage in a brand awareness campaign can contact WeGo and access their database for potential influencers to work with. It is more routine, however, for Patient Leaders themselves to reach out to WeGo. Those who have a large following on social media, opinions to share, as well as experiences living with certain illnesses are keen to come forward and become spokespeople. While there is a monetary incentive (just as with any other influencer), the main idea is to spread the word and support regarding pharmaceuticals and medical care.

Who are some Patient Leaders?

The two Instagram posts in this article are taken from Patient Leaders (not necessarily employed with WeGo). @imstilljosh is an openly-LGBT HIV activist, who is also a spokesperson for a dating site that does not discriminate against individuals with STIs. @lesleyannemurphey is a yoga teacher who is also a Breast Cancer Previvor.

Both these individuals, while not necessarily experts in their field, have first hand experience with each illness/disease. This makes them experts of experience, in a way. The majority of Lesley’s followers are female and belong to the 25-35 age bracket, which is the precise demographic of women who are susceptible to breast cancer.

Popular Chips

In addition, her engagement rate is on a general upward trend, which means that people are continually interested in her content. While Lesley posts frequently about BRCA, she intersperses these posts with travel content, and often manages to marry the two.

Popular Chips

This makes her a good patient influencer, because she shows fellow BRCA survivors how to live with their illness but at the same time not to forget that illness is but a small part of life, not the other way round.

Josh, on the other hand, has a predominantly male audience which makes sense because of the community that he represents. He also caters to an older age group even though he is fairly young himself.

Popular Chips

He is a strong advocate of PrEP (Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis), which is an HIV prevention tool, and most of his content centres on this. In between, he posts pictures of himself with encouraging and motivational captions.

A lot of Patient Leaders are still only highly active on blogs, likely because of the long-form writing that such platforms allow. Instagram is good for images and quick information, but generally people who require medical advice & opinions, as well as drug reviews, also look for comprehensive information. Nevertheless, influencers like Josh and Lesley are good examples of what Instagram can do for Patient Leaders — a fair balance of information and lifestyle, which makes the content all the more relatable and, in some cases, aspirational.

Concluding Thoughts

Influencers in the medical industry are definitely an up and coming pool of talent. In fact, it is strange to think that this industry hasn’t yet been inducted into mainstream forms of influencer marketing. It will be interesting to track the growth of more influencers in this field, and how exactly their brand awareness campaigns unfold. 

Written by Deesha Menon

Influencer Marketing at Popular Chips. Interested in social issues, narratives, books, social media, and machine learning.

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