Social media users respond to voice and human connection. People like people. This makes working with influencers an excellent way to impact your target audience.
When the words “social media influencer” are thrown around, it can sometimes trigger thoughts of makeup brands, clothing companies, or even beauty supplements. However, the vast world of social media changes every day, and one of the more recent changes is that anyone can be an influencer. If an online user has followers that hit your target audience, and their content is “brand friendly,” you have the perfect pairing for an influencer partnership that will get you ROI. Healthcare marketing is no exception.
During the pandemic, we’ve seen doctors become even more interested in being connected to brands they love and to their fellow health care professionals. Doctors are open to sponsoring products and devices they’re passionate about, just as a beauty influencer would promote a mascara they love.
Finding the Right Influencer
A lot of brands focus on the number of followers a person has and want to select influencers just based on this number. Don’t get me wrong, having a lot of followers is a great start, but it’s not everything. Influence isn’t just about follower count. Micro-influencers can actually have the biggest impact if they’re the ones who are engaging with the audience you most want to reach.
We are looking for KOLs – Key Opinion Leaders. Whether you’re on the hunt for patient or physician influencers for your brand, you want to ensure that their followers (no matter the number) are within your target audience and are engaging with the potential influencer’s posts.
You also want to make sure the influencer is “brand friendly.” Are they putting out relevant content that aligns with the brand’s message? Are they posting competitor products? Are they using profanity or language that the brand doesn’t want to be associated with?
Analyze an influencer’s profile and feed to determine who fits the brand’s bill. It’s important to establish with the brand’s marketing team that these points are what’s important when choosing influencers. Create a checklist with the marketing team that everyone signs off on. This way, once scouts are sent in to hunt down potential influencers, you are working off a consistent, agreed-upon standard that aligns with the brand strategy.
Choosing the Best Channel
Sometimes there will be questions about which platform to use for influencer programs. I’ve found that researching hashtags is the best way to find out whether a platform is appropriate. For example, if we’re looking for an influencer for a diabetic macular edema drug, we’ll search “DME” or “diabeticmacularedema” in hashtags across platforms. This not only helps give a sense of the conversation but also may provide insight into who is talking about your product or disease state the most.
At the moment, we’re running campaigns on Facebook and Instagram. That’s where the influencers are. But there’s always new players, right?
Enter TikTok. The channel is still new territory in terms of the medical field, but we’re keeping our ear to the ground because of the number of our target audience members that use it. More physicians are moving to TikTok to talk about procedures and patients’ stories. Patients are also going viral with their own stories. This is the kind of platform that can make a campaign go viral.
Content That Matters
When it comes to building the content, we put a lot of focus on staying within FTC and FDA guidelines for distributing information for sponsored content. However, we also try to cultivate a strong, trusting relationship with the influencers.
Get an understanding of their aesthetic on Instagram and how they speak in their posts. Content development is much more of a collaboration than a plug and play. Don’t say, “Okay, we’re going to make this post for you. Here it is. We’re paying you to put it on there.” It’s more that you are getting the influencers’ true thoughts, feelings, and opinions.
It’s important that the posts are in the influencer’s voice. Their audience needs to feel the person behind the post, and the influencer needs to feel they are being properly represented. This is why the working relationship with the influencer is so important.
Encourage influencers to follow along with prompts that are given to them to best align their posts with the goals of the campaign. For example, say, “Tell us about the first time you prescribed X to a patient.” Then take their answer and create a post for them, ensuring that all FTC and FDA language is incorporated. A copywriting team will ensure that you are retaining the influencer’s voice, while also staying compliant. Designers can then add the brand’s logo or important safety information as needed.
Legal Review Can Be a Breeze
To some, especially your MLRC or legal teams, it can be daunting to consider having influencers as branded partners who are not tied to the brand in the way an agency would be. Working with a team member experienced in social media marketing helps marketing teams approach their internal and the legal teams to communicate both the importance of social media influencers and the safeguards put in place to meet FDA and FTC requirements.
A good way to frame it is that this influencer is a kind of contractor. They are working with the brand, they signed a contract, and they are being compensated accordingly. Be careful about who you select. Once that person is on board, they should be trained and monitored the way an agency would be, and their duty to comply with company standards is included in their contracts. It’s important to make these teams comfortable with the idea of influencers and to reiterate that the risk is low and the potential ROI is high.
Once you have the influencer’s posts compiled and the influencer has signed off on them, put the post through internal or MLRC review. Any changes made from this point forward are communicated to the influencer, and work with them to ensure that the post is still in their voice.
After the MLRC team approves the post, provide a post distribution schedule to the influencer with the dates and times their post should go out. They’re given all the assets they need to post it on social media and be successful in doing so.
On the date a post is scheduled to go live, check that the post is live, that everything looks compliant, and that everything is posted as it was approved.
All branded language in these posts is tied to compliance the same way it would be in a normal post that goes out on a brand channel. FTC requirements have become very direct over the years and their requirements are easy to incorporate. For example, at the top of the post, you need to have “#ad” or you need to disclose that this is a paid partnership.
The biggest question for brands is always about how influencers interact with the community once they have distributed these posts. The post goes live and people are commenting on the post. How is the influencer going to interact under that post? How are they going to interact in direct messages? There’s always a big question about adverse events (AE), too. How is this person going to report an AE?
Consider creating a training document that can be molded to your brand. It can include approved responses that the influencer agrees to use under all sponsored content, and also a full briefing and overview on AE reporting and the steps an influencer needs to take to ensure an AE is reported to the brand.
If the brand prefers, the influencer can turn off Instagram comments under their posts so that all interaction on the post is restricted to direct messages. This isn’t ideal as we WANT engagement under the influencer posts, but it’s a compromise we’ve seen in order to push programs through approval.
Working with social media influencers is new to many pharmaceutical and medical device brands. I’ve found that a key to success is having clear, strategic steps that not only help retain control over the outcome, but also make all internal brand teams comfortable with the process.
It is vital for the brand to be properly represented and for regulatory authorities to be satisfied. It is also important for the influencer to feel authentic, which should happen naturally when you select doctors who truly love the brand.
To take full advantage of the potential in these campaigns, the personal voice must stay in the posts. People respond to specific, relatable facets of other human beings.
Again, I think it is important to emphasize that for these campaigns the reward is so much higher than the risk. We’ve seen amazing responses to influencers and from my POV, HCP and patient influencer campaigns deserve to be a standard part of brand planning moving forward for pharmaceutical and med device companies.