January 24, 2023

Unlocking the Power of Influencer Collaboration in the Pharma and Biotech Sector: Benefits, Compliance and Measuring Impact

Recent cross-sector research by PR Week has demonstrated the dramatic rise in investment in influencer marketing post-COVID, with some commentators seeing it as a marketing channel in its own right.

Whilst this isn’t quite the case in the highly regulated sector of pharma and biotech, more companies are recognising the power of working with influencers to better understand a health condition as well as educating and empowering people.  In this blog we explore how this can be done compliantly, the benefits and measuring impact.

What do we mean by ‘influencer’?

We’re not talking about Kim Kardashian holding up your product here.  This is about finding people who have a condition or a point of view on a health issue and can speak from a perspective of knowledge and experience. An influencer can become a foundational part of your health communications programme, alongside patient groups.

In some ways, pharma pioneered working with ‘influencers’.  There is a well-established approach going back decades of identifying health care professionals who have therapy area expertise, are well networked and speak at conferences or publish papers regularly.  They are referred to as Key Opinion Leaders and they are often invited to join advisory boards and get involved in clinical trials. Similarly, the concept of the Expert Patient was well known – emerging out of the HIV and AIDs crisis in the 80s and early 90s.

In the last 10 years this identification process has moved online and opened up our ability to find people who perhaps don’t fit all criteria but over-index in one really important aspect. Take rare diseases for example. An individual’s ‘reach’ may not be large, but their relevance and resonance scores could be off the chart based on the number of people impacted by a particular rare disease. These people are often called ‘micro-influencers’ and are most likely the people that pharma and biotech companies are looking to partner with.

How do we do this compliantly?

When it comes to pharma the challenge is to make sure the content is authentic, whilst ensuring that it doesn’t breach the PMCPA Code of Practice (in the UK – other countries follow similar codes). The tendency is to try and control content that is created by influencers and it loses impact. The solution here is to ensure that influencers know that they can’t talk about any kind of medicine as that would be seen as promotion of a medicine to the public.  They create the content that they believe is going to resonate with their followers, but it does need to be reviewed by an approval team to ensure that there are no more unintended and subtle Code breaches within. It is important that the approval team understand from the outset what the campaign needs to achieve – authenticity and content that resonates.

This does take time, so it is important that there is a strong relationship with the influencer and that they understand the process and why it exists.

Alongside the specific regulations of the pharma sector, all other guidance stands – transparency, being clear on what the contract includes and doesn’t.  It is likely that a small payment in recognition of their time will also be required. As long as all content is compliant, this shouldn’t cause a problem.

What are the benefits of working with influencers?

Pharma and biotech companies are improving the impact of their social channels by being more consistently human and deploying the right mix of paid and organic content to build followers.  More could be done to ensure all content is optimised for search, but that’s another blog 😊.

However, even with these improvements, pharma can’t compete with the reach and impact of a relevant influencer.  Influencers are trusted by audiences and understand the content that audiences will engage with. Not on TikTok yet? Influencers often are.  Data is showing this channel is growing across all age groups in terms of popularity. Body positivity and empowerment are popular themes and pharma would do well to understand the tone used by patients themselves, before launching in with ‘solutions’ to health problems. Health communications programmes and digital marketing strategies must be based on audience insight to drive impact.

Another article in the PR Week series on influencers, makes the argument for involving influencers in the creative process.  They are the experts on the content that their audiences engage with, so you will create more impact collaborating with them from the outset.

Working with influencers is also a really good way of securing editorial media coverage. When it comes to health, journalists will always want to speak to someone experiencing a particular disease.  It is quite a big ask for a member of the public to talk to the media about any health condition, particularly one which has a stigma attached to it like psoriasis.  However, influencers are used to talking about their experiences and this is crucial in trying to reach audiences through traditional media.

The collaboration must deliver benefit both ways, so when approaching the influencer think about what the benefit is to them as well as your campaign.

How do we measure impact?

When done well, influencer programmes will drive the online authority of patient activation websites and content.  This is done not just by driving traffic, but also through backlinks. The benefit of this is your site ranks higher in a google search and more people can find it. Depending on what your objective is, setting meaningful KPIs for engagement, conversion and online authority are key. Working with an agency to define what a Return on Investment (ROI) looks like is the foundation for measuring impact.

Great influencer programmes are about relationships; they should not be transactional. Seeing the impact in the same way that you would other parts of your advocacy relationship strategy is a good way to look at the ‘softer’ benefits of the investment.

To chat about how an influencer relationship strategy might benefit your campaign, contact catherine@curioushealth.io or jaquie@curioushealth.io

Related Blogs:
5 ways communications can build online authority.


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