Healthcare: Is influencer marketing losing its way?

Healthcare's use of influencers has valuable lessons to offer practitioners in other areas of PR, not least because its practitioners hold themselves to the highest standards of accuracy.

Tanner: 'When misinformation is spread, lives are at stake'
Tanner: 'When misinformation is spread, lives are at stake'

Influencers wield considerable power that can be used for good or destructively – they can turbocharge movements (#MeToo), add billions to a company’s share price (or wipe them off) and even topple governments. This ever-expanding army is changing the way we feel, think and act.

From our influencers special: Exclusive survey – what PR and marketing chiefs really think about influencer marketing

The PR industry has embraced influencer marketing as clients aim to harness their power and authority for the benefit of brands. But are we losing our way? Unilever announced at Cannes it is cleaning up its act in influencer marketing. Along with not buying followers or working with those who have, it pledged to "prioritise partners who increase their transparency and work to eradicate nefarious practices throughout the digital ecosystem". Strong words that reflect the murky territory into which influencer marketing has been slipping.

The healthcare industry is bound by strict regulations, so is there anything we can learn from this sector to steer influencer marketing back on track?

In healthcare comms, we employ influencer marketing to promote healthy living, inform patients about diseases and treatments and share advances in science with the clinical community. We must hold ourselves to the highest standards of accuracy because when misinformation is spread, lives are at stake. The pharmaceutical industry is subject to intense scrutiny and transparency is critical. Full disclosure on influencer partnerships is needed to ensure that audiences aren’t misled about company involvement.

From our influencers special: Malala shows the power of influence wielded with clarity and care

While the size of an influencer’s following and audience engagement matters, relevance is king. Working with multiple micro-influencers is often better than one huge celebrity. For example, HIV affects a broad spectrum of society, including LGBT+ and black African communities. A one-size-fits-all approach will not resonate with anyone (and can do more damage than good). Working with multiple influencers – a voice in each community – is the way to have an impact.

CALM L'eau De Chris from Ramon Isaac on Vimeo.

When a campaign selects the perfect influencer, it can be powerful. Take ‘L’eau de Chris’, for example – a spoof aftershave ad bottling the tears of Love Island’s Chris Hughes, highlighting that suicide is the number-one killer of young men in the UK. Hughes launched the campaign for CALM and Topman on World Mental Health Day, talking about his own struggles with anxiety, humanising the message and making it relevant. The campaign worked because the influencer was able to talk authentically about something he cared deeply about.

We should enter into everything we do with the intention of doing good and partnering influencers who truly share our quest. We can’t put words in their mouths, so we must be confident that any influencer we work with has strong expertise and will do the right thing for the wellbeing of their audience.

Amid so much ‘fake news’, we in the PR industry must be bastions of authenticity and accuracy when working with influencers – to protect patients, our clients and our consciences.

Paul Tanner is chairman of 90TEN

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