Forget social media ‘likes’; the real influencers in healthcare comms are patients

If you’ve worked in this industry for more than a decade, you’ll have seen a heck of a lot of change.

The real influencers are patient advocates, argues Alex Davies
The real influencers are patient advocates, argues Alex Davies

I started my career in a press office that had a fax machine the size of a large suitcase.

We never used it, of course (I’m not that old), but I’d like to think we could have keenly faxed off a press release to the News of the World (remember them?) should the internet ever have broken down.

My first work phone was a BlackBerry, which was so solid, you wondered whether bits of it were actually made of stone.

It had one of those little plastic wheels (no touchscreens back then) and the battery lasted about a week.

Social media was only beginning to emerge and only the most forward-thinking brands were considering it as an important communications channel.

Today, of course, it’s everywhere.

But let me pose a question: in the desperate clamour to embrace the latest social-media channels and trends, have we lost sight of what’s really important?

In the world of healthcare, what does ‘influence’ really mean?

Is it the number of followers you have on Instagram, or your ability to make a difference?

Some of the most impressive patient advocates I have ever met wouldn’t come close to an agency’s ‘influencer map’.

They don’t have a slew of pretty pictures; they aren’t paid by a bunch of businesses to flog their wares (#ad) and they wouldn’t know a hashtag from their handle.

Instead, they all share the same remarkable trait: an unflinching desire to ensure no one else has to go through what they have been through.

They are utterly selfless in their mission to ‘influence’ on behalf of others.

As healthcare communicators, we should be hugely proud of our industry. Unlike many others, good PR in healthcare can save lives.

Whether it’s increasing early diagnosis rates or securing access to a life-saving treatment, what we do can have a huge impact.

We need to remember this when we start talking about ‘influencers’.

We should resist the temptation to jump on the bandwagon driven by other sectors – the people we know as influencers are more used to haranguing a Health Secretary for access to a medicine than they are posing in a pastel-coloured hotel room.

We should be proud of this and remember it when the time comes to design the next big campaign.

These brilliant people can be found in all sorts of places, including through charities and the local newspapers (they’re often found raising money by doing all sorts of things), so let’s go out and find them.

Alex Davies is a director at Hanover Health

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