Healthcare Influencers: Power, Possibilities, And Ethical Concerns
Healthcare professionals are held to a high standard of ethics, but in today’s social economy, many are also making their mark as influencers. Healthcare providers are also partnering with celebrities and micro-influencers to reach a broader customer base. What does this mean from an ethical perspective? It’s a complicated issue, and one that leading organizations need to address in order to keep patients safe.
Who Has Influence?
Who has power as an influencer depends heavily on the industry, but one of the growing trends is the heavy use of micro-influencers, or social media players with 1,000 to 100,000 followers. Why micro-influencers? While big influencers may reach far more people than micro-influencers, with follower counts in the millions, micro-influencers attract greater engagement from their followers. They also cost less to work with, despite more impact.
Doctors Vs. Influencers
In the world of healthcare influencers, there are two separate camps – social media professionals and doctors, dentists, and other healthcare providers. For those hoping to make a splash, each group has its pros and cons. The top medical influencers, particularly doctors and nurses, have authority on their side; they can speak about health issues and products with a degree of expertise that casual influencers can’t claim.
Of course, while casual influencers may not carry the authority of medical professionals, there is one major advantage for brands interested in working with them. There aren’t as many ethical issues when consumers promote a product or service. With increased attention on kickbacks and incentives in the medical industry over the last decade, patients can be wary of doctors who seem too intertwined with industry.
In the United States, direct-to-consumer marketing has created unusual preconditions for healthcare influencers, if only because consumers are already comfortable asking their doctors about products they’ve seen. Still, when it comes to social media, some industries are better suited to influencer efforts than others.
When deciding whether to work with influencers for marketing purposes, it’s important to consider what a practice offers. Aesthetic procedures, in particular, are ideal for influencer campaigns. Dentists thrive on partnering with influencers to promote cosmetic dentistry procedures, which offer both physical and aesthetic benefits, while dermatologists, ophthalmologists, and plastic surgeons have also done well on social media. Whatever the specialty, though, everyone needs to proceed with attention to compliance.
Whether influencers are healthcare professionals or independent social media professionals, it’s important that everyone ensures that ethics remains at the fore – and that starts with following FTC guidelines. Sponsored posts about healthcare products, like those from other industries, need to be clearly labeled as ads, and video content should mention sponsorship status at the start of the content. That’s not enough, though. While sponsored pharmaceutical content typically isn’t held to the same standard as direct-to-consumer advertising when it comes to risk disclosure, ethical influencers should be more aware of shortcomings.
One of the arguments for using influencers in healthcare marketing is that it enables more people to participate in the conversations around products and treatment. Influencers are viewed as more accessible, friendlier, and a means of democratization in a sometimes-elitist space. That’s a worthwhile consideration, and if it’s true, then influencers have an even greater obligation to consumers. Failure to present products responsibly could compromise consumer access even more.
The reality of current market trends is that influencer participation in healthcare isn’t going anywhere, as arguments for or against it notwithstanding. The most important thing that influencers can do for consumers is act with integrity when promoting products. Their support can be a boon to healthcare providers and manufacturers, but the stakes are much higher than for those influencers representing makeup or even fitness products, and everyone involved needs to keep that in mind.