Pharma Companies Look to the Future of Advertising With Social Media Influencers

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Social media influencers are certainly nothing new. People who have managed to garner a large following on sites like Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and the like have quite a bit of pull within said following. These “microcelebrities” are now a subject of interest for pharmaceutical companies who are looking for new ways to advertise their products. The idea being, these people have enough clout on social media that it’s the next best thing to having a fully-fledged celebrity endorse your product.

However, there are a lot more nuances to this new form of marketing than it might appear at first. There is a lot of skepticism surrounding this idea regarding how well it actually works. Not to mention, not everyone is happy about the idea of the patients themselves being used for advertising.

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How it works

To put it simply, this method of advertising involves drug companies getting in touch with social media influencers who then go on to talk about the medication to their followers on whichever social media platform they are on. More often than not, these influencers are patients themselves, which helps to lend credence to the statements that they make about the drug they’re advertising.

As it turns out, this method of advertising is incredibly lucrative, not just for the company whose drug is being advertised, but for the patient doing the advertising as well. However, companies that specialize in this new form of marketing have been sprouting up and are making quite a lot of money themselves.

One of these said companies is called Wego Health, and its business model revolves around helping pharmaceutical companies get in touch with potential patient social media influencers. In Wego Health’s case, patients who feel that they have a significant following on social media can visit Wego’s website and signup to be matched with a pharmaceutical company. From there, the patients can talk with the company they were matched with on Wego’s website to discuss their future partnership.

The benefits

While the company hasn't quite crossed the $10 million mark in revenue, Wego Health is still making a profit, having increased company revenue by $3 million since 2017. This isn’t very surprising considering the fact that studies have shown that nearly one-third of consumers have purchased a product or service after seeing a social media influencer recommend it, demonstrating just how lucrative this method can be for both the drug companies and the marketing companies that help them get in touch with the influencers.

It’s not just pharma companies and ad agencies that are reaping the benefits, however. The patients themselves can make a good deal of money themselves while working as influencers. On top of this, these influencers have the opportunity to share their stories and help get more people like them familiar with medications that might help them.

Criticism and regulations

While there are certainly many positives to be had through influencer marketing, things are a little bit more complicated for drug companies who decide to go this route. Since these social media influencers are talking about things that can affect people’s health and wellbeing, there are, of course, regulations surrounding what they can or can’t say, as well as rules for what they have to say. Not only does this make things tricky for the influencers, as they have to follow strict guidelines, but it means advertising medications takes much longer than it would to advertise other kinds of products.

This new form of marketing has also had a lot of people who are either skeptical, or just plain against it. Some doctors and researchers have expressed concern that offering financial incentives to influencers could end up hurting patients more than it would help. It is possible that some of these social media influencers could end up blindly advertising products just so that they can be paid, without thinking about the kinds of damage that they could cause to the people who end up listening to them.

The idea that influencers may unscrupulously recommend medication or other products without thinking about the potential harm it could cause gets particularly worrisome when considering the fact that nearly 90% of people aged 18-24 will trust the health information that they find on social media. And so, this raises considerable ethical concerns regarding paying patients to recommend certain medications to treat the same illness that they are suffering from. Because who’s to say they won’t recommend something completely ineffectual or even harmful just for the money?

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