Written by on . Pegasus.

Rise of the patient influencer: What does this mean during Covid 19?

Simone Stevens explains why pharma should be embracing patient influencers now more than ever.

As social media has grown, so too has the breadth of influencers and the opportunities to use social platforms. The pharma industry has traditionally been reluctant and risk-averse when it comes to considering influencers as a voice for their brand, but that’s changing quickly, with the increase in patient influencers.

So what is a patient influencer?

They are patients themselves, who use social media to share the highs and lows of managing their condition on a day-to-day basis. These influencers are communicating with other patients in their own, fresh voice – unmediated by patient groups or the third sector.    

The power of the patient influencer

Patient influencers offer genuine content in an authentic voice. It’s compelling for those living with the same condition, and can be significant in helping them cope. At its simplest, patients trust patient influencers. 

But what does this mean during lockdown?

For some people living with long-term health conditions, life can be isolating – even more so now. Social media provides the platform to easily communicate with others in the same situation, and patient influencers often have a strong loyal following which itself forms a dedicated online community patients feel part of.

Coupled with the increasing amount of time people are spending online, influencer partnerships provide a powerful way to communicate with patients right now.

Take for example, the World Health Organization (WHO), which teamed up with ‘virtual’ influencer, Knox Frost  – a computer generated personality – to raise awareness of how people can help to stop the spread of COVID-19.

While multiple sclerosis charity, MS Society, worked with BBC Radio 1 DJ and music influencer, Scott Mills, to provide the MS community with a ‘pub quiz’ during lockdown. And it has been sharing stories from patient influencers across its social channels.

So, what can patient influencers offer pharmaceutical brands?  

There are several ways patient influencers can offer significant support to brands:

  • Insider knowledge – understanding how they really think, feel and manage their condition can offer invaluable insights
  • Content creation – influencers are often incredibly creative with content and could support brand campaigns
  • Integration – working with social influencers could be the missing link in a communication campaign
  • Engagement and conversation – patient influencers and their audiences are passionate about their condition, and so monitoring how they engage could be key to campaign direction or even product development

Governing body acceptance

For a long time it has been unclear, in terms of governing direction, how our industry can work with influencers. However, the recent New Social Media Guidance (UK Code) launched by the Healthcare Communications Association has outlined key parameters to provide clarity. It advises that all content must be certified by a medical signatory and include a clear indication of the pharmaceutical company’s involvement, which aligns with existing guidance.

The health and pharmaceutical sector has always had its fair share of regulations. But this new guidance  should give pharmaceutical brands the confidence they need to progress patient communication. 

is a Senior Influencer Strategist at Pegasus. Simone has over 13 years’ experience in consumer, health and beauty comms, influencer marketing and digital communications. Simone oversees a pan-agency team who specialise in influencer marketing.