Influencer marketing in pharma

The word influencer was added to the Merriam-Webster dictionary in 2019, but influencer marketing is nothing new. Scandals, fake followers, bot technologies, and the pandemic crisis converged have put a halt to influencer marketing growth and tarnished the public view of influencers as a whole. Can pharma leverage influencer marketing?

Across the board, in­flu­encer mar­ket­ing was worth around $9.7 bil­lion in 2020, ac­cord­ing to In­flu­encer Mar­ket­ing Hub, which es­ti­mat­ed the mar­ket would grow to $13.8 bil­lion in 2021. At the same time, over­all dig­i­tal ad spend in the phar­ma space sky­rock­et­ed 242% year over year from Jan­u­ary to Feb­ru­ary in 2020 and 2021, Me­di­aRadar re­port­ed.

As social media has become a more integrated part of our lives, influencer marketing has exploded. People are turning to their favorite Instagram stars, Twitter personalities, and YouTubers for advice and recommendations on purchasing decisions, but does this apply to prescription drugs? The answer is “maybe.”

The online buzz around Wegovy and weight loss was very high but has cooled off significantly. Google Trends has reported that the top search terms for Wegovy besides weight loss are “Wegovy cost” and “Wegovy side effects.” Can influencers persuade people to ask for Wegovy?

Influencers have already been talking about pharma

Just search Twitter for any drug brand name, and you’re going to find a lot of comments, both negative and positive. People want to know about product costs and, more importantly, product side effects. One physician on Twitter said that “while Wegovy shows promise, patients would be aware of potential side effects with long-term use.”

The critical question is, “can buzz via influencers and social media lead to new Rx’s?”. Dr. Jillian Ney, UK’s first Dr of Social I Social Intelligence & Conversational Data Expert I Data IQ 100 Influencer 20/21, says, “the obsession with measuring numbers in social media has to stop. I’ll say that again, the obsession with measuring numbers in social media has to stop. Social media conversations are made up of thoughts, feelings, opinions, intents, behaviors, and actions; by analyzing buzz alone, you miss the context of these conversations – the part of the conversation that holds business value!

Yes, people may talk about your brand and you want to know how many conversations there are but what exactly are they saying, and what impact is that having on your wider business objectives?  Can you really go into a senior management or board meeting with a buzz chart?

The other issue regarding influencer marketing is the ethical use of influencers. Influencers have a moral and practical obligation to continue to be true to their audience by producing genuine content and meeting their needs. Followers will start turning away once posts start feeling spammy, scripted, or like a commercial.

There are opportunities with influencer marketing for pharma, but it’s a tough line to cross in many instances. I can only imagine how pharma legal and regulatory people feel about influencer marketing, but allowing people to share their open and honest experiences with specific treatments could help patients decide if a treatment is right for them. The final barrier is going to be the prescriber, though. Influencers can’t overcome the reluctance of physicians to write an Rx for a product they have questions about.