Can influencer marketing work for pharma on social media? One agency thinks so

Pharma companies often partner with celebrities to help spread messages and sell products. But there's a new kind of digital celebrity out there—social media influencers—that pharma has only begun to tap.

With influencer marketing, brands tap people, usually well-known or with large networks, to represent their products. While influencer marketing includes the traditional paid celebrity spokesperson model, the new wave in social media sees companies pay those who may not be famous or celebrities in the traditional Hollywood or network TV sense to talk about their products—usually products that the influencers actually use. 

With legions of followers, the top social media stars are in demand by brands for their broad social media reach and trusted status; new research from influencer marketing agency #paid and Nielsen Consumer Insights found that people trust what they see from digital influencers more than any other kind of advertising content. Social media influencers produced a 60% greater shift in brand perception measurements, which, in the researchers' estimation, makes them even more trusted than traditional advertising celebs. 

Adam Rivietz, co-founder of #paid, said traditional ad vehicles such as TV and print drive general awareness for pharma brands, but social media influencers work much better in the middle of the sales funnel to drive metrics such as brand consideration and purchase intent. Rivietz's company has worked with health and wellness brands, although not pharma yet. Still, he sees social media influencer marketing as a solid marketing tool for pharma.

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The idea is that those online influencers, who are typically more popular with younger demographics and more digitally connected consumers, could act as ambassadors for a company, treatment or medicine they’ve used by telling their stories along with mention of the product—all labeled properly as an ad or sponsored post, of course.

“That is the sort of the generic template of all influencer marketing, but I think it drives it home well in pharma specifically. Because for someone who is making a decision about what they’re going to ingest into their body, having that trusted voice is so important,” Rivietz said.

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Part of that is finding authentic social media mavens who have product experience and affinity for brands—and vice versa. Pharma companies that want to work with these emerging personalities need to prove their value, not just a paycheck, Rivietz said.

“Influencers are so particular about what they are willing to endorse and what they’re willing to post on their feeds,” he said. “We’ve set up a double opt-in. So not only does the brand have to approve the influencer before we contract them, the influencer has to choose to endorse that brand. And they’re not going to work with just any brand.”