How pharma can partner with influencers to build trust

Written by Missy Voronyak, Managing Director of Influencer Activation at Real Chemistry.

When a person is faced with a new diagnosis, they turn to the individuals they trust most – their physician, friends, family and other patients. Yet, it’s not always easy to find other people who have the same condition and can truly relate. So where do patients turn and how can pharma get engaged?

The answer is right in front of us – on our smart phones as we scroll through our social media apps. Many thriving online communities are centered around specific health conditions and diseases. A quick search on any condition reveals that some of the most compelling content comes from vocal patients and physicians.

Innovative pharma companies are recognizing that there is an opportunity beyond posting social media content to engage with these communities – they look for ways to build authentic one-on-one relationships with online community leaders to earn their trust and eventual recommendations. It takes a high level of sensitivity, patience and collaboration, and not all pharma companies understand the nuances of these communities to succeed.

It’s critical to recognize that the patient and physician voices who rise to the top are truly leaders in the community. These patients, in particular, are passionate about helping others by sharing their journey: what they’ve learned about treatments, how they’ve separated truth from misinformation, the access issues they’ve navigated, and how they‘ve managed the daily struggles that come with their condition. By authentically sharing their experiences, these content creators have earned the trust of hundreds or thousands of other patients, yet, in most cases, they don’t consider themselves “influencers” per se, and many shy away from the term.

If you look beyond the vanity metrics of followers, impressions and engagements, you’ll discover all the ways patient and physician online leaders support their communities offline: leading support groups, speaking at major events, leading awareness days, establishing nonprofits, advocating on Capitol Hill, and so much more.

As such, typical pay-to-play sponsored content campaigns can backfire when it comes to pharma unless it’s part of a holistic strategy. Patient and physician leaders can see right through the companies that simply want them to add a logo to their next post, and many are not willing to stake the trust they’ve built with their community on a one-off sponsored post.

So how can we engage online patient and physicians in meaningful collaborations over time? 

  1. Identify the right voices – Finding the right partners is both an art and a science. It doesn’t mean focusing on those with the most social media followers. It means looking for a diverse set of voices with various backgrounds and experiences.
  2. Build direct and long-term relationships – I learned years ago in my past life as a food allergy influencer that the best relationships begin with hearing from a company representative, not an agency rep (which feels too transactional). An incredible amount of sensitivity and nuance is needed to communicate effectively with patients and physicians directly, and every engagement must be approached with the utmost care – they are truly key stakeholders and we want them to be long-term partners with us.
  3. Explore meaningful collaborations – Asking questions and listening are key. This can be informal discussion or formal consultation and should focus on what they are passionate about and their interest in collaborating. Are they open to branded activations or only disease education? Are they taking your treatment or interested in educating the community about it? Leveraging social media listening is also important to stay informed about their online activity and relevance for specific collaborations.
  4. Create a holistic strategy – Not all influencer strategies should look alike within a company or across the industry. It should be grounded in where we are in the product lifecycle and leverage patient and physician voices across a variety of engagements, informed by the insights specific to each audience and disease category. The strategy may include additional behind-the-scenes consulting, media opportunities, co-creating content for their own social channels to reach your target audiences, as well as featuring them in your company content over time. The sky is truly the limit once we’ve found strong partners who trust us.

This approach is an evolution and a hybrid approach of what were previously separate workstreams in many companies – bringing together the best of patient ambassadors, public relations, influencer marketing and social media. Taking this evolved approach ensures patient and physician leaders feel heard and valued as partners and know your intentions are aligned with theirs. They will be more enthusiastic to partner with your brand and help extend your messaging to their communities.

Learn more about Real Chemistry and our white glove approach to patient and community engagement through real people and their authentic stories at or reach out to Missy directly at [email protected]

The editorial staff had no role in this post's creation.