How Social Influencers Are Thinking About Health in 2019

In the digital age, a brand’s identity is shaped as much by what consumers tell each other online as by the brand’s marketing efforts. Social influencers often have a direct line to the audience brands care about most, and increasingly, influencers’ work is overlapping with health and wellness brands, healthcare, and even big pharma.

A single influencer can talk about a wide range of topics in the health category, from highlighting CPG lifestyle products like oatmeal or deodorant to promoting life-altering pharmaceuticals. However, for many health-related brands, working with social influencers is a new frontier, and it can be tricky given intentionally vague FDA and FTC guidelines. Companies working through clinical trials for FDA approval, and those that have received FDA approval, need to be very methodical in their work with influencers, making clear what their social partners can and cannot say in posts.

Because of this, it’s more important than ever to understand what’s top of mind for influencers to ensure you’re partnering with the right individual to share your message. The #BlogHer Health conference earlier this year provided consumer health communicators an opportunity to learn about these strategies and trends directly from influencers.

Here are a few themes emerging in 2019.


Taboos aren’t off limits anymore

Now more than ever, influencers (and their audiences) crave authentic conversations about holistic health. Brands and influencers alike can no longer focus on just one aspect of an individual’s health, and they must be more open to talking about previously taboo topics like mental and sexual health.  

For example, social influencer Lee Tilghman recently partnered with Hologic to raise awareness about Cervical Cancer Awareness Month and encourage followers to schedule their OB-GYN appointment to check for signs of cervical cancer—a sexual health topic that previously would have only been discussed in the privacy of your doctor’s office.

But beware: Because of those FDA and FTC guidelines, one key component for communicators to keep in mind is sincerity. For an influencer to talk about your message or product ethically, it is important that the influencer’s claim is sincere and authentic based on their experience—even if they’re being paid.


Influencers are getting real and making a conscious shift to achievable health

We know that everyone only shares their best on social, but some influencers like Massy Arias are vowing to show what’s real—the good, the bad, and all the hard stuff. At #BlogHer Health 2019, influencers urged their peers to start being more transparent and genuine with their audiences as opposed to doing branded work that perpetuated unachievable perfection (e.g., fad diets).

Celebrity and activist Jameela Jamil launched her I Weigh movement to celebrate differences and advocate for holistic healthy living, including raising awareness about the irresponsible and unsafe celebrity-endorsed advertisements for diet suppressants. A branded example of this trend is Louise Roe’s paid partnership with Celgene, a biotechnology company that produces psoriasis medication. In her paid posts, Louise talks about her personal experience with psoriasis and flaky skin, adding credibility to her point of view and getting real with her followers in the process.


Influencers and brands are focusing on purpose

The importance of purpose is also showing up in the influencer world, with many in the field being more vocal about how they’re leaving the world a better place. With this in mind, it is more important than ever to ensure brands are working with influencers who not only align with their brand voice and target audiences, but also share similar values.

Last year, Unilever, one of the biggest advertisers worldwide, announced that it will not work with any influencers who buy followers. Instead, the company would prioritize partners who support increased visibility and transparency. By only working with influencers who match their values, Unilever can ensure their partnerships align better with the overall brand.


Brands are focusing on micro-influencers

When it comes to influence, the prevailing philosophy has always been “bigger is better.” In a world where brands often need to “pay to play,” they should now consider adding micro-influencers (anyone with ~10K to 500K followers) to the mix. While their follower counts are smaller, these niche experts tend to have a captive audience and very high engagements rates, without the steep price tag.

Last year, pharmaceutical company Dexcom launched its #DexcomWarrior campaign during Diabetes Awareness Month. The campaign featured sponsored posts with the hashtag from Derek Theler (691K followers at the time) and Jay T. Maryniak (434K followers at the time). Shortly after these posts went live, unpaid influencers and followers began using the same tag to share their own struggles with Type 1 diabetes and how a Dexcom device had changed their lives. Although this is just one example of how smaller influencers’ motivated audiences can drive engagement, brands across industries are making this shift—a recent survey from Rakuten Marketing found that 28% of global annual influencer spend goes to celebrity influencers whereas 40% goes to micro-influencers. 

At the end of the day, the biggest priority for a brand should be to find an influencer who aligns with the brand’s mission and can speak authentically to their message. There is no one-size-fits-all solution when working with social influencers, so it is crucial to do your due diligence when vetting potential partners and to be a good partner to influencers as they craft the message they will push out into the world.


For more on how health and tech are working together to tell human stories about innovation, read our whitepaper, "The Health Tech Culture Clash: Bringing Progressive Communications Approaches to a Historically Prescriptive Industry."

April 11, 2019

Alyssa Townsend
Account Director

Health Sector Team