patient influencers


Cystic fibrosis patient influencer, “I think using patient advocates instead of paid actors goes a long way in getting others to trust the company and the product.” Patient influencers have existed for over a decade but only in recent years have pharma marketers pursued a relationship with them for the value they can bring to their product. What is the difference between lifestyle influencers and patient influencers, what makes the patient influencers effective and how do pharma companies work most effectively with them?

Lifestyle versus Patient Influencers

Lifestyle influencers typically don’t focus on health issues such as living with medical conditions and taking medications. When they’ve built their large following on their home, their hobbies and their clothes introducing medical issues usually seems like paid marketing, “I’ve been following you for years, so why am I only hearing about your debilitating migraines now?”

Patient influencers focus on health issues and medical conditions with a sprinkling of lifestyle content mixed in. Managing their medical condition is often the core of their lifestyle. The best come across as real, raw and authentic. They aren’t living off the income they make as an influencer, they are devoting their online time to the communities they manage and inspire. Even though their number of followers can be small, their impact and engagement with their followers is significant.

A WeGoHealth survey found that only 14% of followers felt they could mostly or completely trust information shared by a lifestyle influencer on a sponsored ad or post while 51% mostly trusted or completely trusted the information shared in a sponsored ad or post of a patient influencer. Half of the survey respondents were not at all likely or only slightly likely to research medications promoted by a lifestyle influencer versus over half who were mostly likely or very likely to research a medication promoted by a patient influencer.

The Best Patient Influencers

Over 86% of patient influencers are receptive to partnering with pharma marketing or advertising initiatives. Partnerships have to be a true collaborations that honor the expertise and autonomy of the patient influencer. Identifying the most effective patient influencers doesn’t start with number of followers as you would expect. Authenticity and transparency are more important than number of times they engage their followers or how large their follower base is. Other patients find it most important for the person sharing the information to be genuine and real and particularly someone who is living with the condition. The best influencers uncover the pain points within their community and share a perspective on a medication’s ability to solve those problems.

The Best Pharma Relationships

The best patient influencers don’t want to lose the trust of their community just for a sponsored post. Pay-to-play sponsored content campaigns can backfire if patient leaders see through companies that just want them to add a logo. How can pharma brands share control with influencers to build patient trust and engagement?

First they need to identify the right voices typically those who are leaders in their community and passionate about helping others by sharing their own experience in what they’ve learned about treatments, how they’ve separated truth from misinformation and how they manage their own daily struggles with their condition. Pharma companies must build direct and long-term relationships with these patient influencers. A company rep, not an agency rep, should approach them with care. Ask questions and listen. Focus on what they are passionate about and what they are interested in collaborating about, not what you need. It is a long-term relationship, not a one-off ad.

Different strategies will be needed for different influencers. Be open to different approaches for different social media leaders. Options will open up once you have developed relationships with strong partners who trust you.

One in three consumers in the U.S. consult social media for health-related matters. As the average consumer’s access to scientific and medical information increases via online media, consumers become less reliant on their physician’s expert opinion. Instead, consumers, especially those with an illness, search for people whose experiences mirror their own.

Interested in a career in the pharmaceutical industry? Contact Smith Hanley Associates’ Biostatistics and Clinical Data Management Recruiter Nihar Parikh at

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