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How Healthcare Marketers Can Work with Online Influencers

Amelia Burke-Garcia

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The U.S. and other countries are facing an ever-evolving series of health issues, including obesity, food deserts, child hunger, poor maternal health outcomes and the resurgence of communicable diseases. However, health communicators and marketers have traditionally talked about health where people are looking for it.

If we are to make health an important part of our everyday lives, we need to weave it into everyday conversations and experiences—and the emergence of online influencers presents an opportunity to do so. Online influencers have built large and engaged followings in social media that give them the voice and the platform to reach millions of people with personal points of view. There’s a great opportunity for health promotion programs.

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For my new book, “Influencing Health: A Comprehensive Guide to Working with Online Influencers,” I drew from research with more than 400 online influencers, the latest industry data and my practical, real-world experiences. To provide practitioners with an understanding of how this online community works, as well as tips and tricks to successfully navigate it, I explored the concepts of opinion leadership, risk, fatalism, and online influencers’ willingness to talk about health.

The following are select excerpts from the book.

On influencers as opinion leaders…

The main appeal of everyday layperson influencers is that they are ordinary people giving an ordinary person’s perspective. They talk about a range of subjects, from gaming and fashion to music and politics. Their “ordinariness” and their accessibility allow their audiences to identify with them. This leads to a higher-than-normal level of notoriety for an everyday person, and with that popularity, some have become incredibly powerful as they are able to influence the opinions and purchasing behaviors of huge numbers of people.

On influencers writing about health topics…

Ultimately, how online influencers come to the topic of health is not universal and not necessarily linear. It is complex and oftentimes messy, but that messiness means that there is an opportunity. There is the potential to weave health into any context—if the story is a strong one and the influencer sees a place for it both in their writing and with their followers.

On influencers and risk…

Risk is real for influencers. If they say or do something that alienates their followers, their reputation could be jeopardized and they could lose followers, paid engagements and ultimately income. Weighing the risk of sharing information about health (or any other topic) will be an important part of the decision-making process about whether or not to work with an initiative.

On influencers being fatalistic…

“I believe that influencers are a special ilk of people. Many of them started blogging to build some sort of network or community—even if it was just within their own family. I think this initial behavior of starting a blog exhibits their innate anti-fatalistic beliefs. I mean, I do not think they would have started their blog if they didn’t think it would make a difference.

Amelia Burke-Garcia, PhD, is an award-winning digital health communicator and researcher with more than 15 years of experience creating innovative and impactful digital interventions for health programs. Burke-Garcia’s work has included supporting flu vaccination by working with MeetUp groups across the country and partnering with the Waze mobile application to promote HIV testing. She has also been examining the role of influencers in health communication and research for more than a decade. She is the author of “Influencing Health: A Comprehensive Guide to Working with Online Influencers.