With the rise of influencer marketing as an increasingly popular integrated marketing communications strategy used across various industries, the pharmaceutical industry has taken notice. Companies are beginning to use this new tactic to build relationships directly with patients through partnerships with influencers. Healthcare marketers are beginning to define patient influencers as “individuals who promote pharmaceutical medications and medical devices.” Pharmaceutical influencer marketing is advantageous to companies because it allows them to leverage the marketing aspect of the patient’s experience with their products and services.
This tactic helps establish and improve relationships with consumers and is also appealing to pharmaceutical companies, often perceived negatively by consumers, as 2019 study, “Trust in healthcare” published by Edelman Trust Barometer shows that only 58% of Americans trust pharmaceutical companies. Research by Willis and Delbaere (2022) categorized three key types of patient influencers, as follows – expert patients, patient advocates, and digital opinion leaders. Patients who support other patients by sharing their disease experiences, information, and support in online communities are far removed from health care and pharmaceutical companies; they are actively engaged in sharing diseases, experiences, and offering support to other patients in online communities. The second type of patient influencers is patient advocates, third-party social media users who raise awareness of illness and disease. These advocates differ from expert patients because pharmaceutical companies recruit them to participate in developing and promoting their products. The third and final type of patient influencer is a digital opinion leader, who are actual health care professionals who are regarded as leaders in their field by their peers. These opinion leaders have a very active social media presence. Each of these three types of patient influencers has advantages for creating brand awareness and developing more positive brand perceptions of pharmaceutical companies.