Before the pandemic, social media influencers were known mainly for projecting beautifully curated lives to sell a broad range of consumer products. Creating a role for healthcare professionals (HCPs) within that landscape was daunting. But as health misinformation spread online during COVID, HCPs responded. Platforms that were once considered risky territory for medical professionals suddenly became an important space to share factual, science-based information.
In early 2020, conversations on Twitter about health and wellness increased 54%.1 While this should have improved health literacy, it helped fuel misinformation. An MIT study found rumors spread faster than accurate information and falsehoods are 70% more likely to be retweeted.2 Twitter wasn’t the only platform affected: Facebook, Instagram, and others came under scrutiny, too. More than 100 TikTok videos on COVID-19 that collectively racked up nearly 1.2 billion views were studied and found to offer very little useful information.3 HCPs now recognize they can play a critical role on social media by sharing and amplifying credible information.
Navigating Social Platforms Successfully
For HCPs, it’s critical to safeguard professional autonomy and patient privacy while also striking the right tone. Mastering each platform’s culture can be tricky. As Dr. Austin Chiang, a gastroenterologist with more than 500,000 Instagram followers, points out, the question is always, “How do we present ourselves online without eroding the public’s trust in us?”4
Some ways HCPs can lean into these environments effectively include:
- Co-create content that’s easily digestible, pithy, and jargon-free.
- Use visuals native to the platform: polls and quizzes (Instagram); chats and Q&As (Facebook, Twitter); and videos (YouTube, Facebook, TikTok, Instagram).
- Tap into humor and trending content (e.g., dance) only if it’s true to the HCP’s personality.
- Inspire as you educate. Personal experiences are most compelling.
Creating an HCP Influencer Strategy
There has never been a better time for brands to engage HCP influencers—research shows 61% are open to partnerships.5 Building an influencer strategy requires careful handling and oversight. To begin, consider three steps:
1. Focus: HCP communication feels more organic in disease awareness, public health campaigns, or peer-to-peer education. Branded engagements must be credible and transparent.
2. Content: To ensure authenticity, content must be fully co-created. Present basic guardrails but trust your influencers to shape content to speak to their audience.
3. Guidelines: Messaging must conform to FTC guidelines and include necessary disclosures and disclaimers.6 Content should be monitored and moderated for adverse events and product complaints.
When engaged responsibly, HCPs can be a force for good on social media. When patients go online for health information, finding a credible, qualified HCP who can offer connection, inspiration, and insight can make a powerful difference and potentially save lives.
3. Basch CH, Hillyer GC, Jaime C. “COVID-19 on TikTok: Harnessing an Emerging Social Media Platform to Convey Important Public Health Messages.” Int J Adolesc Med Health. 2020 Aug.
5. Forbes, January 2021.