For a young healthcare business, influence marketing should be at the top of your marketing plan. Healthcare is a pragmatic industry. Providers want evidence-based solutions with proven outcomes. But they also like to follow the leader. When an industry thought-leader or a well-respected institution supports a new product, others will happily jump on board.
Consider signing on a high-profile Chief Medical Officer. A CMO will have a valuable role in steering the science behind your product, but their most important contribution may be to endorse and promote use. A wallflower CMO is not a key influencer. They should be out in the field, speaking, writing papers, contributing to curricula, giving presentations, and showing up in the media.
Seek bigger and better clinical partners for trials to secure results data. This may be a regional health system or other provider group depending on your niche. Consider medical teaching facilities, which can be more receptive to new solutions. Clinical trials can provide invaluable efficacy data but they can also build relationships with brand champions to add to your influence network.
Build your reputation together. A brand champion’s notoriety strengthens your product’s reputation. In turn, they gain notoriety as a vanguard allied with your innovative solution.
Where to Influence
The most powerful influence groups are the long-established non-profit associations such as the American Cancer Society and the AMA. Providers follow treatment recommendations published by these groups and payers support them. The value of their endorsement is priceless but hard earned. For example, in 2016, the AMA adopted ethical guidelines that have boosted the fast growing niche of telemedicine, increasing adoption from the big payers.
“The AMA’s resolution adds key guidance for physicians who were on the fence so far. It describes the professional ethics that, if followed, will allow safe healthcare to be extended via technology.” - Roy Schoenberg, CEO, American Well
Every niche has its predominant trade organization. These groups offer two forums for influence marketing.
Trade Publications — Guest publishing on industry trade sites and publications can be earned. The most respected trade organizations want quality content to attract industry engagement. But most trade organizations are for-profits — they sell as much promoted content as they share earned media. A pay-to-publish sponsorship may be worth considering.
Trade Shows—Conferences are run the same way. Some high-profile thought leaders may be invited to speak, but the majority of sessions are paid for by the presenter and usually bundled with booth space, promoted content and additional conference advertising space.
Content marketing is a system for generating and nurturing leads online by publishing and promoting content (not advertising) that gives value to your niche members. Content can be gleaned from your influencers and experts but should be filtered through a firm experienced in this very specialized type of influence marketing.
70% of internet users want to learn about products through content rather than through traditional internet advertising
For the healthcare IT niche, online marketplaces may be the key to extending reach. Marketplaces like the Apple Store’s medical section sells consumer apps like Ovia Pregnancy & Baby Tracker as well as tools for medical professionals such as NurseGrid Calendar for Nurses. Additionally, big players in healthcare IT are eagerly aggregating fully-integrated third party apps to add to their healthcare platforms like the Salesforce Health Cloud. These platforms can be a boon to a healthcare IT startup since they can receive the benefit of access to the platform’s existing customers, backed by a large sales and marketing machine.
Health forums connect patients with peers, clinical professionals, nonprofits, medical researchers, and healthcare companies. Many forums allow for direct contributions to community conversations, message boards and content, as well as paid partnerships and content promotions. Some sites such as PatientsLikeMe.com go even further, allowing partners to utilize user-generated treatment data for studies and initiatives.
Provider Social Media
Your CMO and product champions may not be avid tweeters. That’s OK. You can retain a firm experienced in healthcare social media to ghost-write social media for your experts. A good firm will spend the time to thoroughly understand the subject and obtain approval on long-form content like blog posts and whitepapers. Once approved, they will tease the insights from this content on social media with minimal intrusion on your experts’ time.
LinkedIn and Twitter will be the best platform to reach providers. LinkedIn Pulse can be an effective publishing platform for the high-profile brand champion. Medium.com is another social publishing platform that has a growing audience of healthcare influencers. Both are free, open platforms.
Provider Social Influencers
Your champion could have a paltry 50 followers on Twitter if that’s not their thing. Your marketing firm should engage the social influencers in your niche on Twitter. When a Twitter influencer retweets your content you will see a follower bump, but more importantly, your content can reach 50,000 instead of 50.
Patient Social Media
For most healthcare companies, you don’t need to go big on every social media platform. An average healthcare company will want to be most active on Twitter with some presence on Facebook. If your product has a significant lifestyle component, such as the personal care industry or anything falling into the wellness category, you may achieve higher engagement on Instagram or Pinterest where patients are pursuing their passions and personal fulfillment. If your patient niche skews toward youth, Snapchat may be the place.
Influence Marketing Firm Models to Avoid
Influencer marketing has been prevalent in healthcare since long before social media existed. Healthcare influencers go deeper than “retweets” and “followers”, falling somewhere between knowledge sharing, relationship selling, and public relations.
A new breed of marketing firm exists that specializes in “influence marketing,” but they are not necessarily playing the same game as healthcare influencers. These firms may be more about plugging commercial product by placement with a very popular blogger, youtuber, or social media maven; for example, placing an eyeliner product on the channel of a well-followed youtuber who posts makeover videos, or placing product pins of handbags on the Pinterest board of a fashionista with thousands of followers.
Use caution when engaging a firm to assist with “influencer marketing” since many firms that focus on this service may have no experience with healthcare or the subtleties of healthcare influencer marketing.
Identify your influencers
CMOs, clinical partners, product champions
Support them with a toolkit
Professionally crafted product marketing and communications materials
Place them in the right circles
Associations, marketplaces, forums, traditional and social media