tim goddard

Tim Goddard

The global biopharmaceutical industry has long recognized the value of engaging influencers: partnering with researchers, physicians and advocacy groups to speak at events, publish manuscripts, and share information that creates the right environment to deliver treatments to patients who need them.

While the importance of these relationships has not diminished, the industry must also now focus attention on social media, where a new group of individuals with deeply personal interests in diseases are easily connected to audiences that are eager for information. With these open exchanges online, a few voices can be exceedingly powerful, regardless of validated knowledge of the subject.

Here we lay out five simple steps to optimize identification and engagement with online influencers:

Understand what you’ll do with the output

Before you begin mapping influencers it’s important to have a clear understanding of what you will do with the results. Are you looking to arm affiliate offices with actionable information to drive local engagement or will outreach occur at the global level? Will influencers help create a campaign or merely help to spread awareness about it? All of this information will shape the methodology and search parameters, and will inform conversations with medical, legal and regulatory stakeholders who will want to weigh in prior to outreach. Far too often companies invest significantly to map influencers without a clear vision of how the results will be used, leading to in-depth reports that never get actioned.

Mind the 90-9-1 rule

In healthcare, social media influencers tend to reflect “offline” influencers, with patients/caregivers, healthcare professionals, and advocacy organizations all key in shaping conversations. There is no one-size-fits-all approach to identifying the right mix of who and how to engage. Sometimes you have content that you want disseminated, other times you need assistance shaping content. By segmenting online audiences into distinct groups based on social behavior we can tie outreach strategies to the unique needs of a campaign or initiative, ensuring messaging is carried to those who need to hear it.

Influencers: Representing less than one percent of social media users, influencers drive the conversation on a given topic. They create and share content, raise new topics and introduce information to new audiences.

Sharers: Sharers represent roughly nine percent of social users and will help to carry a trend or extend a conversation by pushing out and redistributing information. However, they typically don’t create content themselves.

Observers: The vast majority of social media users (as many as 90 percent) are observers. They might occasionally comment and share, but for the most part they are consumers of information rather than active participants in conversations.

Assess all three R’s

When gauging influence, many people focus on the simple metric of followers, likely because it’s the easiest and cheapest to measure. Too often communications professionals look purely at reach in determining who to engage, whereas the subjective measurements of relevance and resonance are equally important to finding and engaging the right audience who cares about the messaging.

Reach: How large is the audience of a particular influencer? A larger audience suggests greater potential influence, but does not guarantee it.

Relevance: Regardless of reach, an influencer’s interests must be relevant to yours. Despite what a Klout score suggests, Justin Bieber’s 82 million Twitter followers are going to be much less interested in a public health story than the U.S. CDC’s 600,000 followers.

Resonance: Resonance is the ability to create changes in attitudes, beliefs or behaviors — or the ability to inspire action. Resonance captures how likely an influencer’s audience is to engage — that engagement can include clicking a link or changes in health behaviors.

Look beyond the mapping tool

Like social media in general, the tools that measure influence are constantly evolving, each with its own benefits and drawbacks. Regardless of the technology used, there’s no replacement for human analytics in assessing who is the right fit for your campaign or outreach initiative.

Ask yourself a series of case-specific questions about each influencer to determine if they are the right person or group for you to engage:

Is the influencer sharing content relevant to your interests? How frequently?

Does the location and/or language of the influencer align with your strategy and audience?

Has the influencer worked with the industry in the past? If so in what capacity?

How does the regulatory environment affect your potential relationship?

If the answers to these questions meet your program’s needs, you’re ready to make an informed decision on whether the designated influencer would be a strong candidate for engagement.

Approach engagement as a partnership

Identifying potential influencers is the first step in the engagement process. Once you have a list of targets, develop an outreach strategy to maximize connections and credibility. Global teams must work closely with their local counterparts (and should include medical affairs and country patient relations directors where appropriate) to determine existing relationships and align on who will engage the designated influencers. Keep in mind that the approach for engagement may vary significantly from one influencer to the next, even in the context of the same campaign. Customize your outreach and remember: you don’t necessarily have to Tweet at an online influencer to get in touch; make a phone call or set up a time to meet in person. Though a lot of interaction occurs online, the personal touch will never become obsolete.

Changing industry dynamics combined with an ever-evolving media landscape have arguably been felt as much in the healthcare industry as in any other. This makes the responsibility of telling an engaging story that will reach our audiences more critical than ever before.

Despite these challenges, the opportunities are many for healthcare companies to reach communities online to share the latest science, demonstrate leadership in disease communications and most importantly, to help drive conversations that will result in helping patients manage their conditions.

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Tim Goddard is senior vice president of GLOBALHealthPR.