Think differently

Health: the unsuspected power of influencers on social networks

Loick Menvielle , Professor, Management in Innovative Health Chair Director
Lena Griset , Teaching Assistant
Rupanwita Dash , Management in Innovative Health Chair Senior Research Assistant

In an article originally published in French on The Conversation, Loick Menvielle, Léna Griset and Rupanwita Dash (EDHEC, Management in Innovative Health Chair) highlight the role of influencers on consumer perceptions of healthcare players.

Reading time :
3 Jan 2024

Social networks are essential marketing and sales territory for all businesses. It's a fact that puts influencers at the heart of the game, even in the healthcare sector, which is considered "non-commercial" in France. As in other fields, these personalities, who are followed and even adored on online platforms, are in a position to influence consumer perceptions of healthcare players.

Among the most followed are Michel Cymes (140,000 followers on Instagram and 371,800 on TikTok) and Marine Lorphelin (984,000 followers on Instagram and 17,800 on TikTok) in France, and Dr Mike Varshavski (4.5 million followers on Instagram and 2 million on TikTok) across the Atlantic.


Trusted virtual advisor

The reality of this influence is one of the conclusions of our latest study (to be published), carried out as part of the Management in Innovative Health chair at EDHEC Business School. In this survey of 630 people, we found that influencers play a key role in the trust that individuals place in brands. In other words, in a world where patients are often looking for reliable advice in the turbulent sea of online information, the health influencer is still perceived as a trusted virtual advisor.

Our study, carried out in France with over 600 respondents (a large proportion of whom were young people and social network users), shows that almost 40% of the population surveyed seem to attribute a certain importance to homophily, i.e. perceived similarity, when it comes to assessing the level of expertise of influencers.

In addition, almost a third of participants believe that interaction with influencers in the healthcare field leads them to consider these influencers as medical experts. Finally, in around one in four cases, the reliability of the medical information disseminated by influencers depends not only on the perceived similarities with them, but also on the way in which they interact with their community.

So the stronger the similarity and the greater the level of interaction, the greater the positive impact on the reliability of the recommendations issued, significantly increasing confidence in specific drug brands.

Our results therefore confirm other recent studies which show that these influencers, through their unique interpersonal dynamic with their followers, can be more effective than celebrities or traditional advertising in building consumer trust in a brand.


Transparency needed

These analyses have key implications for marketing practitioners and healthcare companies. The research highlights the need for a more nuanced assessment of influencers, taking into account their expertise, interactivity, trustworthiness and homophily, to increase brand trust and achieve desirable marketing outcomes. For influencers themselves, maintaining their expertise and reliability is also essential to staying relevant.

However, it is essential that pharmaceutical players and stakeholders involved in healthcare delivery understand and do not underestimate the place and role of these influencers. Although the French regulatory context imposes a strict framework on communication and advertising in the healthcare field, it is becoming necessary for all stakeholders in the medical sector to invest in this field of reflection from which they cannot remain aloof.

The acceleration of the phenomenon of health influencers in the United States - consider, for example, the scandal surrounding Ozempic, an anti-diabetic that was misused to lose weight and widely recommended online - should make us aware of the need to anticipate phenomena over which pharmaceutical and medical players no longer have control, particularly in terms of communication and the message transmitted to patients.

At a time when social networks are influencing our perception of information and health, companies are faced with a real challenge arising from the need to adapt and navigate this complex landscape while respecting the ethical standards imposed.

In today's hyper-connected world, health influencers are invaluable allies for companies, but only those brands in the sector that are able to establish genuine relationships of trust with their audiences will be able to gain a decisive advantage over their competitors. This trust can only be acquired and sustained through irreproachable ethical practices, which in turn imply total transparency with regard to the public's well-being. Ultimately, it is by combining the power of influence and ethics that brands in the healthcare sector will forge a solid and lasting reputation, based on sincere and mutual trust between the key players.


This article by Loick Menvielle, EDHEC Professor and director of the EDHEC Management in Innovative Health chair, Léna Griset, EDHEC Research Assistant and Rupanwita Dash, Senior Research Assistant in the chair, has been originally published in French in The Conversation under licence Creative Commons. Lire l’article original.


Photo by Austin Distel on Unsplash

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