The Value of Influencers in Public Health Campaigns

COVID-19 changed consumer behaviour around the world and inspired new tactics for disseminating public health information across cultures, demographic groups and media channels.

As authentic thought-leaders with sharp insights into online behavior, influencers became valuable assets in many of these efforts. In fact, when targeting younger audiences with public health campaigns, influencers can help save lives by expanding the reach of accurate, actionable information. 

Shifting priorities & audiences

Today, if a public health entity wants to reach consumers, traditional channels like advertisements and print ads alone won’t cut it. Millennials and Gen Z turn to Instagram, TikTok, and YouTube as sources for news and advice, not just for entertainment. It’s essential for a public health campaign to have a presence on these channels. One group that took action with influencers on social media this year was NYC Health + Hospitals. The network tapped famous and influential New Yorkers including ballerina Misty Copeland and TikToker Trevor Bell, for its #TestandTrace campaign. 

Federal public health leaders and major pharmaceutical companies are also aware of the need to deploy a mix of social media and celebrity endorsements to boost public health messaging on a broader scale. Dolly Parton, who famously helped fund the Moderna vaccine, shared videos of her receiving both doses on social media. More recently, pop star and reigning Gen Z queen Olivia Rodrigo visited the White House to encourage fellow young Americans to get vaccinated. 

Now, not all public health and education campaigns can pull in major influencers. But that’s not always necessary. Influencers of all calibers can bring an added boost of engagement and creativity, driving awareness for essential campaigns. 

Balancing creativity, education & accountability 

Allowing creators to give content and messaging a personal flare can be very rewarding. However, keep in mind that working with a health department, hospital system, or social service entity will involve more strict guidelines than with your typical campaign. Influencers and marketing leaders working on these campaigns must maintain consistent, open communication to ensure that any content put out on behalf of the entity is both actionable and accurate.

For instance, Markerly was tapped by the Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS) to coordinate influencer content for its #HealthyTexas campaign. The vetting process was much more strict than with your typical campaign – it was essential to analyse past posts to ensure all influencers were adhering to the guidelines they were promoting including mask-wearing and social distancing. Influencer contracts also included stipulations requiring participants to continue following these guidelines for a set amount of time after the campaign. 

In today’s world on social media, everything can become easily politicised so you should also work with influencers who can keep these topics separate from their promotional content. At the end of the day, a public health campaign should appeal to the safety of all citizens, regardless of politics. Taking the time to review the history of an influencer’s posts and their overall behavior on social media to identify red flags is worth it when you are considering using them as the face of your public health campaign.  

Strive for authenticity 

Like with branded campaigns, the most impactful influencers are representative of your target audience. If a local public health entity is looking to engage with young constituents, don’t stray far from that demographic. Influencers who are already active in these spaces have a perspective into the concerns and interests of target audiences as members of these communities themselves. Campaigns raising awareness of public health issues, resources and information can be made more impactful with authentic spokespeople willing to talk about their personal experiences, offer tips and spark conversations.

During the #HealthyTexas campaign, 20 Texas-based influencers were involved, spanning from athletes, beauty and fashion influencers, to bloggers, and more. This diversity resulted in many unique takes on the subject matter. But across the board, each influencer was being their true self, adhering to the DSHS’s guidelines and finding ways to engage followers on an important topic in unique ways that traditional PSAs cannot. 

Listen & learn

Influencers are more relatable to young users than brand or company accounts. For that reason, they are better positioned to gather honest feedback on campaigns. Encourage influencers to create posts with open-ended questions that spark responses and discussion as well as action. The insights gathered not only help a public health entity understand how the campaign is being received, but they can also deliver broader insights into ways to better engage with young audiences on social media platforms. 

When influencers and marketing agencies work on public health campaigns, they’re part of a bigger effort to influence public behavior to save lives. With some research into new audiences and platforms, clear and consistent communication around goals and messaging, and willingness to respond to feedback, public health entities can find tremendous value in using influencers within their campaigns.

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