Ethics of Social Media Success and Instagram Influencers in Healthcare
The booming market of social media influencers has spread its wings to all industries in today’s world, and the healthcare sector is no exception. Several medical organizations and professionals rely on the power of social media to spread knowledge, information and to garner trust for their services. Instagram Influencers in Healthcare have a vast market and reach just like their counterparts in any other industry. You only need to run a cursory search on Instagram. You will be surprised to see how more and more influencers are increasingly engaged in promoting public health campaigns, vaccines, health screenings, pharmaceuticals, and medical devices – to name a few topics related to the healthcare industry at large. Whether they are micro-influencers or mega influencers, nurses, physicians, medicine manufacturers, experimental researchers, or celebrity endorsers, the niche of healthcare influencers is expanding by the day. The technical success of this community on Instagram gets determined by the same algorithms that measure social engagement metrics.
It is no wonder then that to increase one’s audience radar and to push oneself upon the visibility metrics, most healthcare influencers rely on highly interactive posts like carousel posts, Instagram Stories with different interactive stickers, Story polls, among others. Poll votes are one of the most popular means of encouraging audience engagement and traction to one’s IG account these days. Healthcare Influencers are also making a real-time impact using regular posts, sponsorships, IGTV, and Live broadcasting. Many influencers are in the business because they can earn relatively well here. At the same time, many, especially established doctors, do it as part of philanthropic public service. However, there is a big chicken and egg question that surrounds healthcare influencers.
How Ethical is the Practice of Using Social Media Influencer Industry for Healthcare?
Ethics is an essential aspect of all healthcare practices. On the one hand, healthcare is a personalized service aimed at all individuals of society with no ulterior motives. On the other hand, healthcare is also a business that runs on the same profit and loss schema that other industries survive. So, when public campaigns are launched, say for a vaccine or to highlight the ills of smoking, questions are raised on authority, authenticity, and accountability. The reception of healthcare influencers thus hinges on:
Who is qualified to be a healthcare influencer?
There are doctors, nurses, and researchers who have first-hand authority over various medicine and allied industries. They are likely to be most trusted regarding knowledge and information dissemination about illnesses, drugs, and best practice solutions to health management. On the other hand, members of the medical fraternity, primarily manufacturers and suppliers of equipment and medicines, are also seen to team up with famous stars and local icons to attract more audiences and create a renowned market for their information and products. This pool of influencers may have little information about the medical fields. Still, they are used for product promotion and knowledge sharing based on their audience reach and active audience engagement rates on Instagram (as well as any other social media platform). For several critics of the healthcare influencers industry, this latter group of influencers is a controversial subject. Many believe that professionals should handle the domain from healthcare and allied industries only for best ethical practices.
What should be necessary information disclosure while creating influencer posts?
The healthcare industry and those associated with it need to be especially careful not to overstep any cardinal medical rules like disclosing sensitive patient information. They must adhere to guidelines that govern medical practices in the country of their residence. For instance, an American medical influencer must not break any AMA, FDA, FTC, or CDC protocols. In addition, all marketing should be clearly called ads, and all side effects of any product endorsed must be mentioned.
What degree of accountability can one hold healthcare influencers too?
Unlike endorsements of beauty or fitness products, there are higher risks of endorsing medical treatments, drugs, or self-medications. The question of accountability becomes significantly intertwined with the question of ethics in this regard. Who is to be held accountable for the information put forward by the influencer? How much accountability can be placed on the public for consuming information from social media and passing it around further? Can there be an ethical line of tracing back for misinformation? If so, what are the liabilities of the social media influencers in this regard?
This makes information-sharing about important health initiatives on social media a complex task for the medical industry. How can Instagram be used responsibly for the purpose? Who should be used for the purpose, and how should the chosen influencers handle audience follow-ups? Many in the healthcare industry do not have easy answers to such questions.
So, if there are so many gray areas in the healthcare influencer industry, what makes it an ever-growing in-demand career choice? What kinds of posts bring social media success for those choosing to work in this space, part-time or full-time? In other words, how does one escape the debates on ethicality and still be a healthcare influencer? The good news is, there are plenty of ways one can become a successful influencer for the healthcare industry without cooking up a storm over best practices and medical ethics.
Some Areas to Build Your Social Media Success on as a Healthcare Influencer
Ethics is all about knowing and following the limits of the dos and don’ts of any field, including healthcare. Here is a list of successful influencer spaces relating to healthcare and wellness on IG:
- Breaking down medical jargon for laypersons
Several doctors, nurses, medical students, and researchers are making it big on Instagram without getting into any ethical issues by simply making the medical field more accessible to the general public. Take the case of Dr. Mike Varshavski, who has over 4 million active followers on his Insta account. Dr. Mike gains his popularity by posting informative content on cancer-related health issues (his field of expertise). He shares tips on reducing cancer risks and aims to improve the general lifestyle of his followers by making medical knowledge more understandable and relatable.
- Sharing information on functional medicine
The same is true for non-allopathic medical practices. From therapeutic yoga to herbal medicines, mindfulness to wellness stress-busters, becoming a functional health coach gives you a whole range of allied fields to work in. The key is in presenting the same to the ordinary person in a relatable and understandable format. Take the case of Deepak Chopra, an advocate of alternative medicine. Chopra uses his social media presence to highlight the spiritual aspect in the mind-body connection. His feed is hence full of quotes, sayings, and take on ancient wisdom passed down generations in stories and parables.
Whether you are advocating for chronic disease management or prevention of the same, functional medicine has several popular subfields for Instagrammers.
- Nutrition and self-care – Dieticians are also gaining much Instagram visibility and reach for their holistic and well-planned posts on nutrition and lifestyle choices. This field is highly individualized and gives influencers a lot of space to interact positively and engage with their audience.
- Lifestyle and exercise – Much like nutritionists, fitness coaches, and athletic wellness consultants are trendy on social media, and Instagram is no exception.
- Meditation and stress management – Mindful management of one’s body and needs is another popular category that finds organic followers and engagement.
Note: In addition to the above, several pharmaceutical companies and medical equipment manufacturers are taking to social media to spread information and knowledge about their products and services. Hospitals, private practices, and alternative institutions are often seen to run endorsed ads on social media platforms like Instagram. Most of these raise questions about information authenticity and intent of the endorser and are hence more prone to be judged for their ethical viability than general information sharing.
It all Comes Down to the Power of Social Relationships
Influencer marketing, for healthcare or otherwise, functions on one primary line of action:
- Decide on what you want mass dissemination of knowledge about.
- Partner with someone who has considerable reach and trust.
- Get them to share your message for you.
To do this without breaching any ethical boundaries, one must:
- Have their goals clearly defined?
- Working with influencers who clearly understand the best ethical practices comes down to knowing your goals.
- Follow up and keep track of the collaboration results to ensure all protocols are maintained as intended.
The best way of determining that the influencer collaboration for your healthcare business does not skirt controversy is to ensure that your campaign has the following dos and don’ts in place:
- Stress on factual content. Present your information with verifiable data. Include fact sheets, infographics, and charts with your posts. While presenting any additional information, ensure that your sources are reliable.
- Make use of interactive tools that grow audience awareness. Instagram is, after all, a social networking platform. Give your audience ample opportunity to connect and be aware of your content. Use IG Stories to create countdowns to informative sessions. Use IG Live to allow for real-time queries and across conversations. Be prompt in responding to comments and DMs. Create fun awareness-building quizzes, surveys, and polls.
- Violate medical protocols or your country’s Instagram rules and regulations. As healthcare professionals (or as an influencer allied with the healthcare industry), it is of utmost importance to ensure your content does not overstep any HIPAA guidelines. Some universal ethical guidelines of medicine include not disclosing patients (or any marker of their identity) or their medical histories without consent.
- Indulge in selling at the cost of information sharing. It is easy to promote and sell products and services. However, it is always a better marketing strategy to concentrate on information sharing over product selling when it comes to sensitive industries. Soft sell your merchandise, if that is your goal, but prioritize educating your audience.
Following the above in your Instagram strategy is most likely to bring organic growth to your engagement rate and your active IG follower count.
To sum up
Social success for influencers working in the healthcare niche is a sensitive subject that is not always directly measured by visibility charts, income, and popularity. As an influencer, one must always tread the fine line between the dos and don’ts of the industry. Yet, one must also ensure that their posts are growing reach and visibility for more successful information-sharing. It is also the paradoxical job of the influencer to keep the audience from using Instagram as their go-to space for medical knowledge. No amount of influencer information is substantial for substituting a conversation with a doctor when in genuine doubt over any medical issue. No matter how successful, social media influencers are not replacements for healthcare providers. An ethical influencer recognizes this and will remind their audience of the same, especially when clinically backed advice is the need of the hour for the audience. The healthcare industry surely needs collaborative projects with conscientious influencers to spread the right information in the digital world!