Back in June I read an article on the BBC about influencers and the potential backlash against them. It is fascinating to see the rise of the influencers on social media and the impact they are now having on people’s lives. It is a sign of our times that some of today’s biggest celebrities online are not movie or pop stars but ordinary people who through a combination of hard work, luck / timing and personal investment have managed to build themselves up as online influencers. Some of these online “stars” can get as much as $20,000 per post and they can have incredible power on people’s behaviours and attitudes.
Sadly not all of this power is well used and we have seen plenty of health scandals and issues that have arisen as a result of influencers sharing false information, such as the vaccine issue or an increase in body dysmorphia as teenagers try to mimic the perfection they see on Instagram.
This issue is then further compounded by an increasing use of cheats and fake accounts to build up the accounts – often to appear to be more influential and therefore generate higher revenue from posts. As the article mentions this is very vexing for the influencers who have actually got to where they are by a great deal of hard work, rather than paying someone or a company to boost their followers for them. I fully understand them – I personally have been working hard to build my own Instagram account, only to then see a friend’s account jump by over 6,000 followers in a matter of days. On closer inspection most of his new followers appear to be fake accounts but this still seems to be working in giving him a leg up in terms of impact and visibility. I myself now am wondering whether I too should consider this route – because frankly I do not have the time to spend in order to get thousands more followers.
Whilst for me this situation is vexing it highlights an important issue – namely that there seems to be little remedy for the rise in fake accounts … and the subsequent influence they help generate. Whilst those teens see perfection what they may not realise is that a great deal of that perfection is in fact fake and bought.
One could argue that one potential remedy is for companies to invest more and put more effort into countering negative influence, e.g. in the domain of vaccines, however this is unlikely to happen in the near future. Particularly in pharma I would question whether many pharma companies have the talent and resources to do this anyway. As an industry we are still woefully behind, and this is not helped by a lack of internal training and understanding on this critical channel, or senior management support, e.g. through extra headcount and resources. I see this lack of resources and expertise through the teams that I support but also by the low number of jobs coming up in pharma social media (heads up I’m looking – email me if you have an opportunity!).
My fear is that by the time we as an industry have caught up to where influencers are today it will be too late for many of our patients. Unless we start to really invest in this mainstream channel, and build up the teams and expertise to do so, we will continue to lose ground to the fake news and false information that is being pushed by online influencers with a very different agenda. And do we not as an industry have a duty of care to our patients to try to ensure they have access to accurate information? I would say we do but I do not see us meeting this duty of care through our continued ignorance when it comes to social media.