As social media ‘influencers,’ patients are getting a voice. And pharma is ready to pay up
Anne Marie Ciccarella is not a doctor, though she spends a great deal of time with them. She’s not a researcher, though she routinely pores over scientific papers on cancer. And even though she spent most of her career at an accounting firm, she’s getting paid by drug companies for her opinions.
Ciccarella is one of a growing number of people who have leveraged their experiences as patients and the loyal followings they’ve built on social media into a career, no matter how small their audience.
For years, so-called influencers — celebrities, former reality television contestants and sometimes, former lawyers or other professionals — have hawked diet teas and hair products everywhere from Facebook to Snapchat. And now, pharma is catching on.
An entire industry has cropped up to link drug makers with the industry’s own version of an influencer — people, usually patients, who have small but devoted followings and who might be willing to promote their products or share valuable insights about the patient community. Ciccarella, for example, is one of nearly 100,000 such influencers on the rosters of Wego Health, one of a handful of companies that essentially act a patient influencer talent agency.
It’s a lucrative new frontier for drug advertising — and for patients, too, who benefit from close contact with the drug maker and, often, a fee. But it is also an increasingly regulated frontier, and one with ethical quandaries that some experts say the drug industry hasn’t fully considered.
“What has become obvious now is that micro-influencers, folks with smaller communities can have a dramatic impact on people’s behavior,” said Jack Barrette, the founder and CEO of Wego Health.