The influencer marketing industry is predicted to surpass $16 billion this year and the 2022 Hubspot state of marketing report highlighted that influencer marketing is now an even more popular strategy than search engine optimization (SEO). According to Hubspot, the majority of marketers work with influencers and have a dedicated annual influencer marketing budget ranging from $50K – $500K (or more).

If you think influencer marketing is just for consumer brands, think again. Business-to-business (B2B) marketers are also embracing the influencer marketing trend, mainly because their clients perceive co-branded and sponsored third-party content more trustworthy than traditional advertising. And what are all these businesses trying to achieve? Predominantly brand awareness, especially among new audiences through short form video on Instagram and TikTok.

Influencer marketing in healthcare

You may be thinking healthcare is too regulated to hop onto the influencer bandwagon. However, by operating within medical, legal and regulatory (MLR) parameters and respecting your geography’s healthcare-related promotion rules, you’ll be able to activate an effective influencer campaign.  If your healthcare product is not a prescription drug then you’re going to have a lot more content-related freedom.

USA Influencer Marketing Rules for Rx

Looking to activate a branded influencer marketing campaign for a prescription product in the USA? Make sure to follow these 10 rules!

#1. Influencers promoting prescription products are over age 18.

#2. If an influencer isn’t a patient, then use the disclaimer “not an actual patient” on images/video. If an influencer is a patient, then use the disclaimer on images/video provided by your MLR team which may look something like “actual patient; results may vary.”

#3. The first instance of the drug should use its full name as it appears on the drug’s label, which may include its generic name and/or key active ingredient.

#4. Discuss with your MLR team what messages/content is permissible to guide influencers. For example, there will be words/phrases to describe the disease or drug’s efficacy that MLR will not be cool with. MLR will go to the place of medical jargon, references and disclaimers, so it’s important to find middle ground. The post needs to be natural and authentic, but NOT put the company at risk of a fine.

#5. Similarly, there may be specific image-related guidance from MLR to follow e.g. patients may need to show before or after photos, the product can only be held by actual patients or prescribing healthcare providers, etc.

Influencer Marketing

#6. Whether a product is prescription or not, influencers are required to clearly disclose that their content is an ad:

  • “#ad” or “#sponsored” should be in the post text and influencers should tag their post as a “paid partnership.” Content will perform better if this disclosure is at the end vs. the beginning of the post. Your MLR team needs to advise if they’re comfortable with that or not.
  • Company handle/name tagged in the post text.
  • The first frame of a video or story should have a caption or text overlay with “sponsored by <insert company/brand name>.”

#7. Whether the influencer is posting a static or video post, the last slate should be the full important safety information (ISI).

  • The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) requires the ISI to be on screen for a minimum of 10 seconds for videos.
  • It’s not recommended to put the ISI in the post text because it may cause content to go over character count and then the ISI would be cut-off (causing a violation), or it will be overwhelming and make the post undigestible, deterring engagement.
  • For Twitter, where the above may not apply, MLR will likely allow you to use “common side effects: <insert 2-3 common side effects>: <insert ISI link>.”

#8. Unfortunately, since the FDA hasn’t updated its social media guidance for industry  since 2014 and so much has changed since a decade ago, you’ll need to implement the spirit of the guidance (i.e. fair balance) and work closely with your MLR team to produce compliant content.

#9. Even though the FDA permits promotion of prescription drugs on social media, the platforms have their own rules too:

#10. It’s critical that an  influencer is located in the USA (or another country where branded content is permitted) when posting. While this may seem obvious, if the influencer is on vacation in another country or is taking an extended trip, they have to post your content before or after they go. They can’t post while they’re in another country that doesn’t permit branded content (e.g. UK) even if the influencer is still a citizen/resident of the USA because it’s a violation of local rules.

It’s unlikely that the influencer is going to volunteer this info, so it’s recommended to write it into the contract, ask before the influencer posts and watch their feed to make sure they aren’t actively posting about being out of the USA prior to your content going live.

UK & Europe Influencer Marketing Rules for Rx

In the UK and Europe, influencers can’t promote prescription products on social media because direct to consumer marketing/advertising is not permitted. This is why disease awareness campaigns have been a major component of public relations and marketing in Europe for the last 10+ years. If you can raise enough awareness of the disease and it’s burden, then you can nudge patients to talk to their doctor who have been educated about the latest treatments via “scientific exchange.”

Influencer Marketing

So where do influencers come in? Influencers provide the most authentic and direct route to your target audiences. Engage them to tell their personal stories about a health condition and connect it to your campaign’s call to action e.g. disease self identification quiz, downloadable consultation discussion guide, etc.

If you’re unfamiliar with what is meant by “scientific exchange” or the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI) code of practice (or haven’t read the updated 2021 version yet), it’s recommended to give it a read before embarking on any public relations or marketing campaigns.

While these rules will stand you good (compliant) stead, it’s important that MLR teams review the guidance provided to influencers in addition to the content itself to ensure 100% compliance.