Patient social media influencers are new frontier in pharma advertising

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Drug companies have been using social media influencers to promote products, and for years Boston-based Wego Health has acted as the middleman, bringing pharmaceutical companies and influencers together, according to STAT.

Here are five things to know:

1. Social media influencers are people,  in this case patients, who have a following on social media apps and receive payment to promote specific material, a new frontier for the drug industry and drug advertising. Wego Health is one such company that acts as a "patient influencer talent agency," according to STAT.

"What has become obvious now is that micro-influencers, folks with smaller communities can have a dramatic impact on people’s behavior," Jack Barrette, founder and CEO of Wego Health, told STAT.

2. Patients who think they have a dedicated following and want to work with brands reach out to Wego's website, where Wego matches patient influencers with drug companies.

3. Patient influencers are paid both for creating posts about a drug or device and for bringing their followers' opinions to the company developing products. Drug developers pay Wego to reach out to its influencer network to promote new products. A drug company's return-on-investment is rather high while using influencers, due to their work costing less than other forms of direct-to-consumer advertising like TV advertisement.

4. From using social media influences alone, Wego Health's revenue grew to over $3 million in 2017.

An influencer endorsing an FDA-approved drug will be sent  information about the drug's risks that must be disclosed. When Kim Kardashian West did not mention the risks of a drug she promoted  for morning sickness in 2015, the FDA sent the company a warning letter and asked Ms. Kardashian West to remove her content.

5. STAT confirmed with the  FDA that there are no restrictions on  who can serve as a spokesperson for a prescription drug. Wego provides its influencers with educational programs on specific issues to cover, disclaimers they need to attach and teaches them how to doublecheck their claims using online material.

"We’re definitely advising them on how to stay on the right side of that line, but day-to-day we’re not kind of looking at folks and saying, are you crossing it or not," Mr. Barrette told STAT.

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