Influencing Health: A Comprehensive Guide to Working with Online Influencers
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The emergence of everyday online opinion leaders has created a whole new market for shifting consumer perceptions and behaviors. In fact, many of these everyday online opinion leaders, called influencers, have built such large-scale social media presences that they now have the voice, the platform, and the following to reach millions of people with personal points of view on any number of topics. There are great opportunities for engaging with online influencers to support health promotion programs. However, navigating this online community is new to many people. Understanding how this online community works, the opportunities for paid and unpaid engagements, and the value that health programs specifically have with this community, is paramount to successfully working with influencers. This book draws from research with over 400 online influencers, the latest industry data, and practical, real-world experiences working with influencers over the past ten years. An easy-to-read guide for marketers and health communicators alike, this book leverages storytelling as a means for sharing lessons-learned and providing readers with practical knowledge about the online marketing industry and influencer community, as they relate to health.
Dr. Burke-Garcia is a seasoned health communications professional with 20 years of experience in health communication program planning, implementation and evaluation. At NORC, she leads the organization’s Digital Strategy and Outreach Program Area and is part of the leadership team for NORC’s health communication science practice. In these roles, she designs and implements strategies that leverage the science of communication (in particular, digital media) to influence behavior. She has been overseeing the award-winning How Right Now/Que Hacer Ahora campaign since 2020, which aims to increase people’s ability to cope and be resilient. She is the author of the books Influencing Health: A Comprehensive Guide to Working with Social Media Influencers and Communicating Through a Pandemic: A Chronicle of Experiences, Lessons Learned, and a Vision for the Future. She has been highlighted by the U.S. Surgeon General, Dr. Vivek Murthy, for her work in honor of Women’s History Month and has been named to VeryWellHealth.com’s list of 10 Modern Female Innovators Shaking Up Health Care. She is a Founding Member of the Society for Health Communication and sits on the Boards of Directors for the non-profits, Vaccinate Your Family and the Global Alliance for Behavioral Health and Social Justice. She earned her bachelor’s degree in International Development Studies and Humanistic Studies from McGill University, her master’s degree in Communication, Culture and Technology from Georgetown University, and her PhD in Communication from George Mason University.
Chapter 3: The Business of Relationships
As I have mentioned, the world of influencer marketing is made up of hundreds of thousands of individual influencers. And many of them belong to networks that help connect brands with these influencers and their followers. These networks are shaping this industry into what it is today—and will become in the future.
But this was not always the case. The early days of blogging were unstructured and technologically limited. Blogs were new-ish. Social media, as we know it today, did not exist. Paid social ads did not exist. Unique URLs were not heavily used yet.
But for the pioneers of the day, those things did not matter. They were doing this out of curiosity, for community, and because they were passionate about whatever it was they were blogging about.
Their work, their mistakes, and their successes would help build the foundation for the world we know today.
One of these pioneers was Cooper Munroe. She eventually went on to found and run The Motherhood, one of the oldest and largest mom and parenting networks around. But at the time, she was just someone who was starting a blog.
Cooper started her blog in the early 2000s. Prior to this, weblogs had started popping up and journals like Newsweek were featuring sections in their publications called, “Excerpts from the Blog.” However, most of these pieces featured white men writing about technology and politics. There was no diversity. There were few, if any, women writing blogs at this time. There were hardly any female voices at all. And, certainly, there were no moms writing blogs. It was a singular perspective about only a few topics.
Yes, certain women’s communities were flourishing at this time but women’s magazines, and other similar forms of communication, did not seem to align with the everyday woman’s experience. For example, if you bought a women’s magazine-of-the-day, it was highly likely that you’d see an article featuring a “24-Step Process to Breast Feeding,” but the piece would have been written by someone just out of college.
So it was a new world for women’s voices, and the few who had decided to start a blog were brave. For those women who were blogging, they were sharing stories about their lives in ways that had never really been done before.
At the same time as these blogs were popping up, communities and everyday-life connections were also changing. People were becoming more mobile. As a result, people were not living next door to family or maintaining strong connections to the communities where they lived as they once had. Relationships were distant. Where once generations of women (mothers, daughters, aunts, and grandmothers) would often sit around the kitchen table drinking coffee and talking, now, if you needed support or community, you had to go out and find it.
Considering these things collectively, this time period was unique. There were few female voices online, and the ones that did exist tended to be more corporate-type websites. And these did not really represent the everyday woman’s experience. As well, people, specifically women, were seeking out connections with others that were less and less available in their physical neighborhoods and communities.
And while today, many argue that the Internet may be negatively impacting relationships, it was, in fact the Internet that provided the solution to the challenges of those early days.
It was because of the advent of the Internet and the emergence of weblogs that more and more women began building online communities to address this need. And in these communities, women began sharing their stories and building strong relationships. They began to showcase how they were the experts in their own lives.
And of all the women who were actively self-organizing online at this time, the first group to really do this was the moms. It was revolutionary to say the least. Yet, despite their cutting-edge vision for cultivating a community of moms online, these pioneering bloggers were often not fully appreciated. In fact, many of the early articles about the emerging world of the “mommy blogger” were often considered disparaging.
Then, in 2005, immediately after Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast, federal relief efforts were failing. So this small but mighty world of women bloggers began organizing to help.
And Cooper was one of them.
In response to what was going on, she decided to write a blog post about getting donations to the Gulf Coast. But remember, this was not the technologically connected world influencers operate in today. There was no Facebook or Twitter. Cooper did not even have a unique URL for the blog.
Because of this, she thought they’d maybe get a couple of responses to this post, but instead—and to Cooper’s great surprise—they got tens of thousands of them. They received so many that the blog crashed.
This moment crystallized for Cooper how powerful these communities and networks really were—and were going to be in the future. When there was a problem, there were people who were so connected that they could be quickly organized to help solve the problem. And technology enabled that connection. In this case, this had been a completely female-driven initiative, and it had been immensely successful.
Moreover, at a time when the meaning of “community” was changing, it was a strong reminder of what true community really meant—it didn’t require any longer that people to be face-to-face to have a strong sense of community; rather, it meant people finding each other and coming together around a common cause, issue, or passion.
In fact, it did appear that this network of bloggers was really like a community. A neighborhood. So Cooper created The Motherhood modeling it on this idea. Her aim? To build an online community for women and moms from all walks of life to come together around the issues they care about most.
Today, that same mission guides the network. It touts more than 3,000 members and more than 500 campaigns nationwide. However, it now operates in a very different environment, one that is more organized, monetized, and commoditized. And this new environment is shifting the relationships influencers have with other influencers.