The Patient Perspective: Patient Influencers and The Impact of Authenticity

As any patient will tell you, there’s nothing like out of touch, unsolicited medical advice from companies to get them to slam the door in your face. When you’re sick and you’re trying to decide how to manage it — there’s simply nothing more infuriating than a tone-deaf portrayal of your illness in a commercial or print ad to make you feel alone, misunderstood and unseen.

Just as we demanded that women stop smiling and frolicking in fields during tampon commercials, so too do we demand a realistic representation of patients telling us how to live and cope with different diseases.

Real people, not actors has become a tagline for authenticity in healthcare. As patient consumers, we’ve become conscious of how gratifying it feels to see our stories represented as they are truly experienced. As we become veterans of our diseases, it becomes our duty to light the way for others as they have lit the way for us.

So who do patients want to get their advice from outside the exam room?

Becoming An Advocate of Influence

Like many others, I became an accidental influencer when I started sharing my story through my blog. I was writing about my highs and lows, my hospitalizations, and helplessness as I fumbled my way through a new diagnosis. I talked about the mental olympics it takes to go from being told “this is how you’re going to treat your disease” to taking an active role in planning your treatment with your doctor. I talked about leaving a place of shame and self-consciousness and asserting my voice in the exam room.

I found myself blogging about how if the patient-doctor relationship was a two-way street, we might actually end up where we wanted to go.

Across the internet, my journey was mirrored by cancer patients, autoimmune patients, chronic pain patients–and so many others. It wasn’t long after I started my blog that I was nominated for a WEGO Health Award. A company that celebrated patient leaders and their contributions to awareness, advocacy, and innovation. I found an entire network of patients like me who were utilizing their social platforms to usher in a new era of support for each other.

We were different from the influencers hawking diet supplements and fashion accessories. We were setting the bar for humanizing healthcare and by sharing our reviews, tips, and honest revelations we were creating a new breed of trendsetters: the proactive patient.

In Sickness and in Social Media

When it comes to patient influencers, it’s not the images of airbrushed and toned models showcasing glittery packaging that comes to mind. Patients who follow other patients that they respect and admire are still thinking, I want what it is that they have. It’s just not always as obvious as new kicks or flashy gadgets. How do you showcase quality of life in a 30-second video or a 120 character status?

Often it’s a patient who’s able to say, “I did find support from my doctor when I came to them with my unmanageable symptoms” or “I found the right tools to help me explain to my family and friends how my disease is making life more complicated right now.” Or simply, “I’m not coping well right now, but I’m not ashamed.”

As it turns out, social media really can be the prescriber in how to live realistically with our disease — outside the scope of what our doctors can suggest for us. And I’m not talking about recommendations of literal supplements or diets, but an example of how real diseases progress in the real world. How they touch on our school, work, relationships, sex lives — how they influence our emotions and choices.

There is a bigger story being told in the captions of our fellow patient’s feeds than we have ever seen in the tagline of a magazine ad for our meds.

Social media can give us a matrix of examples for the difficult choices ahead. These stories can help us to understand our symptoms, explore treatment options, and find our footing in a new world of unanticipated personal responsibility.

Yes, we need our medical experts, and we need support, but we also need these influencers as pivotal allies in our journey.

For years they’ve been establishing their presence across Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, transcending the role of support group leaders and becoming influencers for their condition.

And now? They’re ready to open their eyes and @’s to collaborations with pharma.

More than Money, Patient Influencers Make Change

It has not been an easy transition for pharma who is often handcuffed by the restraints of highly-regulated industry advertising standards to partner with patients across social media.

Unlike conventional influencers, patient influencers aren’t going to receive coupon codes for their audiences or free samples of medications to try.

The most valuable “get” from their work with pharma?

“A seat at the table,” says WEGO Health Patient Leader Network VP, Julie Croner. “Patient influencers are trying to make the hardships that patients deal with a little easier. If they work side-by-side with pharma, they have the opportunity for their voices, concerns, and ideas to be heard — and to be paid for it.”

Patients who are chosen for influencer opportunities are often paid not only for their social posts, but for their participation in insight groups, one-on-one conversations with pharmaceutical marketing firms, and survey participation.

They bring key concerns from their disease communities to a forum where pharmaceutical companies can make real change.

In return, influencers open their feeds to conversations about new treatment options.

The goal is to give patients the information they need to become advocates for their treatment plans. Influencer campaigns will aim to inspire patient-doctor conversations that have both parties coming to the table with ideas on how to improve quality of life.

This back and forth can spark a proactive patient towards successful treatment and stops them from being prescribed a one-for-all treatment plan.

When asked what action they would take when someone they consider influential shares information from a pharmaceutical company about a specific medication, 87% of consumers said they would ask a healthcare professional about the medication.

Contrary to popular belief, most patient influencers don’t have an ax to grind with pharmaceutical companies. By the time they become the ones to look to, they understand that disease management involves a need for partnerships with prescribers and prescriptions. Medication keeps patients alive and functional, and while no one is a fan of unwanted side-effects or unsuccessful treatment plans — rarely do we fall into the right solution without flexing the muscles of personal medical experimentation.

The Bridge Between Patients and Pharma

So how do patients go from sharing their stories on social to collaborating with pharma goliaths? How do they retain authenticity in their messaging while expanding their personal brands and social audience?

If they were searching for the bridge between the world of patient advocacy and pharmaceutical might, they wouldn’t need to look much further than the community of WEGO Health, a vast network of patient experts, opinion leaders, influencers, and advocates who are given opportunities to collaborate on a professional level with healthcare.

Patients paid attention when the company started recognizing advocates for their contributions through their annual WEGO Health Awards a decade ago. Now the company has grown to support patient leaders in their careers as social influencers by offering free online education, databases of engaged patient leaders to connect and collaborate with, and a gig marketplace where patients can find relevant paid opportunities related to their disease communities.

The company has been a strong proponent for patients getting paid for their contributions to healthcare marketing and will only broker partnerships between patients and pharma companies if the patient makes a profit from their experience and time.

Now, WEGO Health has launched Pharmaceutical Grade Influencer Marketing: a chance for patient leaders to take the next step in helping their dedicated social audiences make smart treatment choices.

The WEGO Health Pharmaceutical Grade Influencer Marketing product offers services that include influencer marketing, social media management, branding, and photo and video production. The company seeks out the top patient influencers across all disease communities and gives them the expert training they need to kick off a successful partnership, including training on adverse events, comment moderation, and content pre-screened by both parties before posting.

With sponsored posts being boosted by WEGO Health’s proprietary algorithm, patients receive a significant boost in views and follows to their social networks — a benefit that will help them reach new audiences and expand their professional careers as influencers.

The Patient Journey Will Always be Real

While other types of social influencers may grapple with the loss of authenticity as they build their personal brands, this is unlikely to be the case for patient leaders. For these social stars, health concerns are chronic and unlikely to be resolved by a high follower count.

We are all brought back to our vulnerabilities when dressed in a hospital gown, when at the mercy of a pre-operative countdown, when staring down two treatment options and looking outside ourselves for support and guidance.

All we have is the roadmaps of patients who have been there before us, and in particular, those who have been brave enough to post to their feeds about how finding their voice brought them closer to the quality of life we all strive for.

9th Annual WEGO Health Awards | How it Works

The WEGO Health Awards were created to embody the mission of WEGO Health: to empower patient leaders.

Considering the WEGO Health Patient Leader Network is centered around these healthcare transformers, we knew it was up to us to celebrate their accomplishments. From this need to celebrate the leaders who make a difference, the WEGO Health Awards were born.
Since its inception in 2011, the WEGO Health Awards have proven to be one of the best ways to honor, recognize, and celebrate the work of patient advocates, influencers and healthcare collaborators who are helping others and transforming healthcare – often without any formal recognition.
With 16 different award categories, it is the only program to recognize patient leaders across all condition areas and platforms; whether running an online support group, speaking at conferences or sharing their health journey on Instagram, there is truly an award category to recognize every patient leader out there.
The program is split into four different phases:
1. Nominations | June – July
2. Endorsements | July
3. Judging | August – September
4. Celebration | October
Last year, we received over 6k nominations and over 130k endorsements. From there, our judging panels narrowed 6k nominations to 75 finalists and later to just 15 winners. In partnership with HLTH, we had our biggest WEGO Health Awards celebration ever! HLTH sponsored our 15 winners, covering admission and travel expenses, to attend the HLTH event and be honored on healthcare’s biggest stage for their advocacy achievements.
Learn more about how the WEGO Health Awards work:

NOMINATIONS
Open June 9th-July 31st
Think of nominations as a way to recognize your favorite patient leaders for the work they are doing. With 16 award categories, it’s easy to show your appreciation for all the patient advocates in your life. To start nominating, simply visit click here.
🏆 Tip for Nominees: Share out your WEGO Health profile and ask your community to recognize you for the WEGO Health Awards. Don’t be afraid to post to social, reach out to foundations, and include in any email correspondence. Your work deserves to be recognized! Once you’re nominated, you’ll receive a Nominee Media Kit for easy sharing.
Who should be nominated? Who can win a WEGO Health Award?
Anyone who is an active and leading member of an online community, and making a difference in healthcare, is eligible to be nominated. He or she should provide the community with valuable information and support to make a difference for other patients and caregivers. Nominees for an individual social channel award must have a presence on that particular social channel, of course.
Think about the advocates and influencers you see leading Facebook groups, blogging about their health journey, speaking up and giving insights to healthcare companies, presenting on national stages, and running Twitter chats. Patient Leaders have started non-profits, published podcast episodes, and authored books–there is no shortage of Patient Leaders’ contributions to the world, so let’s recognize as many of them as we can for their talents, contributions, and commitment.
How did you come up with the categories? Can I only use those to nominate someone?
The WEGO Health Awards were created based on Patient Leader feedback and the same is true of the categories we use. They might change a bit each year, but they’re created with you and your community in mind. We’ll only be selecting winners for the categories listed in our nomination form, but we’re always open to suggestions.
How do I nominate someone?
Go to our WEGO Health Awards nominations page to get started. Tell us who you want to recognize, where you follow them online, and the WEGO Health Award you think they should win. Once you’re finished nominating your favorite patient leader, feel free to share that nomination with your community or send a tweet with the hashtag #WEGOHealthAwards. And be sure to nominate early and often; we want to recognize as many patient leaders as possible.
Can I nominate myself?
Of course. We hope you’ll reach out to your community and ask them to nominate their favorite members of the online health world – and that includes you! However, you’re more than welcome to nominate yourself as part of the process. Be sure to take a moment and recognize any of the great leaders that help you on a daily basis as well.
How will I know if I am nominated?
Each nominee will be notified via email and social media (as applicable) and will be given the chance to complete/update a WEGO Health profile with additional information about themselves and their advocacy. Please note, notifications can take 24-72 hours from the time of the nomination submission

ENDORSEMENTS
Open July 1st – Jul 31st
This period provides a community-choice aspect of the program. Endorsements are a way to give nominees a visual show of support for a specific nomination, think of it like “liking” a post or photo on social media. For instance, if a nominee is nominated for Best in Show: Twitter, and you believe they deserve this recognition, your endorsement is the perfect way to show your support.
The three nominees with the most endorsements in each of the 16 categories will automatically become finalists.
🏆 Tip for Nominees: Grab Your Endorsement Badge | Once endorsements open (in July!), navigate to the ‘Awards’ tab, of your WEGO Health profile. Here you will be able to download images and badges to put on your sites to gain endorsements. We invite you to keep your badge up once endorsements are closed to proudly display your accomplishment.
What happens when I endorse a nominee? Is it the same as voting?
Endorsements were created to give network members a chance to participate in the WEGO Health Awards. Think of it as a way to give a shout-out or virtual hug to your favorite Patient Leaders.
In response to feedback from the community, the endorsement process helps select top patient leaders to move on to the finalist round. The three most endorsed nominees in each WEGO Health Award category will automatically become a finalist. There are six finalists within each category and the final award winner is selected by our panel of distinguished judges.
So, if you are nominated for an award, make sure you ask your friends, family, and community members to take a moment to endorse your efforts.
Can I endorse more than one person?
While you can only endorse a nominee once per award category they are nominated for, you can endorse as many people as you like. If you want to spread the love and endorse others, feel free to do so.
Do likes/tweets count as endorsements?
While showing your support through Facebook likes or tweets is appreciated by the nominees, we will not be counting that form of social media support towards endorsements.
Can I still become a finalist if I do not get a high number of endorsements?
Yes. While the three nominees with the highest endorsement numbers in each category will automatically become finalists, the additional three finalists will be determined by our judging panelists through numerous additional factors aside from endorsements.

JUDGING
August – September
We host multiple rounds of judging, after all, we receive thousands of nominations! Judges will be using the information provided in the nominee’s WEGO Health profile to review and score.
Determining Finalists
In the past, there were a total of five finalists, however, given community feedback, we will now be celebrating six finalists in each award category. To ensure the integrity of the program, half of the finalists will be determined through endorsement count and half will be selected through our judging process. Finalists are selected in two ways:
1. The top three endorsed nominees within a WEGO Health Award category automatically move on as finalists.
2. The subsequent three finalists in each category are selected by our network judging panelists. Finalists will be selected based on their relevance to that particular award and the information provided in a nominee’s profile. The finalist judging panels are comprised of past award winners, foundations, and organizations.
Once the top six finalists in each WEGO Health Award category have been selected, we’ll announce the finalists on our blog and then move into the final round of judging.
Selecting the Winners
Top industry experts and sponsors convene to review the six finalists in each category based on their use of social media, their fit for the award for which they’ve been nominated, and how effectively they engage their online community. Judges score individually, and then WEGO Health tallies these scores to identify the winners. No one knows the winners until we make the announcement at our annual WEGO Health Awards Virtual Ceremony.
Note: A nominee’s community size (number of fans, followers, readers, members, etc.) will not be considered. The nominee is judged based on their content and fit for the award category.
🏆 Tip for Nominees: Update Your Profile | Having a completed WEGO Health profile allows judges to gain a comprehensive understanding of your mission.
I want to be a judge for the WEGO Health Awards. How can I do that?
If you’re interested in participating, please email us at awards@wegohealth.com with the subject line ‘Be a Judge’ for additional details.
Can judges be nominees or WEGO Health Award winners?
We do allow those who were nominated to participate in the network judging process. However, if a judge is nominated for a certain award, they are not allowed to judge that category. We also give the judge the option to either remove themselves from the running or give up their judge’s spot.
How do you pick your judges?
We have many patient leaders, patients, caregivers, industry leaders, previous winners, finalists and Patient Leader Network members who connect with us throughout the year. Many of them express interest in being involved with the WEGO Health Awards. The WEGO Health team compiles a list of those enthusiasts throughout the year and connects with each before our WEGO Health Awards season. We then chat about the details, time commitment, and what is expected of the judges. Once they confirm they would like to officially participate, they are in.
How do you score the nominees? What criteria do judges use when selecting semi-finalists, finalists, and winners?
Judges score nominees on the following criteria:
• Fit for the Award | How well does this person fit the category they are nominated for? For example: if they are nominated for Rookie of the Year, have they only recently started their advocacy journey?
• Use of Social Media | How well does this Patient Leader use social media for their activism? Are they active, engaged, and responsive on their networks? Are they a power user of social media and active on multiple profiles?
• Focus on sharing of information and overall engagement | How well does this Patient Leader balance sharing of their own content with the sharing of others’ content and information?

CELEBRATION
October
The health of our community members is of utmost importance during the global COVID-19 pandemic. Though we’d love to celebrate in person, after much discussion and feedback from our Patient Leader Advisory board, we have decided to make the celebration strictly virtual to ensure all of our WEGO Health Award winners are safe and included.
Going virtual doesn’t mean the celebration stops though! We’re partnering with HLTH to bring patient leaders to the forefront of this industry celebration. Winners will be announced in a virtual ceremony during the HLTH event in early October 2020.
This year, winners will receive:
• $500 cash prize to be used towards advocacy efforts or travel
• Compensated WEGO Health 2021 Patient Leader Advisory Board Seat (estimated cash value $1500)
• Feature as a worlds’ top patient expert in HLTH’s patient-centered webinar series, as well as industry exposure opportunities throughout the year*
*Winners will have priority for speaking engagement and industry exposure events throughout 2021, depending on the state of COVID-19.
We are so eager for another season of celebrating patient leaders. There are so many tremendous patient advocates, influencers, and collaborators out there doing powerful work – we look forward to shining a much-deserved spotlight on them!
We encourage you to view all of the current WEGO Health Awards nominees in the nominee directory
Click here to view the nominees.
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More questions? Please feel free to refer to the WEGO Health Awards FAQ Page.
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Written by WEGO Health
WEGO Health is a mission-driven company connecting healthcare with the experience, skills and insights of patient leaders. We are the world’s largest network of patient leaders, working across virtually all health conditions and topics.