On July 13, we launched our book ‘Influencing for the better: Influencers als gezondsheidsambassadeurs‘ [Influencers as health ambassadors]. The book was written for SWOCC, the association for scientific research in commercial communication. In the book, we present our research on using social influencers for health communication. We conclude that the authenticity, identification, and trustworthiness that influencers bring may be used by brands for health promotion.
Our book was written by the Center for Social Influence, part of the department of Communication and Cognition, Tilburg University. Authors are: Alexander Schouten, Frans Folkvord, Loes Janssen, Ini Vanwesenbeeck, Sara Pabian, Emmelyn Croes, Nadine van der Waal & Annemarie Nanne.
The book is only available for SWOCC members, but you can email me for more information. The book is written in Dutch, but you can read the English summary below. You can read more about the publication on SWOCC’s website. Here you can also see a summary of the book launch event on July 13th.
Brands are increasingly taking their responsibility to contribute to a healthier society. In this publication, we offer brands insight into the role influencers can play in promoting healthy behaviours. These popular online content creators have a wide reach, and they are seen as reliable and credible sources of information by consumers. But how effective are influencers when it comes to encouraging healthy behaviour? What explanatory processes may underlie their impact on promoting healthy behaviour? And how can influencers be strategically used by brands to successfully promote healthy behaviour?
This publication provides answers to these questions. We first provide an overview of the current knowledge about the effectiveness of brand communication through influencers, after which their role within three domains of health promotion is further explored, namely promoting good sexual health, an active lifestyle, and healthy eating. We then let experts share their experiences with using influencers in health campaigns.
The effectiveness of influencers
Research into the effects of influencer communication on healthy behaviour is still in its infancy. Extant literature does, however, suggest that influencers can play an important role in the promotion of healthy behaviours. There is compelling data to suggest that influencers are effective brand endorsers because their followers trust them and identify with them. Influencers know how to inspire their audience through authentic content and build a relationship with their followers.
Personal content enhances credibility and identification
Influencers may use a variety of communication strategies in their vlogs that successfully elicit positive audience responses. The credibility of an influencer appears to play the most crucial role in influencing healthy attitudes and intentions towards sex. There are numerous strategies that influencers can employ to boost their credibility, such as addressing their audience directly and sharing intimate, personal stories. This facilitates identification with the influencer and, moreover, enhances the credibility of the influencer, thereby making the message more convincing. Additionally, viewers respond most positively to vloggers of the same sex and the modes of communication that they use.
Presenting influencers as ‘real people’ creates authenticity
Although fitness influencers can effectively encourage their followers to adopt a healthier and more active lifestyle, existing research has mainly focused on the negative effects of exposure to fitspiration content, or the promotion of exercising by ‘fitfluencers’. Wanting to emulate the toned bodies of fitness influencers can contribute to a negative self-image and encourage both excessive exercise and an unhealthy diet. This research shows that it is therefore important that content by fitness influencers better matches the capabilities of their audience. Authenticity plays an important role here: instead of presenting an ideal image to look up to, people benefit more from relatability. It is therefore important for brands to select influencers who share similarities with the target audience and who set achievable health goals.
Perceived similarity and authenticity make influencers successful in promoting healthy eating behavior
To date, influencers have mostly been known to be successful in promoting unhealthy foods, but studies are increasingly showing that influencers are also effective at promoting healthy foods. The parasocial relationship between influencers and their followers is of principal importance, more specifically; the perceived similarity followers experience between the influencer and themselves, and their authenticity. Because the audience is exposed to their favourite influencers’ content almost daily, influencers can slowly yet consistently establish healthier eating habits among their follower bases. The Healthy Food Promotion Model offers brands a framework for the successful promotion of healthy nutrition by influencers.
A well-chosen influener makes difficult target groups accessible
Interviews with experts in the field provide brands that are considering using influencers in their marketing mix concrete avenues to explore. An important advantage of influencers is that they can more easily target demographics that are otherwise difficult to reach. A message from a person with shared characteristics has a bigger impact than a message from a(n) (health) organisation. Important disadvantages are the limited control over the content of the message and the behaviour of the influencer. For example, an influencer may go on to exhibit behaviours that are not in line with the objectives of the health campaign that they collaborated on. Selection criteria, codes of conduct, and non-compete clauses migitage possible risks for brands.
Influencing for the better: a framework for effective campaigns
To provide guidance tot brands considering using influencers for the promotion of healthy behaviours, we present a framework outlining how to do so successfully by either (1) following the principles of a behavior-oriented campaign or (2) following the principles of a brand-oriented campaign. Which of these approaches is best suited for a campaign will depend on the role of the healthy behavior in question as well as the primary campaign goal. The goal of the campaign further determines which type of influencer is most appropriate, and which communication strategy should be used. Moreover, each approach has its respective areas of focus, which should be evaluated both before and after launching a campaign.