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The Rise Of Social Media Influencers In Health Care: Main Street One

posted by AHIP

on August 18, 2021

Curtis Hougland, founder and CEO of Main Street One, joined hosts Laura Evans and AHIP President & CEO Matt Eyles on The Next Big Thing in Health podcast to talk about the power of social media influencers to reach vaccine-hesitant populations.

Listen to the episode on Apple, Spotify, Soundcloud, and Stitcher.  


Matt Eyles: Curtis, maybe you could just give us a little brief background on yourself and an intro about who you are and what Main Street One does.

Curtis Hougland: We do something called relational organizing. What that means in the context of health care is we have the ability to find authentic patient stories to run peer to peer marketing campaigns. There’s three parts that go into that. First, we identify what people already trust and believe based on what they do and say online. The second is to identify who would be the most trusted messengers about a health condition or an issue. And then finally, we measure the persuasiveness and impact of all this.


Laura Evans: And we know influencer marketing has become a huge industry in recent years. Can you talk about the role of influencers in health care?

Curtis Hougland: Something we’ve noticed is that there’s been a collapse in trust and it’s affecting every sector. Seventy-five percent of Americans distrust the government. 66% don’t trust the media. And big corporations are the No. 1 entity that are being distrusted, at 80%. We’re marketing and communicating to a population that’s never been more skeptical about what we have to say. Since the institutions themselves might not really be trusted messengers, we need to find out who would be.

Say I’m a health care brand trying to launch Women’s Breast Health Equity, a program we’re working on now creating equity for black women across the nation. Maybe my message should not be a corporate ad,or should not be an article that we try to place, but it should be galvanized in organizing black women to speak out authentically. Their stories are far, far more impactful than any traditional ad we could produce.


Laura Evans: Do you think influencer marketing is being used optimally to reach vaccine-hesitant populations?

Curtis Hougland: I think many states are starting to implement these ideas now. If I’m trying to convince rural Oregonians to get vaccinated, maybe I should listen to what rural Oregonians care about because it’s different from the people in Portland. I should combine what messages they’re most likely to respond to with who they’re most likely to trust. And that, I think, has been the secret sauce as to what works in overcoming vaccine hesitancy.

Laura Evans: So, it’s meeting the people where they are basically.

Curtis Hougland: Yeah. Biologically, we tend to respond to people from our community—people who have the same condition or lived experience. If we share a zip code maybe we have similar affinities. We have to not think about individuals. We have to understand that these big demographic groups are not homogenous.


Matt Eyles: How can influencers get involved in that war on misinformation, especially around health care and issues like covid vaccines?

Curtis Hougland: Misinformation is real, but it’s a red herring and too much effort is spent on understanding the mechanism instead of trying to fight it. It doesn’t really matter whether it’s foreign or domestic. It only matters if it’s breaking through to alter the perception of the vaccine. In this way, the best defense is a good offense. Yes, we want to understand what’s happening, but I don’t think we win hearts and by responding directly to misinformation.

What we’re really trying to do is understand the themes and messages.  You have to do that through people within the communities. If we’re dealing with white working-class men who appeared to show some of the greatest vaccine hesitancy, there are ways. For example, we’re doing a campaign right now with truck drivers, our trusted messenger. They talk about why they’re taking the vaccine in a very real, authentic way and if we don’t edit that very much, that is able to kind of break through into those niches in those communities.

Note: This transcript has been lightly edited for clarity.