Sparking action to change behavior: The power of influencers

Sparking action to change behavior: The power of influencers
Jun 24, 2020
To inspire Americans to help “flatten the curve,” public health officials can find support in surprising places.

Changing behavior is not easy. ICF Next’s social marketing team tackles this challenge every day, developing and executing campaigns and programs that aim to help Americans live healthier.

We show the public why it’s important to be more active, to not smoke or use tobacco products, to understand risks for eye diseases and conditions—and how to apply health and medical research findings to their daily lives.

Influencers are key to bringing about action and change. These individuals and groups are able to authentically and credibly reach target audiences, through social media or other channels. They can be health care providers, community-based organizations, faith-based leaders, coaches, or friends and family.

As our world continues to face the coronavirus pandemic and now tackles conversations about racial equality, influencers are more important than ever as states fully reopen, the economy recharges, and the health of Americans remains in question. As it relates to coronavirus, influencers broadly push out and personalize messages from health experts and government officials. Celebrity musicians, TV stars, and social media personalities helped encourage spring breakers to leave Florida beaches back in March. NBA and NFL players and other professional athletes have urged fans to do what they can to contain the virus spread, while planning how they will take to the field and the court again. And scores of actors have discussed their personal experiences, while appealing to followers to heed government messages and directives.

But effective messaging and message delivery don’t require famous faces or voices. Influencers don’t need millions of social media followers like Beyoncé, Steph Curry, and Taylor Swift have.

U.S. millennials are strongly influenced by their peers. Celebrities, advocates, and corporate leaders have taken lead roles in speaking out about racial injustice and supporting the Black Lives Matter movement. Swedish activist and influencer Greta Thunberg has led a powerful movement among youth to address climate change. At the same time, healthcare providers deliver a powerful voice. And women and mothers are often responsible for most of the family’s health decisions—swaying  their parents, children, spouses, and siblings.

This is why, to change health decisions and behaviors, social marketing experts at ICF Next often involve a mix of:

  • Health care providers, Physicians, physician assistants, nurses, and lay health leaders make a proven impact on their patients’ health outcomes. We routinely engage member-based professional associations to empower health care providers to share campaign messages and ultimately influence patients.
  • Community health educators. Well-known and well-respected health educators share health messaging. We connect with promoters who share messages within the Hispanic community, and faith-based health ministry leaders who share messages in church and other faith settings. For example, our communicators routinely engage Chi Eta Phi nursing sorority chapters to reach African Americans at their local churches about eye illness and heart health. And our team working on behalf of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) National Diabetes Prevention Program (National DPP) is creating materials for faith-based outreach.
  • Family, friends, and loved ones. Women are often the family gatekeepers for health behaviors. In many families, they make appointments, track vaccinations, lead grocery shopping and meal planning, and coordinate family schedules. This makes them ideal influencers. For our work with the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), during  American Heart Month 2018, we targeted women to spread the word about the importance of physical activity to reduce the risk of heart disease knowing they could rely on friends and family to make pledges to do the same. Together, we generated 627 pledges to #MoveWithHeart, reaching an estimated 2 million people.

We also know that in many multicultural families, extended family members—grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins—are involved in health decisions. They attend doctor appointments as a group and are part of health-related conversations. Our social marketing team provides guidance for CDC grant recipients implementing the National DPP in underserved areas, and we include this insight when we develop messages and outreach strategies for African American, Hispanics/Latino, and American Indian and Alaska Native communities.

  • Community-based organizations. Local nonprofit organizations know their communities and can serve as valuable resources to educate community members about health issues. Similarly, national organizations with local chapters and affiliates have deep community roots. Equipping these trusted and recognized influencers with resources can help spread campaign messages quickly and efficiently. It’s often even more effective when these organizations help create the messaging.
  • Community mainstays. In some communities, barbers, nail technicians, and hair stylists, among others, can serve as influencers. Many public housing complexes have beloved, long-time residents who frequently engage and disseminate positive health messages and information at community events. When these local authorities are engaged, community members listen. And when community members visit these neighborhood fixtures regularly, they encounter campaign messages often.

Even the best messages will fall flat when delivered by a messenger who has little or no sincerity and regard among the target audiences. But high-profile voices and celebrities aren’t always the best options as they can lack authenticity. Sometimes you just need a mom.

ICF’s global marketing services agency focuses on helping your organization find opportunity in disruption.
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Meet the author
  1. Vickie Gogo, Senior Partner, Multicultural Communications

    Vickie is an expert in multicultural communications with more than 20 years of experience. View bio

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