Megan Augustyniak shares how Northwestern Medicine is using micro-influencers to build trust with their audience and tell patient stories.

A few years ago, Senior Social Media Specialist Megan Augustyniak worked with the Northwestern Medicine legal department to start building out their user-generated content (UGC) strategy in an effort to feature more photos and videos from patients and physicians on their social media channels.

For the two years that strategy has been active, they find content across Instagram they want to repurpose, reach out for consent, and share the terms and conditions their users will agree to. But this past year, Megan and her team saw an opportunity to take it a step further and tell more of their users' stories in a highly engaging way: micro-influencer takeovers.

According to Megan, building out their micro-influencer strategy all started with a patient named Gaby.

Gaby’s authentic content generated authentic comments. Megan Augustyniak
As part of their daily social listening efforts across social media, Megan and her team look for who is posting about and tagging Northwestern Medicine. She said that while those are usually simple UGC posts they'll share on Instagram, sometimes they'll find a great photo that makes them want to look further into that person's story. Through that searching, Megan and her team found Gaby.

“She had tagged us in a few great posts, so we dug a little deeper and saw that Gaby is not only a patient of Northwestern Medicine, but she's young and beating the odds with her illness,” said Megan. “She loves her physician, she's a volunteer on the same floor where she receives treatment, and she was so inspired by her health care journey that she's now going back to school to become an EMT.”

Megan said no one would have seen that story from just one photo, so she and her team were inspired to reach out to Gaby and get her more involved.

For this initial micro-influencer pilot, Megan and her team focused the content on Instagram — what they call their “happy channel.”

“This is a visual channel. People come to Instagram to connect with people and feel like they're being looped into a conversation,” said Megan. “They want to be inspired and leave that channel feeling happy.”

Because of that expectation on Instagram, Megan said that's where their UGC content and micro-influencer takeovers have gained momentum.

Gaby's takeover was spread throughout the month of January, with her posting photos or videos to their channel every Friday.

This is a visual channel. People come to Instagram to connect with people and feel like they’re being looped into a conversation. Megan Augustyniak
With her posts, Megan and her team allowed Gaby the freedom to tell the story of her journey with ulcerative colitis and her overall experience with Northwestern Medicine in a way that was most authentic to her — focusing on how she manages her condition with food and exercise and how she's been inspired to get more involved at the hospital. When January ended, they put together a patient story for their HealthBeat blog and looped in their Video team for a recap to further bring Gaby's story to life.

Now, Megan and her team are working to kick off more micro-influencer takeovers and continue prioritizing that content for their strategy moving forward.

The takeover they're working on for the month of June came through their Media Relations team. They saw a news article featuring Karolina Jasko, who was the 2018 Miss Illinois USA, where she talked about her melanoma diagnosis and treatment at Northwestern Medicine.

“She's now using that national platform to advocate for skin protection and early detection,” said Megan. “On her social media profile, we saw that Karolina was very open and honest about her condition and was tagging us in some of her posts.”

From their experience with Gaby's pilot, Megan and her team also learned that not every micro-influencer takeover has to be the same exact format.

On her social media profile, we saw that Karolina was very open and honest about her condition and was tagging us in some of her posts. Megan Augustyniak
Megan and her team reached out to Karolina privately about doing a takeover in June and being featured in a patient story. Then they started looking at what channels and kinds of content would make the most sense.

“We still want to tap into Instagram, because that's where she's most active,” said Megan. “But we're doing a melanoma Facebook Live at the end of June that she'll be hosting as well. What's most important to us is that with each patient's unique story, we can repurpose it in a variety of different ways across social media and learn what our followers react positively towards.”

Then, after Karolina's takeover, Megan and her team are looking to do a physician one this summer to continue experimenting and expanding what this content will eventually look like.

Already, Megan said the takeovers have been hugely successful, both internally and externally.

“I had the opportunity to present Gaby's takeover at our department meeting alongside my counterpart in Consumer Communications who wrote the HealthBeat article,” she said. “Folks in the audience really enjoyed it because it reinforced cross-collaboration, making a service line seem accessible to our patients, and most importantly, we got the message out there in a highly engaging way. It was powerful for our marketing colleagues to see that the work we do truly does matter.”

Externally, Megan said they got quality engagement with their audiences — which was exactly what they wanted. “Gaby's authentic content generated authentic comments,” said Megan. “The feedback we saw come through proved to us that our audiences really do want to hear from someone just like themselves.”

As they continue to do more micro-influencer takeovers, Megan and her team plan to focus on Instagram — while adapting to the individual stories and refining what works best.

She had tagged us in a few great posts, so we dug a little deeper and saw that Gaby is not only a patient of Northwestern Medicine, but she’s young and beating the odds with her illness. Megan Augustyniak
“We're planning to collect key learnings from Gaby, Karolina, and our physician takeover, as well as take a step back to see what performed well, what didn't, and what photos should we be capturing,” she said. “We're looking at them as opportunities for us to see where we can improve.”

She said they also want to make sure they keep ironing out the process as they continue to prioritize these micro-influencer takeovers.

“With Gaby, the process was pretty experimental and undefined,” said Megan. “With Karolina, it's been much more streamlined because we had learned from the first one. We find the individual, receive his or her consent, and have an introduction call. Then we put together a content calendar, identify the game plan, and loop in all parties early on as opposed to at the tail end.”

But, Megan emphasized that making these micro-influencer takeovers successful is a huge collaborative effort across a variety of teams at Northwestern Medicine.

“This process may start in social media through our listening, but when it comes time to bring the story to life, we work with many teams in the Marketing Department,” she said. “That includes our Consumer Communications team, who write the HealthBeat articles, as well as our Video and Design team, who brand all the content the patient puts out over the course of the takeover.”

They also make sure they work with Regional Marketing who maintain the relationships with the Northwestern Medicine service lines. “Those individuals can provide us with great contacts that connect us to the right people,” said Megan. “And, oftentimes they'll also help fund these initiatives and put marketing dollars behind the posts.”

Megan said this kind of content is especially important in an age where almost 60-percent of people don't trust social media.

“For a lot of people, the content they're seeing online feels insincere,” she said. “But they're hungry and wanting to hear from a person who's similar to them. They really want to connect with that.”

She said that principle holds true for health care as well. “I don't think anyone wants to come to a hospital, but if they do, they want to make sure it feels safe and that they're not just a number,” said Megan. “These patients are just like you, but they love the care they're receiving and are going to leave better as a result of Northwestern Medicine.”

Above all, Megan said it's important to treat every micro-influencer takeover as its own story.

“If you try to make everything too cookie-cutter so that it's streamlined and fits inside a template, you lose the story,” she said. “You need to treat everyone differently and get to know that patient's unique journey. Then, explore different ways to bring those stories to life. Understand that, and from there, figure out the best way to get the message out.”

Megan Augustyniak has been a member of Health since 2017. You can connect with her on LinkedIn.