The Latest Pitch From Influencers: Get The COVID-19 Vaccine

This summer, Colorado enlisted over 120 influencers to promote COVID-19 vaccinations by offering vaccination facts on their social media accounts. The ongoing effort, which pays the influencers up to $1,000 per month, is a campaign targeted to reach communities with low vaccination rates in the state.[1]

Following Colorado’s lead, other states and cities—including California, New Jersey, Chicago, and Oklahoma City—launched their own local COVID-19 campaigns. And in early August, the federal government, under President Biden, began an effort of its own.[2] While pop star, Olivia Rodrigo, may be the most recognizable figure in the Administration’s campaign, social media influencers with fewer followers are also getting involved. The media platforms include social networks like Instagram, YouTube, TikTok, and Twitch.

Traditionally, a public health campaign would feature respected national and local health care providers and medical experts to provide health information. Seeing that officials with local, state, and federal agencies are looking to Instagram influencers and influencers on other social media platforms to produce content about vaccination points to the growing power of influencer marketing compared to conventional marketing approaches.

How The Covid-19 Pandemic Reshaped The Way Businesses Interact With Their Customers

When the country essentially shut down in March 2020, businesses had to adapt their marketing strategies for a new reality. Brick-and-mortar stores were closed, and in-person events were canceled, so businesses and marketing firms turned their attention to digital strategies and ecommerce to fill the void.

Thanks to lockdown mandates and being stuck at home, the increase in online activity in 2020 is striking. Global online content consumption doubled [3], and there was a significant increase in the amount of time people spent consuming content on social media.[4]

And since businesses couldn’t travel to film traditional ad campaigns, they relied on social media influencers to produce content. Many influencers—particularly fashion and beauty influencers—had previously flown to luxurious locations to create content on social media. During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, their home base became the backdrop for their posts. 

Even such a simple location change may have made influencers seem more relatable to their followers and reinforced that these spokespeople were not out-of-touch celebrities. In contrast, influencer content came across as more authentic and more trustworthy than what was pitched by brands or famous rich people.

There was already evidence before the COVID-19 pandemic that businesses earned more than $5 for every dollar spent on influencer marketing.[5] With the growth of social media and ecommerce in 2020, it’s not surprising that businesses and marketing firms said they intended to increase their 2021 influencer marketing spending to $13.8 billion—up from $9.7 billion in 2020.[5]

Why Might COVID-19 Influencers Be More Persuasive Than Health Officials Or Health Organizations?

Years ago—and even as recently as 2019—it was commonplace to assign a doctor or other respected health care professional as the lead spokesperson for a public health campaign. However, near the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, influencers in Australia, China, and South Korea were partnering with government health organizations to promote the importance of washing your hands and social distancing. 

The government health organizations in charge of these COVID-19 campaigns understand their message will be persuasive only if the person providing health advice is trusted in the community. And, unfortunately, the extreme polarization in the U.S. has led some groups of citizens to distrust government sources.

So, the U.S. government officials heading up these vaccine efforts hope that if you trust Instagram influencers or YouTuber channels to give you solid advice that impacts your health and wellbeing, you may be more willing to trust their opinions on whether or not to get vaccination versus a government health official who may have nothing in common with you.


Why It May Be Difficult For COVID-19 Influencers To Go Up Against A Vaccine Disinformation Campaign

Despite this new and energized effort to inform followers about COVID-19 vaccine facts, there’s an equal or greater amount of energy devoted to spreading conspiracy theories and vaccine disinformation on social media platforms.

Studies conducted between 2010 and 2016 found that anti-vaccine tweets were four times as likely to be shared than vaccine tweets that included information that was neutral (neither encouraging nor discouraging vaccination).[6]

A similar study analyzed Instagram posts that used the hashtag #HPV (for Human Papillomavirus) in September and October 2018. The anti-vaccine posts had a higher average number of likes.[7]

A theory as to why disinformation spreads so easily on social media was described by two researchers in the early 2000s. They proposed individuals make decisions based on the way they integrate certain types of information:[8]


  • Verbatim memories: include precise details such as exact words and numbers
  • Gist memories: “fuzzy” representations of information that capture only the bottom-line meaning. 


Intuition and impulsivity are often involved in creating gist memories, and since they are more likely to evoke emotion than verbatim memories, it’s no wonder that a social media post that expresses gist is more likely to be shared than a verbatim post.[9]

What Businesses Can Learn From These COVID-19 Campaigns

That the government is entrusting social media influencers to lead an information campaign about a public health emergency shows how powerful influencer marketing has become in a little more than a year’s time.

Citizens and consumers trust influencers—particularly those with fewer than 50,000 followers—more than traditional authority figures or celebrities.[10] Now it appears that those authority figures have also bought into that sentiment. 

While we don’t yet know the results of the COVID-19 campaigns, we can see that organizations that have something to pitch recognize the role of influencers in adding value to their ongoing marketing efforts.

Perhaps the biggest takeaway is that it’s vital to make the correct hires. Whether you’re trying to persuade people to take a life-saving vaccine or to buy your newest product, you must identify the influencers who are most trusted by the communities or markets you serve.