Credibility and Authenticity in Online Health Influencers with Dr. Amelia Burke-Garcia- Ep #59

Dr. Amelia Burke-Garcia is the Director of the Digital Strategy & Outreach Program Area within the Public Health Division at NORC at the University of Chicago. She is also the author of her first book titled Influencing Health: A Comprehensive Guide to Working with Online Influencers, which is an analysis and how-to manual on the evolution and power of online health influencers.

Dr. Burke-Garcia is also Director of the Digital Strategy and Outreach Program of the Public Health Division at NORC University of Chicago. Prior to her time at the University of Chicago, Dr. Burke-Garcia served as the director for the Center for Digital Strategy and Research at Westat, as well as an Adjunct Professor at George Washington University.

Dr. Burke-Garcia earned her PhD at George Mason University in Communications. Prior to that, she earned her master’s degree at Georgetown University and her bachelor’s degree at McGill University in International Development and Humanistic Studies. 

What You’ll Hear On This Episode of When Science Speaks

  • [2:16] Dr. Burke-Garcia gives some background on her new book
  • [5:08] What is an online influencer, and why are they important?
  • [11:10] Influencers are expected to be “Pinterest pretty” all of the time
  • [12:20] Can an influencer be popular and still be authentic?
  • [17:32] Combating “alternative facts”
  • [23:26] The best practices for building engagement, and what to avoid
  • [28:11] How disclosure works, and when influencers need to show that they are getting paid
  • [30:29] Dr. Burke-Garcia’s advice for those who are starting out

Connect with Amelia Burke-Garcia, Ph.D.

Can influencers remain authentic as they grow in popularity?

Influencers gain popularity in many ways. Many of them grow their audience by projecting a persona of authenticity. However, with the growth of an influencer’s popularity can come an increased amount of paid posts and product placement. Paid posts are a great source of income for influencers, but is there a subsequent loss of credibility? 

Trust is important for an audience, as Dr. Burke-Garcia points out. That trust is born out of credibility and authenticity. A powerful way for influencers to gain that connection is through personal stories. There aren’t as many influencers sharing personal stories these days. When the personal touch is lost, and it is replaced with paid content and advertisements, the audience that an influencer has built up may start to leave.

The problem of “alternative facts”

The rise of social media has meant that more and more people have access to a voice that can reach around the world. This is a very good thing, but it is a double-edged sword. While truth has gained a voice, so has its opposite. Very little information on social media is fact-checked, and that can lead to the unfortunate phenomena of “alternative facts”.

Dr. Burke-Garcia brings this up in this week’s episode. The algorithms of social media platforms are designed in such a way that what a person likes and clicks on curates the content that that person sees in the future. The same thing is true for influencer content. Just because someone is a health influencer doesn’t mean they have any training or education in the area of their focus, especially when much of their content can be paid posts.

Learn more about Amelia Burke-Garcia, Ph.D. on this week’s episode of When Science Speaks.

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