The online voices shaping the UK’s healthcare landscape

By Madeleine Harris Smith

If Donald Trump’s election last year showed us anything, it’s that your ability to effectively disseminate messages over social media is incredibly important in influencing people’s views and political participation.

This isn’t ‘new’ news; a 2012 study published in the journal Nature, ‘A 61-Million-Person Experiment in Social Influence and Political Mobilization’, suggested that posts on users’ Facebook feeds could significantly influence voting patterns.  In fact, certain messages promoted by friends ‘increased turnout directly by about 60,000 voters and indirectly through social contagion by another 280,000 voters, for a total of 340,000 additional votes’.

But never has it been clearer than in the 2016 American Presidential election, where online interest in Trump was three times higher than Clinton according to Google trends analysis, and he was the most mentioned candidate on Twitter and Facebook.

With this in mind, we decided to re-examine the HSJ’s newly refreshed list of the 100 most influential people in health and see if the contender’s influence also extended to their social media presence.

The top ten digital influencers on HSJ’s top 100

Using Traackr, our influencer mapping and management platform, we set out to evaluate the influence of the top 20 individuals on the HSJ’s list, using the follow measures:

  • Reach

We measured the total size of an individual’s online audience across all major social networks, including YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, blogs and more.  This takes into account followers, fans, subscribers, visitors and other audience metrics.

  • Engagement

We also measured the level to which their online audience engaged with the individual’s social media content, based on interactions with posts.  This takes into account shares, likes, comments, linkbacks, retweets, mentions and similar factors.

It turned out only 12 of the top 20 from the HSJ’s list had a personal social media presence, and 50 per cent of these were politicians.  Of these individuals, we saw a significantly different list to the HSJ’s begin to emerge.

Measuring the influence of these individuals based solely on their social media presence sees David Davis MP top the list, both in terms of the reach of his online posts, and his audience’s engagement with those posts.  Following closely behind is Sarah Wollaston MP in second place, and Jonathan Ashworth MP in third place.  Professor Dame Sally Davies was our highest ranking non-politician, coming in a healthy fourth on the list, meaning that despite having a much smaller audience, they are highly engaged with content that she posts.

The most surprising development however, is that Jeremy Hunt has fallen to number eight.  Despite having a larger reach for his posts than any of those in the top four, the level to which the Health Secretary’s audience engages with his posts is substantially lower, meaning that his overall digital influence is less in comparison.

More widely, we also found that most of those in the top ten used their online presence as a simple extension of their profile in the real world, with a distinct lack of two-way engagement on health policy issues.  What we didn’t find however, was anyone who had the ‘Trump factor’; that enviable top score for both reach and engagement.

The digital top ten from the HSJ’s list

  1. David Davis MP, Secretary of State, Department for Exiting the European Union
  2. Sarah Wollaston MP, Chair of House of Commons Health Select Committee
  3. Jonathan Ashworth MP, Shadow Health Secretary, Labour Party
  4. Professor Dame Sally Davies, Chief Medical Officer for England, Department of Health
  5. Liz Truss MP, Chief Secretary, Treasury
  6. Damien Green MP, First Secretary of State, Cabinet Office
  7. Jeremy Heywood, Cabinet Secretary and Head of the Civil Service
  8. Jeremy Hunt MP, Secretary of State, Department of Health
  9. Chaand Nagpaul, Chair, British Medical Association
  10. Janet Davies, General Secretary and President, Royal College of Nursing

MHP’s top ten health digital influencers

Given its mixed results, we decided to turn our original idea on its head, and instead ran a search in the UK to find high ranking social influencers on the topics of ‘health policy’ and ‘NHS’.  And what a different picture it painted…

MHP’s top ten health digital influencers

  1. Jeremy Corbyn, Leader of the Labour Party
  2. Dr Eoin Clarke, Political Commentator
  3. Dr Rachel Clark, Junior Doctor
  4. Dr Clive Peedell, Co-leader, The National Health Action Party
  5. Katie Forster, (previously Health Correspondent, The Independent)
  6. Denis Campbell, Health Policy Editor, Guardian Group
  7. Dr Benjamin Dean, Orthopaedic Registrar, NHS
  8. Chris Hopson, Chief Executive, NHS Providers
  9. Shaun Lintern, Journalist, HSJ and The Nursing Times
  10. Alastair McLellan, Editor, HSJ

This means that when any of the above tweet, blog, post etc on health policy or the NHS, they have the winning combination of a relatively large audience, engaged followers and an established authority on these topics.

The key finding is, of course, that online influencers are often quite different from leaders in the real world.  And in a world where your social media presence increasingly might just tip a decision in your favour, this is an important consideration.

That’s why, when we develop communications programmes for our clients, we draw on a range of digital tools, like Traackr.  This ensures that we’re not only engaging with more traditional stakeholders but also pulling through those opinion leaders who are directly influencing our audiences online.

Let us know what you think.  If you’re interested in mapping online influencers related to your brand or a particular issue, then please get in touch at