Namah Chawla
Influencer Marketing

Government increases scrutiny of health and wellness influencers, experts react

The new guidelines will make it mandatory for influencers to disclose their qualifications, before giving health and wellness advice.

Social media influencers who promote health and wellness-related products and practices, will soon be required to disclose their qualifications. 

The government announced that the mandatory disclosure is aimed at preventing the spread of misinformation and false claims by influencers, and ensuring that consumers have access to accurate and trustworthy information.

Earlier this year, the Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI) also released guidelines for influencers to disclose their relationship with brands and the nature of the promotional content. 

“The government is raising its regulation of influencers, up a notch, with the new guidelines for those promoting brands and products related to healthcare and wellness. It’s a burgeoning category that has a direct impact on people’s health,” Rohit Kumar Singh, secretary to the department of consumer affairs, told ‘Business Standard’ in an interview.

While there are many medical professionals-turned-influencers who use their social media profiles to guide people, there are others who don’t necessarily hold a professional degree or the necessary qualifications. 

On how the mandatory disclosure can impact such influencers, Aahana Mehta, director, talent partnerships, Pollen (Zoo Media), says that health and wellness is a big category. Any influencer who isn’t certified or qualified, must not speak about healthcare products that are prescription-driven, like medications and medical treatments. 

However, she disagrees that an influencer needs qualifications to talk about certain health and wellness products.

“The term ‘wellness’ stands for physical, mental and spiritual well-being. It largely talks about holistic healthy habits and lifestyle change. Product categories that come under wellness, include fitness equipment and apparel, skincare, healthy snacks, stress-relief products, etc,” Mehta adds.

The sexual and mental health space has seen a spike of Indian influencers in the recent past. The likes of Dr. Tanaya (famously known as Dr. Cuterus), Seema Anand, Leeza Mangaldas, etc., are some of the top influencers bursting myths around sexual health. Similarly, Divija Bhasin or ‘The Awkward Goat’ and Aishwarya Chawla are a few names that have been advocating the cause of mental well-being. 

However, not all of them are medical professionals but have still managed to create a community of followers and enjoy decent engagement on social media. 

Divyansh Gala, group head - outreach, SoCheers, supports the government’s decision, as people seeking medical support for their well-being, are quite vulnerable. Hence, they end up taking an emotional decision. The regulation will help in such cases. 

Apoorv Bhatnagar, co-founder, The Plug Media opines that influence always comes with a lot of responsibility. And these guidelines are extremely important to generate accountability within the creator ecosystem.

"Especially when it comes to healthcare, full disclosure of their credibility and qualifications should be the only way to approach content creation. It’s a much needed next step for the influencer marketing space to sustain in India and globally," Bhatnagar elaborates. 

Speaking from a content and creative lens, Gala mentions, “The creators, agencies and brands will have to think of creative ways, in terms of qualifications. It can also be done on social media platforms. Similar to how platforms have a verified tick mark, for health and wellness, the influencers can provide their certificates and qualification.”

The COVID outbreak led to a significant shift in people’s lifestyles and health priorities. There has been an increased awareness and interest in health, wellness and fitness-related information. Social media has become a popular platform for people to seek instant advice on these topics.

The demand for instant advice on health and wellness on social media, created a new market for influencers and digital content creators. However, with the rise of influencers and self-proclaimed experts, it has become increasingly difficult for consumers to differentiate between accurate and misleading information.

Mihir Surana, CEO of Nofiltr.Group, says that the mandatory disclosure can benefit qualified creators by establishing their credibility and positioning them as authoritative sources.

However, he also states that the regulations could create barriers to entry and stifle creativity. 

Surana explains, “Displaying qualifications helps to weed out unqualified influencers and levels the playing field for qualified creators. The industry recognises the importance of transparency and credibility, but balance is needed between ensuring quality content and promoting a thriving creator economy.”

The guidelines will also increase the level of scrutiny and accountability for advertisers and brands that work with health and wellness influencers. Brands will need to be more diligent, while selecting influencers, and ensure that they work only with qualified professionals.

This could also imply an increase in the cost of influencer marketing campaigns for brands. If brands want to work with qualified and credible health and wellness influencers, they may need to pay higher fees to attract them. 

As per Mehta of Zoo Media, it’s a no-brainer that endorsers and advertisers have to be responsible and aware in their communication. “The onus lies with the advertiser to identify the right influencers and communication, taking into consideration the nature of the product.” 

Mehta does point out that if every influencer is required to showcase their certification or qualification, then it’s going to cause major opportunity and revenue loss for them.

To tackle this, Surana states, discussion and collaboration between the government, influencers and industry stakeholders, is necessary to ensure that the regulation strikes the right balance between ensuring quality content and promoting a thriving creator economy.

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