Many healthcare providers today use social media channels like Twitter and LinkedIn to release new research insights in real-time and create digital research communities that engage virtually. These types of thought leaders are known as Digital Opinion Leaders (DOLs), and they are growing in number and importance in the healthcare space, often reaching and influencing a broader audience than traditional KOLs.
New research, presentations at congresses, articles in medical journals, and other types of content can now be immediately posted, dissected, and evaluated by DOLs. Staying relevant means operating at the speed at which this content and information are released. And that means finding and partnering with DOLs most pertinent to your therapeutic area to ensure medical and business relevance.
More than a KOL
DOLs can be anyone with a qualifying background/experience and digital reach – from doctors and healthcare professionals to patient advocacy leaders – who have an influential digital voice in the community. They are experts at providing clear and concise scientific communication virtually while having professional credentials and credibility to back up their statements.
With the growing influence of social media, DOLs are becoming an increasingly important stakeholder group for pharma teams to engage and consult. They could have minimal direct involvement in traditional channels like co-authoring publications or presenting at congresses but nonetheless have an expansive virtual reach.
A DOL may have thousands of followers and connections within key communities, such as certain patient populations or demographic groups. It can be valuable for companies to collaborate with DOLs in order to better understand what is driving these communities.
Why engaging DOLs is so important:
When we look at corporate influencers in any industry, the most relevant brands are the ones that are part of the conversation. There has been a shift from campaign thinking to conversational thinking, and social media is an emerging engine that drives conversations. Naturally, companies try to get their content into the conversation in relevant ways. When their content is shared and introduced into discussions, they can create awareness and accrue influence in networks.
Although there are some differences when it comes to pharma and medical tech because of the strict regulations and credentials in the space, the same general principle applies. If you can identify who’s influencing networks, you can create awareness and become a part of the conversation. If a DOL believes a company’s content has merit and could bring value to their followers and community, the DOL might share the content, use it as a conversation starter or even simplify the science and implications behind it for general interest.
How to identify the right DOLs
Finding DOLs begins with a process called social listening: monitoring and tracking social media platforms for content that is relevant to your organization’s mission, then analyzing that content for insights and opportunities to engage. With the right social listening tools, you can define a set of relevant keywords, and then identify potential DOLs who are using those keywords and having conversations about those concepts on social media.
What are they talking about, and is it relevant to your organization’s mission? Are they likely to be receptive to a partnership? Have they previously partnered with a similar company? What kind of voice do they have within the communities represented in their network? How well are they able to pick up on trends and concerns the community might have?
For example, certain cultural influences may make a patient population apprehensive about vaccines. A DOL who is in touch with these communities could easily provide constructive feedback to a company as to why a vaccination campaign isn’t working.
Once you’ve identified the DOL, you must find common ground about the topic at hand. With the aforementioned social listening and analysis capabilities, you will be equipped with the information to engage in deeper, more personalized interactions.
For example, you can begin by learning more about the DOL’s previous work and starting the conversation by saying something like, “I saw your recent posts on [trending topic]. It’s funny you should say you have a certain view on that…” and suddenly the conversation becomes a lot more personal and a lot more relevant.
Bringing DOLs together in online advisory boards or virtual communities outside of their social media network enables different DOLs to share ideas, best practices, and general opinions with each other and bring fresh, dynamic perspectives to the table. Facilitating post-conference e-huddles and post-congress debrief sessions allows DOLs to share their conference learnings and insights, often translating complex medical messages into the digestible language and highlighting which elements are understood vs those requiring more details.
DOLs are often tech-savvy and value their time, so engaging with them on their own terms and in their own environment usually works best. This does not mean that everything needs to be in a technical environment, but engagement with DOLs should be done in a way that is considerate of their time and consistent with how they engage with their followers.
As the healthcare industry and indeed the entire global economy becomes increasingly digitized, medical affairs teams must have a robust DOL engagement strategy, informed by the right platforms and technology. Organizations must be able to integrate themselves into the new digital ecosystem across the healthcare landscape, reacting to key developments in real-time and driving conversations to reach the right people for the right outcomes. Those who aren’t operating at the speed at which information and influence are propagated will be less competitive and, ultimately, less relevant.
Alexandra Moens, PharmD
Alexandra Moens is the Director of Product Marketing at H1. As a pharmacist with an innovative business mindset, Alexandra makes an impact on the life of patients by working on improved solutions, diversity implementation, and working on enhanced clinical strategies. Her scientific and business experience has taught her to make fast but data-driven decisions to successfully manage a portfolio strategy in the evolving pharmaceutical industry. Alexandra has worked closely together with clinical, data intelligence, and medical affairs teams of pharma and biotech companies across the globe to help roll out new methodologies and strategies.