Pharmaceutical Commerce - July/August 2017 - 16
Digital opinion leaders (DOLs) and their role in pharma markets
Like traditional thinking about key opinion leaders (KOLs) in healthcare, consider the DOL as part of a marketing campaign
By Gregg Fisher and Kevin Michels-Kim, The Stem
that in today's
media env ironment,
with social media and
other forms of online
influence equal to (or
greater than) traditional media, digital
communicators are rising in importance.
From this, it follows that the "digital
opinion leader" (DOL) should be taking his
or her place alongside the traditional "key
opinion leader" (KOL) in thinking about
market outreach. This article will introduce
the DOL concept, the opportunity for
life sciences managers to leverage this
important group, and a process to identify
and engage with DOLs.
Meet the DOL
The DOL is an influential member of
an online community to whom others
turn for advice, opinions and information.
Their influence flows from their reach
within a community (how many followers
they have), their resonance (how much
their content is shared) and their
relevance (how relevant their content is
to a particular objective). In the medical
world, DOLs include clinicians exchanging
opinions on therapies, discussing
presentations from medical conferences,
and sharing practical advice on disease
and patient management. In recent years,
DOLs with professional backgrounds have
converged around Twitter as a medium for
publicity and public discourse, particularly
around major medical conferences,
while simultaneously turning to closed
healthcare provider (HCP) platforms for
In the patient world, DOLs include
patients, caregivers and patient groups.
Health bloggers and so-called e-patients
taking an active role in their healthcare
have amassed large online followings.
Patient DOLs utilize a variety of online
channels and, notably, are not beholden
to a single medium, but continue to
experiment with new channels, such as
Instagram or Periscope.
The opportunity for life sciences
" Ke y O p i n i o n L e a d e r ( KO L )
management" has been a staple of life
sciences business strategy for decades.
Commercial and medical teams routinely
identify and engage KOLs for tasks such
as research, publishing or speaking.
Currently, DOLs and KOLs exist in largely
different universes with little overlap.
Typically, less than 20% of KOLs will also
have a social media presence and just a
handful will rank alongside DOLs in terms
of online reach.
By properly involving DOLs in the
Visualization of a disease area community of interest. The points represent individual social
media accounts and the lines illustrate follow connections between accounts. Maps such
as this reveal the size and structure of the online community.
Example segmentation of members from a disease area community of interest. Individually
identifiable patients and HCPs comprise close to 30% of the community.
creation of programs and by regularly
sharing with them, life sciences
communicators have a built-in megaphone
that can expand the authenticity and
reach of their messages, as DOLs willingly
amplify messages across their social
A process to identify and engage with
T he first step to successful D OL
engagement is to know who they are.
Identifying DOLs requires approaches that
depart from traditional influence mappings
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that scan through PubMed records and tally
peer recommendations. It may be tempting
to match existing internal KOL lists with
digital profiles, in hopes of finding KOLs
with a blog or Twitter account, but this
exercise will only reveal a portion of the
DOL universe and will miss HCPs who
don't have a publication record, but have
built strong reputations among online
audiences, as well as numerous new, nonmedical influencers, including e-patients.
We highlight three steps to identifying
DOLs in the healthcare space:
1. Map the online community of
Social media analy tics tools offer
unprecedented opportunities to map
influence across disease areas. Silicon
Valley tech executives like to speak about
the "social graph" in referring to the
network of connections and relationships
between users. Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of
Facebook, has frequently touted the social
graph as "changing the way the world
works." Facebook and other networks keep
most of this information for themselves,
accessible only to their internal advertising
and content teams, but portions of the data
are also made public and allow detailed
maps of entire online health communities
to be generated.
In a given disease area, the online
community of interest will consist of
several hundred active members, who
have each contributed in some form to
the discussion around the disease. Silent
followers or lurkers will number 10-20
times the size of the active community. In
certain high-interest disease areas, such
as breast cancer or multiple sclerosis,
the community will be even larger, with
many thousands of active members and
hundreds of thousands of followers.
Many health influencer projects have
failed by neglecting to understand the
communities they are seeking to influence.
A list of influencers based on followers
or some variation of a Klout Score is
a shortcut that results in lists of names
with no clear context of the greater online
community of interest and, most likely,
will gather dust in someone's desk drawer.
2. Segment stakeholders
Knowing your customer is vital in the
healthcare industry, both from a regulatory
and planning perspective. A DOL who is
also a physician must be treated differently
from a D OL who is a patient or an
accredited journalist, even though the
subject matter and online audiences may
be very similar. Influencer tools designed
primarily for non-health industries rarely
consider this requirement and measure
influence without particular concern for
the background and profession of the
DOL. A good consulting partner will bring
databases and segmentation models that are
customized for life sciences needs.
3. Profile and prioritize influencers
A D OL w ith a massive fol low ing
does not necessarily represent the best
opportunity-a subject matter expert
DOL may attract a small, but important
audience of specialist followers. It's vital
to seek out DOLs with interests that align
closely to business objectives. For example,
in the case of a pharmaceutical company
launching an innovative drug, DOLs with