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How the Evolution of Digital Opinion Leaders Might Affect Your Pharma Business

How the Evolution of Digital Opinion Leaders might affect your pharma business

The traditional role of a Key Opinion Leader (KOL) is evermore overlapping with that of a Digital Opinion Leader (DOL). Thanks to the effects of the growing digitalization of every sector worldwide, it’s only natural that a couple of changes in communication took place.

But what exactly does it mean for pharma companies? What will be the pros and cons of these new communicators for many brands?

What exactly is a Digital Opinion Leader (DOL)?

With the increase in the popularity of online influencers, a lot of companies have started to pick up on the power that these individuals can have when it comes to promoting their brands. Of course, the health sector would be no exception to this rising trend, with digital channels becoming an increasing element present in the work of many professionals.

A Digital Opinion Leader (also known as a DOL, or even an HCP Influencer in some cases) is an individual who has a wide community of peers thanks to their online presence on one or more digital platforms. In healthcare, a DOL is notorious for having a voice regarding a certain topic or a therapeutic area. 

Just like an online influencer, a DOL has a huge power to influence the opinions of a certain number of people thanks to his/her points of view. They are becoming notorious with the new generations of healthcare professionals who are more involved in technology and tend to consume information through modern means of communication. This makes DOLs a relevant element in their decision-making.

What’s the difference between a Key Opinion Leader and a Digital Opinion Leader?

Key Opinion Leaders (KOLs) have been around far longer than DOLs. Yet the term now reflects a more traditional style of contacting an influential figure in a certain area. For years, KOLs were sought by pharma companies to provide a positive reference for their medicine or treatments.

During an era of prevalent digital communication, a KOL is still a notorious figure. These are known for taking into account several criteria before beginning a partnership with a brand. Prior to accepting a proposal, a KOL analyzes thoroughly a brand’s image and its positioning in the market. This is a partner who will only want to publish content that is accurate, reliable, and cohesive. 

The role of KOLs and DOLs is the same at heart. The main differences can be found in the approach needed towards them. Some KOLs have not fully embraced the digital possibilities in their careers. Nonetheless, those that have are quickly migrated to the role of a DOL. Today, there is some criticism of KOLs.  Mainly due to the fact that they’re seen as either spokesperson for pharma brands or mere academics. 

In short, a KOL is a relevant personality in a certain area who doesn’t have a big online presence. A DOL is active through several online channels.

How do Digital Opinion Leaders engage with their audiences?

There’s a good reason why in some cases, a DOL might also be referenced as an HCP Influencer. That is because their role in the online world is summed up by the same activities. In this context, it’s important to tell DOLs apart from influencers, especially in the context of healthcare.

An influencer might not relate to a particular scientific area or even have a deep scientific knowledge to talk about it. A DOL has in-depth knowledge or even specialization in a certain medical area.

Aside from this difference, a DOL is a reflection of how every sector is being transformed by the digital revolution. New people are rising to gain a voice in this new era. They engage in organic peer-to-peer conversations and are open to sharing their scientific data or point of view on a certain topic.

We see fit to underline that DOLs are a huge help in injecting practical voices into several competitive markets. 

How can a Digital Opinion Leader help a pharma brand?

The good news for pharma brands in this regard? DOLs are more than willing and open to the possibility of a partnership with pharma brands. As long as there is a solid proposal, they allow their partners to borrow their brand equity. Helping them to reach their attentive audiences.

They are a unique group, so if your pharma company is willing to try to reach out to a DOL, make sure you treat them that way. So, what do you need to consider before reaching out to a Digital Opinion Leader?

Step 1: Make a list of DOLs more suited to your case

Any pharma brand interested in a partnership with a figure who’s an “authority” in a certain area must first have a look at what they can provide a DOL. It is also important not to forget to have a look at any potential medicine or treatment that could become a trend online.

If you have a new product to launch soon into the market, this could be a good topic to start. Organize your strong points as a pharma brand and for the product or treatment.

Step 2: Have a look at the full context around a DOL

Now that you know what you want to communicate, it’s time to have a look at the potential DOL partners that can help you in this regard. There are a series of questions you need to consider while making your list, such as:

  • “Usually what type of content does the DOL share daily?”
  • “What digital channels does the DOL use to communicate with his/her audience?”
  • “In which digital channels are the DOL more popular? Does he/she have a site, or does he use social media to communicate?”
  • “What type of language, tone, and manner does the DOL communicate with?”
  • “Is this DOL known for being an independent author or has he/she partnered with other brands in the past?”
  • “Is the DOL affiliated with academic institutions, pharmaceutical companies, hospital systems, or even with advocacy organizations?”
  • “How many followers does the DOL have? What’s the average age of the DOL’s audience?”
  • “Is the DOL more focused on a more global audience or a more local one?”
  • “Is the DOL knowledgeable in the product or treatment I’m promoting?”
  • “What type of reputation does the DOL have online? Has he/she been in any controversies that I should be aware of?”

Step 3: Create an engaging long-term relationship with the DoLs you chose

Finally, we come to the most important step. After you’ve picked the DOLs you want to try to contact. By starting an early dialogue with these HPC influencers you are on a good path to creating a fruitful and healthy relationship. Start by asking for their advice on a certain topic. Let the relationship flow and then make a proposal of a plan for them.

Also worth bearing in mind: the conditions of your partnership have to be on contract and compensated. Remember that transparency in the early stages of this developing relationship is vital to its success.

If the DOL accepts your proposal partnership, the next step is to move to the content co-creation stage. Make sure to cooperate in the creation of content that will be meaningful and engaging for both your and DOLs’ audiences. The creation of organic or sponsored content is vital and can help benefit both parties mutually. 

DOLs are a reflection of a new era in healthcare and they can help you if you help them in return. So make sure to start looking into some of the most relevant DOLs for your brand. In the end, it’s all a matter of building a good relationship.