What Pharma Needs to Know About Digital Opinion Leaders

Digital opinion leaders are a result of the natural progression towards digital marketing in pharma. But what exactly are DOLs? And how do they differ from your trusted KOLs?

Also known as medfluencers and pharma influencers, these digital-savvy individuals could be the key to your future marketing efforts.

But don’t just take our word for it. The stats speak for themselves. 70% of millennials trust influencers more than traditional celebrities and 40% claim that some influencers understand them better than their friends.

So, let’s explore how to utilise DOLs to crack the digital sphere, building some much-needed trust in the industry along the way.

Key Takeaways

DOLs’ influence is an excellent opportunity to leverage for building your brand reputation and developing trust
DOLs and KOLs are generally different in several aspects including their profile, media presence and digital activity
Selecting suitable DOLs is critical. Their influence, relevance and the platforms they are active on have to be taken into consideration
There are several key reasons to work with DOLs, including fast disease education, open discussions generation and valuable insights
Be aware of the issues you could face. Clear guidelines need to be set and compliance should always be a priority

What is a Digital Opinion Leader?

A digital opinion leader (DOL) is basically a social media influencer for the pharma industry. These leaders are individuals and organizations that have built a large and influential online presence, typically through social media.

When working with pharma companies, DOLs can use their online presence to influence a wide range of people – physicians, HCPs, payors and even patients.

This makes them an invaluable digital tool to present and promote your brand to the wider world or a targeted audience. DOLs are especially effective for building your reputation and developing trust.

Are DOLs the same as KOLs?

A digital opinion leader and a key opinion leader are subtly different.

While DOLs are purely digital, and are frequently referred to as influencers, a KOL may not be digitally inclined at all. While both DOLs and KOLs have influence and pull within the healthcare industry, KOLs are “old school” while DOLs tend to operate primarily on social media.

KOLs in the pharma industry are often highly respected medical experts. Traditionally, they would focus on influencing peers and other experts that they know through a personal network.

A DOL, on the other hand, can influence a much broader audience and target people they may not personally know. There are numerous other benefits to choosing Digital over Key Opinion Leaders– read about these below.

DOLKOL
ProfileGenerally younger, digital-savvy physiciansGenerally older, more traditional physicians
Media presencePrimarily social mediaMostly traditional media
InfluenceBased on online followers count, community engagement and respect from peersBased on seniority, expertise and reputation
Digital presenceAlwaysSometimes

Where to Find DOLs and KOLs in Healthcare

You can find DOLs (as well as some KOLs that are going digital) in numerous places online:

Twitter, Linkedin and YouTubePopular with DOLs targeting physicians and general HCPs
Instagram and TikTokDOLs are using these platforms to target patients
Medical social networks*Perfect for using DOLs to target advanced conversations between medical professionals

* Learn more about medical social networks, including how to join them and use them, in our whitepaper

Identifying DOLs in Your Area

There are three metrics when identifying a suitable DOL:

  • Influence – number of followers,
  • Engagement – frequency of content interactions,
  • Relevance – do they fit your objective?

With these metrics in mind, start by checking existing KOLs for online presence. Other advanced tools can help you find DOLs, like Brand24 and BrandMentions. However, examining your own social networks can often help identify the big names in your specific sub-industry.

If you simply don’t have the time or are unsure where to start, just reach out. We’d be happy to lend a hand at phamax Digital.

5 Reasons to Work with DOLs

The key reasons to work with DOLs overlap significantly with why you have worked with key opinion leaders in pharma previously.

Take KOL Co-operations Online

Use established connections to co-create videos, symposiums and presentations in the digital realm.

It’s the natural progression for many KOLs to enter the digital influencer space.

Think of DOL opportunities as a way to expand on your previous campaigns with KOLs and widen your network.

Dissemination of Education and Knowledge

Spreading the word about medical knowledge and disease awareness is much more rapid online than with traditional marketing methods. DOLs can assist with this dissemination by:

Sharing and live tweeting/streaming

During symposia and congresses, for example, DOLs can guide audiences and bring in new crowds.

Developing trust

Delivering your message through the words of an influencer develops a higher level of trust with your target audience.

Having a unique POV

DOLs each have unique perspectives, insights and opinions that can help you better connect with your audience. They are masters of digital communication.

Generate Open Discussions

Among HCPs, open discussions can be created on medical social networks to explore case studies, findings, treatments, and more.

DOLs can trigger and stimulate these discussions, bringing your brand into the fold.

Receive Advice on Digital Campaigns

With a deep knowledge of their followers, DOLs can provide advice on how to target digital campaigns. They may even help you consider and target angles you have not yet discovered!

Unique and Valuable Insight

Don’t forget that DOLs in the healthcare industry have their own expertise and knowledge base – that’s how they reached their influencer status. Insight generation for medical affairs is their forte.

DOLs Can Impact Patients and HCPs

Medical influencers are diverse and it is worth noting that not all of them will target HCPs via dedicated healthcare networks online. Many digital opinion leaders operating in the public domain will also target the end user – patients.

Unlike healthcare professionals, the wider public won’t have a natural inclination to interact with your brand.

This is where DOLs can be utilised to drive engagement.

How to Engage with DOLs

Creating engagement is key – you are looking to create interactions and conversations through your DOL. It’s not another plain ad campaign.

So, develop an interactive campaign.

Audience participation can exponentially grow visibility and perhaps even “go viral”.

Your DOL brings the audience, but it’s your campaign that needs to be the driving force.

Potential Issues to Consider

Jumping into a partnership with a DOL is not always given as much thought as when creating business partnerships. And yet, there are issues to consider:

Clearly outlined responsibilities:

Define the process and responsibilities for responding to comments and questions. This is a 24/7 task that might not be viable for your DOL to handle. A compliance officer with medical knowledge is often best placed to respond responsibly, but not always efficiently – define how quickly comments should be addressed.

Disclose conflicts of interest:

As with any online influencer, your chosen DOL should disclose any conflicts of interest and also responsibly label advertising as such. Failure to disclose conflicts and label ads can lead to serious consequences, both financial and reputational, for both the DOL and your brand.

Approval from relevant authorities:

Promoting specific products and treatments may require additional authorisation, depending on the platform and manner of advertisement. Always seek approval before giving your DOL the green light.

Here are some extra tips for a successful influencer campaign

Time to get into DOL marketing!

The importance of healthcare influencers is undeniable. They are a trusted source of knowledge for both patients and HCPs and a partnership with a relevant DOL is a great way for your pharma brand to drive online engagement.

However, don’t just jump blindly into the wild influencer marketing territory!

The success of the partnership will depend highly on the ability of your campaign to drive engagement, the relevance of the platform and the suitability of the chosen DOL.

Once the campaign is defined and the DOL is selected, make sure to remain compliant, set clear guidelines and stay clear of any conflicts of interest!


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David Douek

David is phamax Digital's Chief Digital Officer. He makes digital easy for pharma companies. With 20+ years of experience in digital marketing and product development, he's tried and tested everything to recommend the best strategies