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Finding Digital Opinion Leaders: Q&A with Read Roberts, Director, KOL Data Solutions at PRECISIONscientia


Digital opinion leaders (DOLs) are an influential group of experts who are getting a lot of attention in the pharmaceutical industry. They're individuals (usually health care practitioners [HCPs], but not always) who focus on communicating research, news, and opinions about specific therapeutic areas, and they have the ears of thousands of other HCPs who simply do not have the time to sort through all of the latest data.

Medical affairs departments within pharmaceutical companies have long looked to build relationships with key opinion leaders (KOLs) in their field, and DOLs (often KOLs themselves) should be treated with the same level of focus.

Pharmaceutical Executive reached out to Read Roberts, director, KOL Data Solutions at PRECISIONscientia, a Precision Value & Health team to discuss.

Pharm Exec: What are the major obstacles in locating DOLs?

Roberts: It is harder than one might think to find the best and the brightest among all of the loudest voices in the social media universe. Consistent methods for finding traditional KOLs have been established, that is, looking for people with key industry leadership roles, clinical trial involvement, and research authorship.

Read Roberts

Read Roberts

But these metrics often don’t translate to DOL identification—many of the most influential opinion leaders have taken less traditional routes to success. A social media–first approach is the best first step for finding DOLs but introduces a new set of challenges. Casually perusing social media platforms quickly feels like trying to find a needle in a haystack, with many voices talking about many different topics. Marketing specialists like our team here at PRECISIONscientia can provide a data-driven approach to DOL identification for our clients. Here are some of the proven methods we have found for pinpointing the most relevant and credible DOLs through the social media noise.

Where should one start when attmepting to find the most relevant DOLs?

While the social landscape is different for every therapeutic area, there are consistent approaches for gathering a list of the most relevant online thought leaders. In our experience, it is best to start broadly, looking in communities, social channels, and off-line sources for potential experts, and then use data analysis to hone the list. Here are some places to start:

  • Online Support Websites and Communities

Trusted thought leaders will be active within online communities specific to the disease area. Finding online communities can be straightforward. First, think like a patient and look online for support groups that patients would be gravitating toward. Secondly, put yourself in the shoes of HCPs in a specific area, and look for communities of like-minded practitioners. Once the communities are identified, deep dive into each, and see who the most active participants are. Often, support networks have established editorial board/advisor members as well. These people also are viable candidates for your DOL list.

  • Relevant Publications

Traditional KOL searches often start with looking for authors of key research outputs, and DOLs can be found this way as well. Search PubMed for all articles specific to the disease area of interest, compile all the top authors, and then see whether any of these top authors have active social media accounts. We have software to automate this process, but it is also possible to do this type of search manually. Often, older, more established authors are not active online experts, but overlap does occur more and more regularly. An established KOL with an active and far-reaching social presence is sure to make a top DOL list.

  • Social Media Discussions

It may seem obvious, but how do you mine all the data out there to find who is speaking about topics specific to your brand’s therapeutic area? Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, YouTube, and the other top platforms all have public search functions. Capture all the accounts discussing key areas, and add them to your list. Even better, use software to do the hard work. Some of the major platforms have an API (application programming interface) available, which developers can use to tap into the data in ways impossible to mere mortals.

  • Social Outreach and Verification

A great way to get real-world insights is to reach out to identified DOLs and ask them their opinion. Who do they consider to be the leading DOL in your space? The open nature of social media makes this possible.

What's the best way to hone a list of identified DOLs to the right group for our brand?

Now that you have a comprehensive list of relevant online voices actively discussing topics of interest, the next step is to refine. Here is where data analysis comes in. Our team uses a quantitative approach and evaluates each expert’s discussions in the categories of reach, relevance, impact, and activity level. Those who rank high across all these areas will be the DOLs you will want to be aware of because they are resonating with a large audience interested in your therapeutic area.

Finding the most relevant DOLs among all the social media noise can seem daunting, but taking a measured approach and looking at the right metrics make a search much more straightforward and will provide effective results.

Read Roberts is director, KOL Data Solutions, at PRECISIONscientia, a Precision Value & Health team.

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