Leveraging pharmaceutical key opinion leader (KOL) expertise guides the commercialization of new therapies by generating valuable strategic insights and boosting credibility. In a digital-first world, the identification, mapping, and engagement of KOLs are expanding beyond traditional channels. John Kane, Managing Director of MedThink Communications, a Fingerpaint company, and Mary McGregor, Managing Partner of Engage, a Fingerpaint company, discuss the shifting KOL engagement landscape and emergence of digital opinion leaders.
When we look at opinion leaders as an expert group, how is that definition broadening?
Mary McGregor: Pharma invests heavily in the identification and mapping of KOLs and understanding their networks of influence. Increasingly, it’s important to take a closer look at leaders who are highly active in the digital space; those individuals who are driving the conversation online or sharing content through digital channels. This group can be identified separately as digital opinion leaders (DOLs), and the key battleground now lies in how to activate and engage with those types of opinion leaders.
Data-driven categorization takes into consideration factors such as a DOL’s therapy area authority, citation ranking, congress participation, digital network of influence, focus areas, and activity frequency. There is sometimes crossover between a traditional KOL and what is defined as a DOL, but DOLs tend to be a separate group. The approach to mapping and engagement should harness the online channels in which they are active. Pharma can understand and strengthen relationships with this network of experts through advanced, yet personalized, DOL management.
When it comes to KOL engagement, which strategies provide the best value?
John Kane: Using a data-led, comprehensive approach, we can identify who the most influential experts are, aligned to our objectives. That’s where the relationship-building begins. We can go one level deeper with tech-enabled personality profiling, which can help us to understand a KOL’s motivation and personal preferences and to determine the best way to engage with them both on an individual level and within larger groups.
For example, when we find people who are very introverted and prefer to work on their own, we can engage with them through an asynchronous platform. Whereas with someone more extroverted, we might pull them into an advisory board. When engaging KOLs, the primary goal is to understand both their different opinions about a given medical subject, and how to best activate their expertise. We can bring them in as advisors; working together on ideas and generating content that the KOL can provide validation for.
How will KOL and DOL engagement develop globally through digital channels?
John Kane: One of the advantages of playing in a virtual engagement space is the improved visibility into international perspectives. When developing therapies that will be launched in global markets, what can you learn through KOL interactions about differing approaches to treatment worldwide? We often see different prescribing habits based on how a disease is viewed. Will this drug be used as a preventative or to control symptoms? Harnessing digital, asynchronous platforms makes it easier to collect data and insights from experts in a variety of locations to inform answers to these types of questions.
Mary McGregor: Particularly in the digital-first environment seen in Europe and Asia, there is opportunity to expand beyond the network of traditional KOLs to access a wider base of well-connected healthcare professionals and DOLs around the world. DOLs have the ability to accelerate commercial advantage by helping to reach and influence target HCPs through their role as key digital influencers within the large, connected networks they have amassed.