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Smart Thinking blog

Insights and expert advice on the key issues facing today’s pharma marketer

Understanding digital opinion leaders

Engaging with new key opinion leaders to supercharge your brand initiatives
KOLs and DOLs

When it comes to healthcare marketing there are key opinion leaders (KOLs), and then there are digital opinion leaders (DOLs). It's these active online users who you may already see influencing your target audience of online healthcare professionals. Although a recent phenomenon, DOLs are indeed KOLs. But the converse is not true; not every KOL contributes to websites or partakes of social media.

This main behavioural difference may be due to demographic differences - people of different ages, people within different sub-cultures perhaps. But it may be about how different professionals prefer to work. While many make use of the online world to collaborate and share knowledge, many key opinion leaders work alongside colleagues in real life and reserve their written work for academic and scientific journals, and industry white papers.

KOLs also attend conferences through the year, and many will also speak at these events, presenting research results and demonstrating thought-leadership. These events provide marketing professionals with a practical opportunity to discuss shared interests, and begin a professional relationship. DOLs at such events will no doubt want to exchange Twitter handles with you, rather than only business cards. It's also become standard to make a connection request on LinkedIn, but of course those KOLs who are less interested in digital may not be active on the online platform.

Outside of events and conferences, KOLs can be identified by their published material, and you can subscribe to the printed journals that relate to your industry if you feel such costs fit within your budget. In terms of digital advances, some journals offer online access, which is a convenient way of collating names, themes, and past articles.

DOLs might well publish their research findings or breakthroughs in these traditional journals too, but by definition, DOLs are prolific contributors to the web, engaging other industry or subject-matter experts and sharing more than monolithic papers. Every KOL is careful with their reputation, but DOLs actively manage their online identity, and so can be easier to find through their social media networks of friends and followers, and the blogs or online communities they frequent and contribute to.

On the other hand, not every DOL appreciates that they are an opinion leader. Many people enjoy sharing their insights via a personal blog or Twitter account as a normal part of their professional progress. Such people could be surprised by their audience size, and flattered to be noted by your organisation. By engaging DOLs via their favourite channels, you'll be on an equal footing before you make a direct offer or request.

Make an offer that's valuable to them
Once a marketer has identified who is a KOL and who is a DOL and made initial contact, it's tempting to swamp them with brochures.
Rather than explaining the benefits of the brand initiative and the solutions it might offer, it is more intriguing to the KOL to pose a problem. They may not care for a certain product or service, but they might share an organisation's vision; a shared goal for the future and an understanding around a huge problem could cement a relationship and be the foundation for co-working.

To develop a relationship marketers need to become a trusted source of information. Key opinion leaders need to maintain their knowledge of the sector, and may appreciate an organisation's research, or analysis of the industry's developments. It's likely that content marketing efforts will see more uptake from the DOLs, as they will need relevant information to pass on to their friends and followers.

Most people appreciates informative visuals, and DOLs especially can share infographics, graphically presented stats and facts, as well as original digital content, like presentation decks, videos and PDFs.

When creating original content, companies should consider not only the subject matter, but also the format. How will the digital opinion leaders access and share your content? Will non-digital opinion leaders want a printed text version of your infographic, or will they accept a PDF? It's useful to consider more recent or specific mediums such as SlideShare, Prezi, Pinterest, and Vimeo before you default to text content.

Of course, it's always possible to go further than merely providing curated or even original information, and KOLs should be engaged on a personal level. However, understanding what distinguishes a DOL from other KOLs is a good start, and something any marketer in healthcare should consider.

Article by
Wedge Black

Wedge is a consultant at Content Formula. Email him:

10th July 2014

From: Marketing



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