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KOL Digital Listening: Going Beyond the Search for Digital Opinion Leaders

Over the past three years, the amount of scientific discussion moving online has accelerated. Digital platforms like social media, websites, blogs, news, and videos are being used by the medical community to share new data, discuss treatment approaches, and to educate about diseases across all therapeutic areas. Medical affairs has also turned to these newly enriched sources to identify digital thought leaders who are influential in their therapeutic areas.  This is a great start, but the true value of digital listening goes beyond the identification of new experts.

Key Opinion Leaders Online

Often more important than identifying new digital thought leaders is the ability to generate insights and prepare for better engagements with your existing key opinion leaders. In a recent study of over 50,000 key opinion leaders, Acceleration Point found that 54% have online content relevant to a disease or treatment. Looking at Twitter as one example, depending on the therapeutic area between 18% and 40% of KOLs were active on this one specific network. The average KOL who is active on Twitter has 2,200 followers with a quarter of them identified as other health care providers.

Finding true digital thought leaders is also important. In fact, across the data in the study the average digital thought leader will have four times the amount of scientific content than the average key opinion leader. However, there are typically only 20-30 true digital opinion leaders globally for any disease. These are often credentialed experts, producing scientific content, distributed through their own channels, with a significant reach. While each expert has a larger number of contributions, digital thought leaders only contribute a small percentage of scientific contributions online.

Three Keys to Effective KOL Digital Listening

Finding and analyzing this content can be challenging. Many teams start with individuals searching through google, Twitter, LinkedIn, and other digital sources to find relevant content. However, as the importance of these digital conversations increases having more sophisticated methods for gathering and analyzing digital insights becomes more important.

There are three keys to effective KOL digital listening:

  • Look Beyond Social Media

There are millions of digital sources worldwide. Social media is certainly an important source which may include Twitter, Facebook, and QQ, and more. To capture a more complete view it is also important to capture other sources. One of the largest sources is news. News may be therapeutic area-specific like Oncology Today or may be consumer-based like CNN. Others include video sites such as YouTube and Vimeo which are used in education. Or, podcasts hosted by digital thought leaders, industry partners, or third parties provide a place to share thoughts on key scientific topics. Finally, blogs can be found on a variety of personal, company, and organization websites.

Monitoring across such a broad array of sources it is important to use a tool to pull this data into a single view and filter it down to relevant scientific content. In Acceleration Point’s study, 60% of any given KOL’s contributions are about a disease or treatment. This is a lot, but it will save your team time by ensuring that your tools remove irrelevant content before it is presented to you.

  • Earned vs Owned Content

Most key opinion leaders do not post content themselves. They do not always have Twitter accounts, YouTube channels, or set up their own blogs. The thoughts of most key opinion leaders are found on sources owned by others. When someone’s digital influence comes from sources owned by others, it is called earned content.

Some examples of earned content include when a KOL is interviewed in the news. The thoughts expressed are those of the KOL but the owner of the content is the news outlet. Another example is when a KOL writes an article, but their institution posts it on the company blog. One last example is if the KOL’s talk is recorded and posted on YouTube. The KOL’s talk is listed on YouTube, but the video is posted by a society instead of by the expert.

Acceleration Point’s study found a 500% increase in content when both owned and earned content are included.

  • Utilize Artificial Intelligence

Scanning through thousands of individual posts, articles, and videos is not practical. A good artificial intelligence engine, trained specifically for medical, can help save time and make it easier to find trends in the data.

Artificial intelligence can help find discussions about specific diseases, mentions of related treatments, and help identify topics relevant medical topics. It can reveal new topics that have been mentioned, reveal how these topics have changed over time, and enable you to quickly identify which experts have been talking about each of the topics.

We all listen to what key opinion leaders are saying in publications and in congress abstracts. Now, with modern tools built specifically for medical affairs, we can listen to what our key opinion leaders are saying in the digital space. With these new sources you can quickly discover new insights and prepare to engage with KOLs more effectively.

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