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The Top 3 Criteria for Identifying Digital Key Opinion Leaders | KOL Management Tips

Jun 12, 2020

For decades, Medical Science Liaisons and Medical Affairs Associates have built relationships with Key Opinion Leaders (KOL). KOLs have been identified as influential health care practitioners (HCP) who take part in studies and trials, join advisory boards, present to peers, and publish in journals.

Today, social media has created a new opportunity for Medical Affairs to gather new insights and  identify unmet needs. Digital Opinion Leaders (DOL), also known as Connected Opinion Leaders, are simply HCPs with an existing online presence. Most DOLs share a relevant message to their engaged social following in lieu of traditional engagement such as speaking and publishing.

For example, dermatologist and internist Dr. Steven T. Chen is known for his “#tweetorials” on Twitter. These are long threads that explore the latest clinical findings on topics relevant to his profession. See Dr. Chen’s #tweetorial on Stevens Johnson Syndrome (SJS) and Toxic Epidermal Necrolysis (TEN), life-threatening dermatologic toxicities. Both are usually reactions to a medication. This and other information Dr. Chen tweets are essential to medical education.

Dr. Chen and other HCPs with a similar public profile have a different influence than traditional KOLs, reaching an audience of their peers with every post. Dr. Chen has more than 5,600 Twitter followers; a significant share are dermatologists. Many of these physicians also have an online following of other doctors. With a few dozen retweets, Dr. Chen is able to generate tens of thousands of impressions (views) in a few hours.

Many Medical Affairs managers we have worked with are just starting to see the importance of DOLs. Their reach shows that online influence is essential when designating an opinion leader. Through a traditional, in-person relationship, Medical Affairs can provide news, updates, and education.

So, how do you find DOLs? What makes a good DOL? Specifically, what should you consider when designating an online opinion leader? Here are the three essential criteria to consider.


Number of Followers

Knowing the number of people a DOL is potentially interacting with every time they post is key to estimating their possible reach on a given topic. Generally, larger follower counts translate to greater potential influence. At Acceleration Point, a Medical Affairs and KOL management company, we look for opinion leaders with at least 1,500 to 2,000 followers. Social media platforms such as Twitter provide a follower count on a user’s profile, so this is an easy metric to get for public accounts. The hard part is finding these people in the first place. Just because someone is an HCP doesn’t mean they meet all three DOL criteria.

Some influential medical professionals such as Sandra Siew Pin Lee, also known as “Dr. Pimple Popper,” have hundreds of thousands of followers. However, her content targets the general public rather than medical professionals, so we do not consider them DOLs. A physician with industry insights is more relevant to Medical Affairs, which brings us to number two.


Number of Health Care Practitioner Followers

Understanding the composition of a DOL’s audience is also useful, particularly the number of doctors or even doctors in your therapeutic area. Typically, a DOL’s audience should consist of 25% or more HCPs. We also look for social authority among their followers’ followers. Does a DOL’s audience include doctors who also have peers following them? A good DOL is someone whose content gets shared by people who are also members of the medical community.

To evaluate a DOL’s network, you can review their list of followers for their identified professions. As you can imagine, this is a time-consuming task. There are a range of tools you can use to assist with this process, ranging from minimal costs (e.g., FollowerWonk) to thousands of dollars (e.g., Brandwatch). At Acceleration Pont, we run data analyses to confirm a DOL’s social authority before suggesting them for engagement.


Number of Relevant Topic Mentions

DOLs can post their own original content, share content created by others, or do some combination of the two. Some of a DOL’s content should be relevant to your therapeutic area, indication, company, or product. After all, it only matters how many people they can reach if they’re sharing content relevant to your scientific topics or interests!

Dr. Steve Chen is a provocative HCP whose content creates high engagement. In addition to tweeting information on recognizing and treating diseases, DOLs drive conversation and amass physician followers by writing, tweeting, or sharing their responses to new data, little-known trends, or the latest journal article in their practice area.

You can review and analyze a DOL’s posts for keywords and themes to develop an understanding of the DOL’s frequency of mentions aligned to your interests. Additional tools to simplify and automate this process are available.

Evaluating DOLs with these criteria can improve the quality of both the DOLs identified and the insights gleaned from them. But this is the beginning of the search, not the end. What other criteria can you use to determine which digital Key Opinion Leaders to engage? Let us know in the comments below.

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