The rise of the Digital Opinion Leader

Laura Bushell
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Key Opinion Leaders (KOLs) have always played an important role in drug discovery and development, as well as delivery to the market. A valuable resource for clinical and medical insights, KOLs are trusted on the grounds of demonstrable experience and expertise – they’re often specialist medical practitioners or leading researchers in specific fields, such as epidemiology or oncology.

‘KOLs play a vital role in the development and successful launch of novel products and, due to their interaction with both medical specialists and patients, they can also help companies identify needs and gaps.’

What is a DOL?

Like KOLs, Digital Opinion Leaders (DOLs) are experts in their fields and exert significant influence in the sector. It’s their digital-first mentality that sets them apart. DOLs have mastered the use of online channels and can quickly share or amplify information, sparking conversation amongst their followers and reaching a wider audience in the digital sphere.

DOLs are actively engaged on social media and well-connected to researchers, doctors and other Healthcare Professionals (HCPs). They build strong online communities through relevant knowledge sharing and by starting and facilitating topical discussions that involve their followers. When new information becomes available, DOLs are the first to communicate this. They catch the attention of HCPs, cutting through the noise with the most relevant updates in a therapeutic area.

DOLs are also distinct from KOLs in another key way. In the past, only certain people could become KOLs, those whose voices resonated in the scientific community. They established themselves as trustworthy experts with publications in respected medical journals and by presenting clinical data at conferences. DOLs, however, can make their voices heard through the sheer power of their digital communication. By cutting through the digital noise and conveying key points in an impactful way, DOLs make the lives of HCPs easier. They take the facts and turn them into a compelling story that resonates with diverse audiences.

‘DOLs can help pharmaceutical companies achieve communication objectives, particularly in terms of product perception.’

Engaging with DOLs

DOLs help pharmaceutical companies achieve communication objectives, particularly in terms of product perception, right from highlighting early research findings through to commercialization on both the medical and patient sides. DOLs also provide key input to clinical trial recruitment and shape perspectives on particular conditions that will, in turn, influence which treatments are chosen. Moreover, DOLs influence the work of advisory boards as well as patient advocate groups, and they can provide insightful feedback on marketing messages. The fact that DOLs operate so effectively online also means they are able to reach a far more diverse range of people than those using more traditional platforms and means of communication.

Read our report ‘Building a bigger picture to’ to learn more about DOLs and how you can engage with them.