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What is a Digital Opinion Leader?

A decade ago CREATION.co introduced a new group of online medical influencers who were impacting the views and behaviours of physicians, policymakers, and patients: Digital Opinion Leaders.

The precise definition of a Digital Opinion Leader (DOL) depends on what you see as important, this will affect which DOLs are relevant to you. We are specialists at asking the right questions so that we can identify those key influencers who are in line with your specific objectives.

Watch the beginner's guide to DOLs webinar
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How do Digital Opinion Leaders compare with KOLs?

By definition, there are significant differences between traditional Key Opinion Leaders, active online KOLs and Digital Opinion Leaders:

  • A traditional KOL is typically a highly regarded medical expert in their field as a result of their innovative research at respected institutions, publications in high-impact research journals, and presentations at renowned conferences.
  • Active online KOLs are traditional KOLs who are also active online and are part of the wider health online conversation.
  • A DOL as any individual or organisation, who influences the view or behaviour of other health stakeholders through their digital activity.
Read how DOLs compare to KOLs
DOL Mapping #2

How do I identify my Digital Opinion Leaders?

HCP DOLs are driving health policy decisions, defining the views of their online peers, and may be shaping your brand well before your product launches. To identify the right DOL for you, you need to answer these questions:

  • What challenge am I trying to solve?
  • Who is the target audience?
  • What type of DOL collaboration will address this challenge and connect with the audience?
Learn more about mapping your DOLs
DOL Mapping

How do I engage Digital Opinion Leaders?

Just as with your interactions with traditional Key Opinion Leaders (KOLs), it is important to remember that your Digital Opinion Leaders are also people. For effective and long lasting DOL engagement you need to:

  • Build relationships
  • Engage DOLs in a meaningful way
  • Partner in line with your DOLs’ digital preferences
Learn more about engaging your DOLs
DOL Mapping

How do I activate Digital Opinion Leaders?

If you are thinking about implementing a DOL engagement strategy, you need to start with the big picture in mind. Our first recommendation is to include your legal and compliance team. If they start the journey at the beginning there is a bigger chance they will carry the vision.

Learn more about activating your DOLs

What does this look like in practice?

Watch these case studies to understand how you could be working with Digital Opinion Leaders in the future

Learn more about DOLs

Watch on-demand webinars and read white papers and articles to find out more about HCP Digital Opinion Leaders and how healthcare companies can support them.

14.03.2022 | Article

Breaking out of the erratic Digital Opinion Leader engagement cycle

We see a hunger for change in DOL engagement across the largest pharmaceutical companies...

By Laura McIntyre

Header image for 14 ways to engage DOLs

05.08.2022 | Article

14 ways pharma can engage HCP Digital Opinion Leaders

Learn about 14 ways pharma can engage HCP Digital Opinion Leaders - CREATION.co has 10+ year

By Katie Kennedy

31.03.2023 | Article

Which HCPs are your potential future Digital Opinion Leaders?

Find out who is a 'rising star' and how we can help you build relationships with them

By Katie Kennedy

07.03.2023 | Article

Leading women are at the forefront of the oncology digital space

CREATION.co celebrates 5 female Digital Opinion Leaders Oncologists.

By Mary Kangley

29.11.2022 | Article

KOLs and DOLs – the same or not the same? That is the question

Are KOLs, active online KOLs, and DOLs the same. The answer is usually no!

By Anni Neumann

06.07.2022 | Article

Leverage your Digital Opinion Leaders to dramatically increase awareness and drive meaningful action

Discover CREATION.co's winning presentation and award entry from BHBIA 2022

By Anni Neumann

28.06.2024 | Article

At the 84th annual ADA Congress, obesity got HCPs talking online

During ADA 2024, HCPs posted over 1,500 times about a range of diabetic-related diseases.

By Cameron Bassindale

20.02.2024 | Article

Top 5 Women’s Healthcare Influencers

Looking at the top 5 DOLs influence the women's health HCP conversation online

By Mary Kangley

08.02.2024 | Article

How pharmacists use social media

Uncovering 3 key ways pharmacists use social media by analysing their online conversations

By Eden Daniel and Doménica Carpio

01.02.2024 | Article

The DOLs at the forefront of cardiology

Looking at the top DOLs influencing the online HCP conversation in cardiology

By Eden Daniel

24.11.2023 | Article

eHCPs are overwhelmingly against charging for the use of X

eHCPs express their opposition towards Elon Musk's decision to begin charging X users

By Cameron Bassindale and Jamie Doggett

26.10.2023 | Article

The online behaviours of Japanese eHCPs are distinct

Looking at the online behaviour and peer interactions of Japanese HCPs on X (Twitter)

By Cameron Bassindale

19.10.2023 | Article

How eHCPs can influence the HIV epidemic in South America

Looking at the eHCP conversation in South American regarding disparities in HIV prevention

By Mark Sullivan

FAQs

Digital Opinion Leaders (DOL), are healthcare professionals (HCPs) that have a large online influence within their area of expertise of the pharma industry, normally using social media platforms to share information and advice.

At CREATION.co, we’ve led the way in using data science to identify and profile healthcare professional Digital Opinion Leaders since we first introduced the concept in 2012.

Deciding how to identify, profile and engage DOLs is a process as unique as your own goals. So we work with you to define what’s most important in your particular DOL identification and profiling exercise.

Below is an illustration of 10 of our metrics to identify your DOLs. 

10 ways to identify DOLs

  1. Do they post about relevant content?
  2. Do they have an HCP or public following?
  3. Are they trusted among online HCP peers?
  4. Are they active in the online conversation?
  5. Do they have a public influence?
  6. Do they have a social media presence?
  7. Are they in an existing relationship with you?
  8. Are they engaged in the online scientific community?
  9. Is their online influence local or global?
  10. Do they support other health communities or patient groups?

To learn more visit our Digital Opinion Leader Mapping page

We have been helping pharmaceutical companies with their HCP engagement strategies for the past 20 years. Based on our experience and expertise, here are our top 3 ideas on how to best engage with your HCP Digital Opinion Leaders:

  1. Run a training course specifically for your HCP DOLs to educate them in an area they may be expressing a lack of certainty about. They could then be empowered to share the learnings with their followers.
  2. Provide educational resources published in their preferred format which they would be able to easily digest and repurpose.
  3. Be where your HCP DOL customers are by finding out which congresses they are attending, which sites they are using, and which social media platforms they are on. That way you can focus your outreach to them in the right place.

For the rest of our list, check out our HCP engagement strategies article.

Once you have identified your Digital Opinion Leaders, you need to consider how to engage effectively with them. However, before you start thinking about identifying DOLs, you need to put this into context with your long-term goals and think about what would make a Digital Opinion Leader for you. You need to consider:

  • Do you want someone who is leading the patient or peer community? 
  • Do you want DOLs with a global following or who are more influential locally? 
  • Do you want an opinion leader who is vocal about certain topics? 
  • Does it matter to you the role type they are in or is it just important that they are leading your community? 
  • Do they have the same values as you?

If you start by answering these, and other strategic DOL questions, you will have a much clearer picture of what a perfect DOL would look like for your business. 

Remember, there is no single set of metrics that defines DOL impact. Individual pharma companies should design goals that reflect outcomes aligned with their business objectives. As well as ensuring those objectives also align with the goals of the DOL and, in some cases, the patient community.

At CREATION.co, we spend time ensuring those objectives have been discussed and with a pre-qualified database of nearly 3 million global HCP social media profiles, we can adjust our metrics to ensure the DOLs we identify are the right ones to support your goals.

DOLs suitable for marketing or commercial teams might look different to those suitable for the medical teams. CREATION.co have therefore identified a subset of Digital Opinion Leaders – Digital Scientific Leaders (DSLs). DSLs are HCPs who possess all the qualities of a DOL but have a specific focus and influence in the scientific conversation within the therapy area. 

 

DSLs are driving the discussion around latest study and trial data, testing and diagnosis, and mechanism of action of treatments. In other words, they have a natural inclination to lead and shape the scientific dialogue amongst their peers online. They usually have higher scientific credentials and use their media for peer learning, education, and collaboration.

 

To learn more, read our article about Medical Affairs: best practice for identifying online HCP thought leaders

DOLs are already regulated, in the sense that their behaviour as professionals is governed by their respective professional bodies. In the UK, for example, the General Medical Council (GMC), which governs medical doctors, has provided guidance for doctors on their use of social media since 2013. While controversial among some doctors, the guidance forbids doctors from anonymity on social media.

Furthermore, and relevant to the role of DOLs, the GMC guidance requires doctors to declare any commercial or financial interests in pharmaceutical companies: “When you post material online, you should be open about any conflict of interest and declare any financial or commercial interests in healthcare organisations or pharmaceutical and biomedical companies.”