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05.08.2022 | Health Strategy

14 ways pharma can engage HCP Digital Opinion Leaders

By Katie Kennedy

Header image for 14 ways to engage DOLs

Additional ways of engaging with HCP Digital Opinion Leaders and essential thinking have been added to this article since it was original written in 2017.

Who is an opinion leader in healthcare?

There are two types of medical opinion leaders who are trusted, well-respected influencers: Key Opinion Leaders (KOLs) in pharma due to their proven experience, seniority, and expertise in a particular therapy area, and Digital Opinion Leaders (DOLs) in pharma, a term first used by CREATION.co in 2012, are considered in the context of their online influence, which does not necessarily reflect the level of professional seniority. 

So, having written a number of articles around the topic of identifying your healthcare professional Digital Opinion Leaders (HCP DOLs), I want to address another key question which I am often asked when speaking to pharmaceutical clients: once we have identified our HCP DOLs, what do we do next?

How to engage a Digital Opinion Leader?

The concept of an HCP DOL is becoming more commonplace, and we support our clients to find the best way to engage with influential online HCPs once they have been identified – or even whether to engage them at all. They are accepted as just as important as traditional Key Opinion Leaders in pharma, but how do you go about engaging with them in the right way?

We see an increasing number of pharmaceutical brands who have started the process of DOL identification but are left disappointed, with a list of potential DOLs but no support on what they should be doing to start to build relationships with them in a compliant way.

From the start of a project like this it is important for us to help teams think about how they would like to be engaging with their HCP DOLs at the end and what steps they need to take to get there. We have been helping pharmaceutical companies with their HCP engagement strategies for the past 20 years.

Based on our experience and expertise, here are some ideas on how to best engage with your HCP Digital Opinion Leaders:

1. Empower your pharma Digital Opinion Leaders

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. Develop new resources for DOLs in healthcare to share

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.

3. Connect with your pharma Digital Opinion Leaders where they are 

Find out which congresses your HCP Digital Opinion Leaders are attending, which sites they are using and which social media platforms they are most active on. That way you can focus your outreach to them in the right place, to help ensure they engage with you.

4. Discuss your DOLs’ area of interest

If you decide to send field reps to engage with your HCP Digital Opinion Leaders you can provide them with personalised insights for each DOL to ensure your field reps are discussing the topics and areas that matter most to them.

5. Go beyond your pharma opinion leader comfort zone

Some of your HCP Digital Opinion Leaders may turn out to be in roles that you do not traditionally engage with (e.g. nurses, junior doctors). If they are leading and driving the online conversation in your therapy area this could be a chance to re-think that, and reach out to a wider range of HCP DOLs.

6. Ensure your DOLs are not sharing fake news

By fact-checking your HCP Digital Opinion leaders, you can rapidly correct any misinformation you see them sharing online. If they are saying something which is incorrect this could spread online very quickly.

7. Help your DOLs grow their online healthcare community

Your HCP Digital Opinion Leaders may have a strong online following using Twitter, but their reach could be expanded by using multiple platforms. Therefore, you can help your HCP DOLs develop new social media channels (e.g. TikTok, Instagram) and/or grow their current online community for their therapy area.

8. Deepen relationships with your ‘key’ pharma Digital Opinion Leaders

It is important to develop and/or deepen your relationship with your ‘key’ HCP Digital Opinion Leaders who you now know are your online advocates.

9. Know your competitors’ ‘key’ DOLs

It is important to know which HCP DOLs are advocates for your competitors in order to amend your messaging based on an understanding of their online influence.

10. Organise a digital-only conference with your DOLs

Run your own digital-only conference encouraging your HCP Digital Opinion Leaders to not only spread the word, but to carry out key roles at the conference (e.g. chair a session, present a seminar).

11. Go live with your DOLs

Go live on social media in a video collaboration with your HCP Digital Opinion Leader. Here’s a good example from J&J.

12. Do a tweetorial with your DOL

Host a Twitter chat or a ‘tweetorial’ – a thread of multiple individual tweets linked together to either tell a story or educate on a single topic, with your Digital Opinion Leader chairing the questions from the online community.

13. Chat with your DOL and share on social media platforms

Pre-record an interview with your Digital Opinion Leader and share it on social media, encouraging the DOL to also share with their community.

14. Collaborate with your DOL on online communities like #medtwitter

You can work with your Digital Opinion Leaders to engage with their HCP peers in online communities like #MedTwitter through a Twitter poll or chat. For example, by using a Twitter poll you can ask your market a question and allow people to give their honest opinions. Furthermore, Twitter polls can stimulate important discussions, and drive engagement.

Some ideas here might seem daunting in the regulated pharmaceutical industry, so we recommend that you envision your compliance colleagues as you develop your DOL engagement plans and embrace the DOL paradigm shift needed. If you would like help with that, ask us about a facilitated HCP Insights Workshop or attend our webinar on pharmacovigilance in HCP social media listening.

Every project we support comes with an individual tailored DOL engagement strategy aligned with your business goals. Not every option mentioned here will suit a brand team but, with the right initial research, we can find the strategies that would be most valuable for you. For more information on activating Digital Opinion Leaders and understanding the influence of DOLs and how they compare to more traditional Key Opinion Leaders in pharma, why not register for our on-demand webinars:

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Meet the Author

Katie Kennedy

Katie has a background working within health organisations and continues to champion the work we do at CREATION.co amongst our current and future clients.

When not at work Katie enjoys being a mother to her two little girls, a dog, a cat, and a tortoise.

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