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 and fake news 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 learn about pharmacovigilance.

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 HCP engagement 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:

Activating Digital Opinion Leaders 2.0:  

 Digital Opinion Leaders are the new Key Opinion Leaders: Top 50 Pharma discussed online

Related FAQs

Digital Opinion Leader (DOL), is a term coined by CREATION.co in 2012, and are healthcare professionals (HCPs) that have an online influence within their area of expertise.

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.”

 

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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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