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

By Anni Neumann

At the 2022 BHBIA Conference CREATION won the award for Best Paper presented and also the Chairs BOBI award for Best Response to COVID-19 with Frontline.Live.

Here is our paper which was presented by:

Katz Kiely, Founder of Beep and Frontline.Live

Katz is a serial entrepreneur and solution designer who built the first open innovation platform for HP, re-architected the way a UN agency does business and designed a behaviour change platform with Intel that connected mobiles, big screens and data.

Anni Neumann, Associate Director of Client Excellence, CREATION.co

Anni’s career in the pharmaceutical industry spans markets across Europe and South America. Today in her role as Associate Director of Health Strategy, she leads the work with CREATION.co’s clients to best serve their needs and help them solve their key business challenges.

[Katz] So, I want to tell you how Frontline Live happened…

It was April 2020. I was talking to a friend, she’s a Senior Nurse. I was complaining about not being able to get a shopping delivery and she said… poor you… tomorrow I will be dealing with COVID patients and we don’t have any masks!

Close your eyes for a second. Imagine what that was like. Remember the fear we ALL felt and imagine what it was like to have no masks. No gloves. No gowns. Nothing to protect you from THAT virus. I started seeing thousands of doctors, nurses, health care workers tweeting about the same thing. 35.000 healthcare workers to be more specific. At the same time lots of community groups were raising money for PPE. Others were making PPE or pivoting their business to give hand gel away. 

But, there was no way for people who had PPE to connect with people who needed PPE quickly. I could see there was a way to fix it… So I put out a call on my social channels. Over 40 volunteers stepped forward to build frontline.live. We built and launched the platform within 4 weeks.

How did it work? People in need could Tweet their need or fill in an anonymous form on the website and we added their need to a digital map so these communities could get the urgent protection they needed. Unfortunately, ‘build it and they will come’ never works – and we had no money for communications, so we had to box clever to get the word out.

We formed partnerships with two amazing PR agencies who got us a partnership with  The Sun and the Times – who by the way gave us a free full page spread in the Saturday magazine. The GM of SnapChat ran a national campaign for two weeks. The CEO of Ocean Outdoor gave us 18 of the biggest digital outdoor screens in cities across the UK to run ads for a whole month. We reached millions. But kept hearing that our target audience, those in need, didn’t know we were there. They were busy… they were scared to speak up. We all know that people need to feel confident to use a new service.

The Challenge

We needed to break through the noise.

We needed credible voices to be advocates.

Our volunteers had day jobs – and we had zero to pay for a targeted campaign. 

Enter CREATION.co. 

The Solution

[Anni] Firstly CREATION.co collected the data of public and anonymous PPE requests from HCPs as reported via the Frontline.Live platform. We then used CREATION Pinpoint to analyse the unprompted conversations of UK healthcare workers discussing PPE on public social media (generally, and when raising specific PPE needs) to supplement and validate these insights.

Common lexicon being used in HCP PPE discussion was identified to improve future engagement between Frontline.Live and healthcare workers in need. As well as this, HCP PPE needs were classified and compared by HCP role, type of PPE, location, and across the public and anonymous requests, to analyse trends within these.

3 HCP Digital Opinion Leaders and other influential HCP authors in the online PPE conversation were identified and profiled.

Before we share the key insights from this amazing work, I want to explain some thoughts very quickly around Digital Opinion Leaders or ‘DOLs’.

  • We might define a DOL as an individual or organisation, who influences the view or behaviour of other health stakeholders through their digital activity.
  • To identify those DOLs we are able to measure different indicators of peer-to-peer trust and engagement
  • Only because somebody posts a lot of content, does not make them credible; simply because somebody claims to be a doctor, does not make them trusted.
  • But when a physician shares in open dialogue with peers, the credibility of their voice is tested by the network. Influence is determined by the “crowd” of other experts, in a type of mass peer review. So those trusted by other physicians develop a strong network of influence among their peers.

When a physician is trusted by their peers online, they can make a significant impact on learning, on health systems, and through this on health outcomes, often all over the world.

This graph above shows HCPs from across the globe sharing health information from various sources at the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic.

It’s important to remember that DOLs are real people! Even with the word digital, it doesn’t make them any less human. Take Mark Lewis for example who is a pancreatic cancer survivor who is a real patient advocate and influences the pancreatic cancer online space.

The Insights

After we received all the data our team of analysts started to look through the conversation and pull out insights. Firstly, we saw that more senior HCPs felt comfortable to share their needs about PPE shortages online as junior HCPs felt less able to speak out. Doctors were most actively raising awareness of and talking about shortages on public forums. Nurses, carers, and allied health professionals were also vocal in the shortage space.

It was powerful and heart-breaking at times to see HCP posts sharing their specific needs like ‘we need face masks’ or ‘eye protection for surgeons’.

The HCPs’ online PPE conversations were analysed by topic and sentiment and we were able to pull out different concerns and experiences with emotions.

Influencers were identified who engaged in the conversation.

In the context of PPE, influential HCPs were identified as either ‘HCP influencers’ or ‘Active posters’. HCP influencers are likely to have a high Twitter following and the content they post is often shared a large number of times. They may post less frequently about PPE, but when they do, their content has the potential to reach a large audience. Active posters may have a reduced following compared to HCP influencers and their content is less widely shared, however they are actively involved in the PPE conversation and tend to post more original PPE content. 

Besides HCP influencers and active posters, we identified the key HCP Digital Opinion Leaders, which were a GP, a Palliative Care Physician and a Cardiologist. 

Asif Qasim ended up being key to this project. As we shared about this work online, he was also very happy to be a PPE Digital Opinion Leader in the UK as you can see in his post!

And one last interesting thing about Asif Qasim. He was part of an online cluster which centres on UK Doctors’ Associations. This was a very frontline-worker focused network which mostly included HCPs. The non-HCP accounts in the cluster are often medical organisations, for example, The BMA and PHE. 

The Results

Using the insights we started tailoring our messages to the things that triggered the highest levels of engagement and using words that resonated best with our target audiences.

We used the data to get more PR to raise awareness. We started building relationships with the key influencers, the people our target audiences trusted and listened to.
We found that like Asif, people like to be seen as opinion leaders! Asif pulled together a cohort of the most active, most influential players in the most influential organisations. One of those organisations had raised money for PPE, one of them had warehouse space to store the PPE they bought. Our risk radar platform meant we knew exactly where and when needs were arising.

The piece de resistance was persuading the CTO of My Hermes to agree to collect and deliver that PPE from that warehouse to the people who needed it within 24 hours.

Across our network we delivered over half a million items of PPE… and not one single penny changed hands

The Key Learnings

This was an impactful project in so many ways, but there are principles that can be applied to other health and communication challenges

  1. Listen to your customers in real time to understand their needs, in this case on PPE, and to understand their behaviours, in this case fewer senior roles where less likely to share their concerns.
  2. Partner with influential stakeholders. Having identified Digital Opinion Leaders, establishing mutual goals will be essential to any successful collaboration, advocacy, or partnership. This will create a community which has power to change things!
  3. It is not about creating more noise online but to add value to the HCP conversation by effectively communicating to in this case the frontline care workers.

This is just the beginning

This is an open source platform (process, partners and tech) that can be easily replicated for any crisis when unexpected needs appear. As such we have recently launched FrontlineLiveUkraine.org! Aid organisations, health care organisations, schools can report when they’re running short of supplies so that citizen activists and aid organisations can get supplies to where they are needed fast.

If you would like to support FrontlineLiveUkraine.org then please get in touch with Katz or to discuss how understanding your customers better could impact your organisation and their efforts then Anni would love to hear from you.

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Meet the Author

Anni Neumann

Anni has spent over 10 years working in the pharmaceutical sector and has been part of various global efforts to support healthcare and the pharma industry relationships. She is an award winning consultant with expertise on enabling cross functional pharmaceutical teams to add value to their health stakeholder communities.

Anni is part of a ladies chamber choir and being married to a chef she also enjoys very, very good food.

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