29.03.2021 | Health Strategy

The difference between DOLs and KOLs and why it matters to pharma

By Katie Kennedy

Key Opinion Leaders vs Digital Opinion Leaders in pharma

Key Opinion Leaders (KOLs) in pharma tend to be considered KOLs based on their experience, seniority and role, whereas Digital Opinion Leaders (DOLs), a term coined by CREATION.co in 2012, are considered in the context of their online influence, which does not necessarily reflect the level of professional seniority.

When we are supporting clients by identifying HCP DOLs, we find that although a percentage of them are also KOLs, the majority are not. They are passionate individuals from a variety of roles who really see the benefit in using the online space to connect with their peers globally and make a difference.

What do DOLs offer pharma over traditional KOLs?

Pharma KOLs build up their reputation over time becoming someone that their more junior peers look up to. However, online forums such as social media, create more of a level playing field for other voices to be heard.

As long as they are respected by their peers and engage with their online community it matters less the role type or seniority level of an HCP. We have seen nurses who are passionate about a particular topic become DOLs in their field and are being listened to by HCPs in senior roles in a way that would not happen in day-to-day life.

The advantages of online conversations and discussions between HCPs are significant. They can be much more immediate, responding to news as it happens or data as it is released. Discussions occurring online also happen at a global level and can allow HCPs to share information and learn from peers across countries in an instant.

The COVID-19 pandemic encouraged HCPs to move into the digital space more and at CREATION.co we are helping lots of our pharma clients to understand how they can work with this new way of finding, sharing and discussing accurate information.

How to support KOLs in pharma to transfer their influence online

It will be a real shame to not see traditional KOLs embrace the growth of digital networks among HCPs. They have such an important voice and moving online will enable them to reach peers from across the globe as well as having conversations that they wouldn’t be able to have without it.

Pre COVID-19 we saw a trend that HCPs were less interested in face to face meetings with pharmaceutical representatives and were increasingly inclined to connect with their peers online. This only accelerated due to the pandemic and we are hearing from pharma that HCPs are preferring the online interaction and the convenience it brings.

We have some great examples of supporting pharma to help HCPs bridge the gap between offline and online influence. For some clients, we have identified HCP DOLs and partnered them with their more traditional KOLs in pharma as there is a lot they can learn from one another. DOLs can share information on how social media can best support KOLs and KOLs can share their wealth of knowledge and experience if the DOL has less practising experience. This exchange of knowledge works really well as it is mutually beneficial.

By providing training in relevant social media tactics, we have also worked with pharmaceutical companies to support HCP collaboration and digital adoption.

To understand more about the differences between DOLs and KOLs watch our on demand webinar or get in touch, we’d love to help.

Read the next article in the series which looks at understanding the digital preferences of Digital Opinion Leaders and how best to engage with them.

View all articles >

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.