28.02.2022 | Health Strategy

The paradigm shift needed to improve DOL engagement strategy

By Anni Neumann

There isn’t a week when we don’t speak about Digital Opinion Leader (DOL) engagement with our clients. It is one of the hot topics at the moment. For some of our clients, this subject is a very new one and sometimes a very challenging one. It entails so much and is changing the way pharma is communicating with its key stakeholders, especially healthcare professionals. But to ensure that pharma stays connected and builds long-lasting relationships we need to explore and embrace those new digital ways of communicating, including the use of social media platforms.

What is a Digital Opinion Leader? We might define a Digital Opinion Leader as an individual or organisation, who influences the view or behaviour of other health stakeholders through their digital activity.

The main hurdles our clients are facing when building their DOL engagement strategies are internal compliance and legal processes. Mainly, those processes are used in traditional KOL engagement and have now been adapted for DOLs, which of course brings its own challenges. Let’s unpack this and give you some tools on how to start good internal conversations with your compliance and legal colleagues.

Start with the big picture in mind

If you are thinking about implementing a DOL engagement strategy, you need to start with the big picture in mind! Here at CREATION.co, we will help you do this. It can start with simple questions on why do you need Digital Opinion Leaders? What are you trying to solve? Our first recommendation is to include your legal and compliance team in this early stage process. If they start this journey at the beginning with you, chances are they carry the vision together with you and get a deep understanding of what you are trying to solve.

Understand your HCP Customers’ unmet needs

“I am not allowed to reach out to my Digital Opinion Leaders”

This is a phrase we hear very often. At the end of 2021, we ran a webinar called Activating Digital Opinion Leaders 2.0. In this webinar we introduced CREATION.co’s method of activating Digital Opinion Leaders in three steps:

  • Identify 
  • Engage
  • Activate


Image showing how to identify, engage and activate DOLs

At first glance, this looks much like the model used in traditional KOL activity. The difference in the digital world is that each of these steps requires a paradigm shift in order to be effective. DOL activation is a process that is rooted in meaningful relationship building and trust. It takes time, effort and good planning to build, develop and maintain a successful DOL activation strategy.

When you work with us on your DOL engagement strategy you either have done or will start with a Healthcare Professional (HCP) insights landscape project. With our world’s largest HCP database of more than 3 million HCP social media profiles, we are able to analyse any therapy area, in any market worldwide to understand what HCPs are saying. You have to start here – understanding your customer needs

Reaching out to your DOLs is not the only option

Once you understand what the HCPs’ unmet needs are and where you can make a positive difference, you will be able to see that reaching out to your DOLs is not always the only way. For example, insight into the channels that HCPs are using, the information they need, the language they use or the organisations they engage with, will help you to start building your DOL strategy without directly reaching out to them. The knowledge gained will help you to add value to their online conversations.

And remember this: don’t just randomly reach out to your Digital Opinion Leaders!

A paradigm shift is needed for DOL engagement strategy

Above we said that DOL engagement strategy requires a paradigm shift. Stephan R. Covey, referencing Thomas Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, says in his book ‘The 7 habits of highly effective people’: “almost every significant breakthrough in the field of scientific endeavour is first a break with tradition, with old ways of thinking, with old paradigms. Paradigm shifts move us from one way of seeing the world to another. And those shifts create powerful change.

In the business world, a paradigm shift is often a change in the perception of how things should be thought about, done, or made. A paradigm shift won’t happen overnight and when it comes to DOL engagement it will also require teamwork internally. Which is the third point to elaborate on. We are working with many of the top ten pharmaceutical companies. Those are big organisations with many thousands of people. If you come up with the idea of DOL engagement and challenge what has been done so far with KOLs, those ideas capable of creating paradigm shifts aren’t always well received at first. Persevere!

Internal communication and collaboration is so important

Find those people within your organisation who are passionate about DOL engagement too. Communicate internally! Offer internal lunch & learning sessions or Masterclasses on DOL engagement to envision your colleagues. Prepare resources that will help different teams within the organisation to start thinking differently. Organise webinars and have experts speak on those topics. Invite those that are sceptical to workshops to explore the idea of DOL engagement together. Regularly have internal sessions, so you can learn from each other. You will be surprised to see that other colleagues may have had success with DOL engagement! 

Identified DOLs are for your whole organisation, not only for your opportunity and other colleagues will benefit from this relationship too. This is why internal communication and collaboration is so important. You will see that once you have started to create this internal movement on DOL engagement, the paradigm shift has started and a new way of thinking and doing has been implemented.

In summary:

  • If you are thinking about DOL engagement strategy, start with the bigger picture in mind.
  • Involve your legal and compliance colleagues early on to catch your vision.
  • Understand your HCP customers and start building your DOL engagement, it’s not always reaching out to them directly.
  • Don’t just randomly reach out to your Digital Opinion Leaders!
  • DOL engagement requires a paradigm shift – persevere as ideas capable of creating paradigm shifts aren’t always well received at first.
  • Communicate internally – invite to lunch & learn sessions, webinars or create internal resources for your colleagues.
  • Learn from each other!

To understand more about engaging DOLs from a new paradigm, then explore our Resources or get in touch, we’d love to chat!

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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.