Digital Insights: An Extension to KOL Research

By Brian Castle, Digital Insights Lead


Over the past few years, it’s become abundantly clear that healthcare organizations can no longer solely rely on engaging key opinion leaders to shape the therapeutic areas where they do business. New stakeholders have emerged, as life sciences firms must consider the impact made by other individuals, such as treating physicians and allied health professionals, as well as stakeholders from other corners of healthcare ranging from patient advocates to medical researchers.


Now, another stakeholder group, one that reflects the diversity of the healthcare landscape, itself, has emerged in the form of digital opinion leaders (DOLs). Today, I’d like to discuss the importance of digital insights in 2021 and how companies should approach collecting this complex, fast-moving space.


Approaching Digital Insights

I recently had a conversation with a friend who leads digital strategy at a global pharmaceutical company, and he shared with me the driving ethos behind his work. When he looks at anything labeled as digital, such as DOL research and associated digital insights, he views them as an extension of engagement in the analog world with similar stakeholders. He knows that his company’s ability to extend its reach in the digital realm will give his colleagues a competitive advantage and greater platform to assist medical professionals and ultimately help patients get better.


Many minds across the field of medicine are actively sharing their opinions and findings on social media and other digital platforms, so it’s imperative for life sciences companies, always looking to be better partners to healthcare professionals and better resources to patients, to listen and listen well.


Developing a Strategy  


Before jumping straight into collecting digital insights, your company needs to create an effective strategy. My colleague Kristen Smithwick recently wrote about a conversation we had about the gold rush of digital insights, and how many companies are eager to begin so they rush the process and end up coming up empty. When venturing into this new space, planning is key to your success. 


While you eventually need to move at great speed and be nimble as the digital landscape changes your therapeutic area, it’s important to pause and develop a strategy that fits your business objectives first. This simply isn’t an area suitable for a  “jump in and break stuff” strategy. It’s much better to gather your resources, define your objectives, and execute on your plan, empathetic to the range of stakeholders that present themselves in the digital arena. Your reputation and ability to help patients demands this level of prudence.


Defining the Ecosystem


When you are ready to jump in (and break as little as possible), It’s imperative that your company takes a thorough look at the digital ecosystem surrounding your therapeutic area of concern. DOLs come in many different forms so you’ll need to expand your idea of what an opinion leader looks like. Here are a few types of people or entities that you should consider monitoring and perhaps engaging with in your new normal course of business:


  • Traditional KOLs
  • Specialist physicians
  • Primary care physicians
  • Allied health professionals
  • Medical and scientific researchers
  • Healthcare provider organizations, like centers of excellence and health systems
  • Payers and health plans, like Blue Cross, United Healthcare, and Health Canada
  • Medical societies
  • Patients
  • Patient advocacy groups, like the American Diabetes Association
  • Individual patient advocates
  • Journalists specializing in the area of healthcare

The top priority is getting people better so it’s necessary to cast your net far and wide when gathering insights that will potentially improve the quality of life for your patients.


Identifying Rising Stars Early


Every company wants to be working with the medical professionals who are going to lead the shaping of their therapeutic area in the future, and they want to identify those people and engage with them as early as possible. In 2021, we’re seeing the first generation of doctors who grew up in the digital world and have always had an online presence. On a daily basis, many of them utilize social media for professional reasons, so they slip into the role of a DOL very naturally. Unlike previous generations, where KOLs and other healthcare professionals migrated their efforts to digital, the younger generation has always been there. They are simply showcasing their professional expertise as they grow in stature.


As these vocal, highly-educated, and social/digital media-savvy HCPs grow into their careers, it’s highly likely they will continue along the path of thought leadership and develop into what we think of traditionally as KOLs. Identifying these social influencers early on is vitally important for gaining insights before any of your competitors have the chance. Paying close attention to digital influencers just makes good business sense.


If you’re interested in developing a digital engagement strategy with those who shape your space,  reach out to us at Thought Leader Select.  We will be happy to help you identify and understand the appropriate DOLs in your therapeutic area.


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