The Elastic Nature of Digital Opinion Leaders

By Brian Castle, Digital Insights Lead


In the past few years, we’ve seen a massive uptick in digital influencer research within the medical industry. By identifying, profiling, understanding, and engaging with digital opinion leaders (DOLs) within a therapeutic area, organizations are able to tap into a wealth of innovation that will help them improve their offerings and better serve patients and other stakeholders. Countless data firms have attempted to take advantage of this booming market by compiling data sets driven by keyword searches. However, without the proper scientific and analytical skills to distill the volume of data and identify which points are most relevant and actionable, these “data dumps” are useless.


Let’s discuss the elasticity of the digital space and how the right tools–in the hands of the right researchers–can properly shape it. 


Making Sense of Millions of Results


When performing traditional KOL assessments across multiple areas of scientific activity, our research group will plug keywords into a set of search tools and often come back with several hundred thousand data points. As for DOL research, the number of data points for a typical therapeutic area could be several million. When conducting research on digital influencers, your search tool will assess millions of social posts, forum comments, and blog entries related to your chosen keywords. Even if you’re searching within a tight-knit geographical area, a typical keyword search will generate a staggering number of results which would be virtually impossible for anyone to search through manually, using the search function built in to most platforms. Once a search is completed, a skilled team of researchers needs to sort through the results and determine which ones are relevant.


The Right Tools


Before conducting any searches, the Thought Leader Select team takes the time to ensure we have a thorough understanding of the therapeutic space and specific digital channels of interest before we deploy the proper tools for gathering useful insights. For starters, it’s important to determine which social channels to gather data from, and the rule of thumb is to choose channels where you could engage authentically with digital opinion leaders. Unless they have a dedicated social media team, few DOLs have the time or energy to utilize more than two to three social and digital platforms. Typically, they will select one text-oriented platform, such as Twitter or Facebook, and one visual platform, like Instagram or YouTube, for sharing medical information and opinions. They may integrate a blog or guest column on a digital platform for sharing written content in longer form.


Despite the fact that many influential DOLs are active on Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, and LinkedIn, many data firms will only focus on insights gathered from Twitter. Due to Twitter’s easy-to-navigate Application Programming Interface (API), searching through and analyzing past Tweets is a fairly straightforward process. Our team has invested in multiple tools, as we have for our “analog” KOL research, so that we can take a holistic approach to social media listening and employ tools that allow us to scan virtually every major social and digital platform in multiple languages (since we have a global client base).


Finding the Sweet Spot


I tell our clients all the time that the digital space is quite “elastic.” If you make a search too general or don’t spend the time narrowing down the information, you’re going to end up with a whole lot of clutter. Conversely, if you make your search too specific, you’re going to miss a lot of key DOLs that arise in more expansive searches. In order to generate the ideal list of influencers, a researcher needs to find the “sweet spot” between overly general and too specific, and this requires a trained, but experimental approach. Our team is skilled at crafting custom searches according to a company’s unique needs and delivering the needed results, and we trust our process.


Human-Driven Data


When sorting through a data set, it’s not enough to simply “clean” the data and organize it. A skilled scientific researcher must look at the data and determine which insights are relevant and actionable for your organization. When researchers lack the perspective of scientific training, the results are imperiled. I’ve personally looked at DOL assessment results where less than 10 percent of the DOLs submitted for engagement were appropriate (and the rest weren’t even close). Thus, it’s critical to have the right technology tools combined with scientific research expertise in a space that’s simply wild with data and insights possibilities. Your assessment will fail before launch without the right technology tools, and it’ll fail in the end without the right human perspectives.


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