May 3, 2021

Who are digital opinion leaders, and why do you need them?

DOLs may already be influencing your audience. Here’s how you can engage with them and leverage their reach.

Your team likely maintains and nurtures relationships with KOLs, but what are you doing to identify and engage DOLs?

DOLs, or digital opinion leaders, are similar to KOLs, but they have a different reach and use different channels. They typically have a large, very engaged audience within a specific therapeutic area, and they might not be HCPs – instead, DOLs might be researchers or patient advocates.

Like KOLs, these experts are well-versed in science, but they also maintain a digital presence on LinkedIn, Twitter, or other digital channels where they engage and educate their audience. In fact, they may already be talking about your brand, so it’s important to understand where they are and how you can use their reach to your advantage.

Where can you find DOLs?

There is some crossover among KOLs and DOLs, but you won’t find DOLs in the usual places like the conference and publishing circuits. Instead, you’ll find them on Twitter and other online spaces, welcoming peers, colleagues, patients, and others to follow their day-to-day professional lives. Some DOLs are simply KOLs who are savvy about using digital channels, or who took to them when the pandemic brought a temporary halt to many important scientific gatherings.

When it comes to finding DOLs online, life science teams are lucky in that social algorithms will do most of the work for them, but experts increasingly suggest that building digital capabilities within your team will make it easier to find and engage these digital opinion leaders. When you’re comfortable and connected within the relevant digital channels, it will be that much easier to know who to engage and how to build your roster of DOLs.

What do DOLs do?

While DOLs are definitely influencers akin to those who promote consumer brands, they’re not motivated by self-promotion. Instead, they’re moved to promote science within their profession while educating peers. And they like to move quickly – engaging digitally on their own channels allows them to be among the first to communicate and share new information.

COVID-19 accelerated the ascendance of DOLs when in-person activities like congresses, meetings, and even working in-clinic were severely curtailed. In seeking community online and creating their own customized news feeds, HCPs were able cut through digital noise and find trustworthy experts in DOLs. As a result, they are often now influenced by DOLs as much as, or more than, traditional KOLs.

How can you work with DOLs?

Because DOLs are distinct from KOLs, it’s important to use their skills in the right way. While it might be tempting to cultivate DOLs into new KOLs – and you can certainly do this – why not leverage their digital expertise to get more value out of your virtual engagements?

Building relationships with DOLs and working with them in the context of virtual engagement is especially advantageous. Instead of adding DOLs as advisors, consider making them moderators for your asynchronous work sessions. In this capacity, DOLs can rely on their up-to-the-moment knowledge of scientific news and online conversations to draw out more – and more unique – insights from KOLs. And because DOLs are already comfortable in a digital environment, they’re a natural choice to keep discussions moving.

Team leads might also establish a panel of DOLs and engage them periodically in asynchronous sessions on various topics. This might be a steering committee that focuses on how to interact with patients or HCPs online, a sounding board for emerging digital initiatives, or a way for teams to keep an ear to the ground and monitor HCP and patient sentiment about their brand or other topics online.

As the world continues to adjust to post-COVID reality, digital channels and the experts who are engaging online will become even more influential. By capturing the reach of these digital opinion leaders and engaging them in a familiar environment, life science teams can add an important and valuable insight stream.

To learn more about how asynchronous meetings can improve insight-gathering for pharmaceutical and medical device teams, read our blog post.