The Rise of The Digital KOL

Peter Van Brunt
October 20, 2014
How to

Pharmaceutical companies are no strangers to influencer marketing. The relationship between drug companies and Key Opinion Leaders (KOLs) is long-standing and continues to strengthen because of the power of their influence. A KOL can be defined in many ways, but can broadly be viewed as a physician who influences his/her peers’ medical practice, primarily because of their professional status.

A pharmaceutical marketing team will typically try to involve KOLs in the second phase of a drug’s development lifecycle. They begin by gaining valuable feedback from KOLs related to aspects such as marketing message testing, then try and elicit advocacy. Additionally KOLs are used to help with usage guidelines, understand unmet needs, help define side effects, and provide input on other patient-related drug activities to promote product adoption.

Pharma executives got it wrong

When Social Media exploded on the scene, the boardrooms of many large pharmaceutical companies filled with anxiety. There weren’t any clear guidelines from the FDA regarding appropriate social media communications, the risk of Adverse Events (AEs) seemed very high, and the potential value was unclear.

What I’ve noticed by monitoring the pharmacos that took advantage of early adoption on Social Media channels is that they now benefit immensely from their early involvement. They had the courage to doubt those early hypotheses related to the uncharted territory of social media. Today, the value that social media lends to a drug has changed the way drugs are developed and commercialized. Additionally the risk of an AE is very low as Siva Nadarajah, the GM of Social Media at IMS, points out: “You see about 2 percent of conversations will have reportable adverse events, pretty much across all disease states.” Of course, there are still challenges facing the relationship between pharma and social media that need to be addressed: such as identifying AEs, establishing appropriate criteria to meet an AE as well as having effective draft guidelines from the FDA around patient engagement, but it is abundantly clear that the opportunity for effective marketing through social media is great.

Three new influencer groups emerged as effective targets for pharmaceutical marketing teams: Digital KOLs, Patients, and Healthcare Experts. Patient influencers can add tremendous value as they play a leading role in helping others living with the disease better cope with their medical situations. Healthcare experts (also called Digital Opinion Leaders) help those without medical backgrounds understand complex medical reports and documents, that formerly appeared as if written in a foreign language, allowing better transparency in providing medical information to the consumer.

The Digital KOL has added another channel for marketing teams to connect with these individuals they value so much. Any additional way to listen and build relationships with these individuals cannot be ignored.

When a KOL creates a relevant social footprint, top marketers can analyze their data (in real-time), communicate it to their brand teams, field sales reps and Medical Science Liaisons (MSLs) to make stronger, faster, more educated decisions and provide high impact messaging to their customer base.

Social media also offers important compliance advantages

Historically, primary research was long relied upon as the way to gather drug product messaging direction. Listening to Digital KOLs has the advantage of avoiding respondent bias, which exists in primary research.  Mapping out the scientific community around a specific disease state also avoids utilizing prescribing patterns - another significant compliance concern.

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Develop an effective influencer strategy for effective drug messaging

Social media is an environment that will allow KOLs to become even more prevalent in the medical marketplace, making it an important marketing vehicle for the healthcare community. Finding the right KOLs, Patient Influencers and Healthcare experts to leverage in drugs marketing plans can allow for more transparency and real-time data capture, while easing compliance concerns.

See how other healthcare organizations are connecting and building strong relationships with influencers.

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