Last week I was at the GLC social media & emarketing forum in Frankfurt listening to an interesting presentation by about HCP relationships.  One of the slides presented showed a KOL map, showing who the KOLs are, who the upcoming KOLs are, and where they are based.  This map is developed based on an analysis of presentations at congress and publication – but it is all offline inputs.  I am however happy to hear that they are also looking into doing a KOL digital map.

Personally this rings a bell a with me as one of my recommendations in the past has been to do precisely this.  Pharma companies generally have a great idea of who their traditional KOLs are, but they have no idea about how active they are online (if at all) and they often have no real idea of who KOI (Key Online Influencers) are.  This is a big gap in a key knowledge area.  As more and more HCPs turn to digital the impact of KOI will become increasingly important.  Pharma companies need to start finding out which KOL are active online, and who the KOI are that they should be building relationships with them, just as they have traditionally built relationships with KOLs.  This is essentially just a new group of KOL and the process for KOL relationship development offline already exist – they  just need to be adapted for online.

From experience I know however that at this point alarm bells go off with legal and compliance as this is a new area.  A second issue though is that unlike KOLs who are always HCP KOI may be HCPs, but they may also be journalists, bloggers, patient advocates, etc.  This raises a whole area of problems.  For the HCP KOI it is relatively simple to deal with – they fit into the existing framework and the Medical teams can build the relationships here, using a different process but still essentially following the same principles and guidelines.  The problem however is how to deal with the other KOI – who owns the relationship?  How to deal with the various regulatory issues that then arise?  So, for example, for a non-HCP KOI there is the danger of being seen to be doing promotion.  How can a pharma company deal with these issues?

The answer is to be totally transparent and never, ever look at relationship building from a promotional point of view.  Building relationships needs to be based on providing value, whether it be for an HCP or a patient KOI.  With that thinking as a starting point you then do some research.  What are the KOI interested in?  What content and assets would be of value to them?  Do they have a blogger outreach policy or do they give any indication of how they feel about partnering with organisations? Build up a good level of knowledge about each individual KOI, just as one would do with a traditional KOL.


KOI needs


You then need to identify where the relationship will sit.  As mentioned Medical KOI relationships sit comfortably with medical, journalists sit well with the comms team, and patient advocates sit well with advocacy teams.  Very rarely do these relationships sit in marketing – even though very often this is where the desire to have these relationships starts.  The other issue is of course also that digital and social media often sits either with marketing or comms – not with Medical, and yet Medical is the area that could really provide the most value and also get some real benefits from social media.  Given the lack of digital expertise in Medical there is a strong argument, in some cases, for some relationships to live with the digital or social media team, who (hopefully) understand the dynamics of digital relationships.

Once you have identified who owns the relationship you then need to start relationship building.  Like any relationship it will depend on the individuals involved, what channels they use, what value you can provide etc.  However in general your first step will be to start building the relationship digitally – retweet their content, comment on their blog posts, etc.  Offline however also plays a pivotal role in this relationship building – just because this is a digitally focused relationship does not mean it has to only stay in the digital arena.  If you know the KOI is going to be attending the same conference as you then get in touch and arrange a meeting.  Or perhaps you see that the KOI is going to be in the same town as you – arrange to meet for a coffee.  Alternatively invite them to a specific event you are organising.

A good example of this comes from Roche Diagnostics blogger summits which are annual events they organise with key diabetes bloggers specifically to build relationships.  Roche has been very successful – partly because they were realistic in their approach and accepted that this would need to be a long term initiative and it would take time for the summits and relationships to work (in fact it took 3 years).  Another reason Roche was so successful was also because they went in with a “what can we do for you” mentality – rather than a promotional “what can you do for me mentality” – they asked attendees what they needed from the organisation and what value Roche could bring to the community. The response Roche got was very positive and they now have a good relationship with the community, who blog and tweet about Roche’s initiatives and help improve the Roche name within the community.

Follow Roche’s lead then when you look at building your own KOI relationships – allow time, and focus on their needs first and not your own.  As the relationship develops and builds it will turn into a win win relationship, with the KOI spreading the reach of your content and providing a more credible way of reaching your target audience.  Put aside internal squabbling and politics to focus on the relationship and share knowledge and process internally.  Building KOI relationships will increasingly become a key part of the “KOL” process in the future so learn how to do it today – and do it well.



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