As I mentioned in my previous post most Pharma companies have a great idea of who their offline, traditional KOLs are but very little idea of who the Key Online Influencers (KOI) are.  They also rarely have any real idea of how many of their offline KOL are active online and using social media.  Pharmaceutical companies should have a far better understanding of the online activity of all their key stakeholders, including KOI but also KOL.

The reality is that most top KOL, who tend to be older, are not that active on social media, but they also would see little value in spending their time with social media.  They are extremely busy and have already reached the top of their game – for them social media may be a waste of time.

Younger, up and coming KOL however are another matter.  Whilst they may not be digital natives they are more adept at using digital resources and some may also already be using social media.  This group is also trying to reach the top and expand their name within their field and the healthcare industry.  To this group, social media can be a valuable tool, enabling them to extend their reach and influence, and giving them a leg-up to top tier KOL status.

This is a huge opportunity for pharma.  KOL have always played a key role within the industry and building relationships with KOL is standard practice.  One of the core elements to relationships of this nature is being able to bring value.  Helping up and coming KOL building their “brand” online and helping them turn themselves into KOI could be a hugely valuable resource that pharma could offer this group.

So could a pharma company go about working with up and coming KOL around their use of social media?  Absolutely! The first thing to do, as with all initiatives, is to do some research.  Identify who the up and coming KOLs are (the chances are this has already been done by Medical) and then find out if they are active online, and if so how and where.  Also find out whether their name already has digital klout, even if they are not themselves online.




The next step is then to reach out to them and find out if they would be interested in social media training.  The key element here is to communicate the value to them and ensure they understand that this would be a totally neutral training, with no expectations of them to start tweeting information about the company.

At this point I often get asked about how to set this up internally, process-wise.  The reality is that this process generally already exists.  Companies often do media training with KOL and social media is a form of media so the same process, with a few amendments, could be used.  It should be relatively simple to offer KOL social media training, either as part of their media training, or as a stand alone training.  In fact given time pressures, and some potential reticence on the part of the KOL to participate, it is probably more effective to do a quick intro to social media as part of the media training, and then offer an additional social media specific training as a follow on.  This initial session can be used to demonstrate the value of social media to the KOL personally.  A follow up session can then delve into more details and provide more hands on practice.

The final element to remember is to be realistic regarding timing and ROI.  Do not expect every KOL trained to become a KOI – start with conservative KPIs (for example 1 in 10 trained per year will become active on social media).  Also remember to be realistic with timing – becoming active on social media does not happen overnight – allow at least one year for the KOL to fully master social media and to start seeing some impact from the training.

This training could however have a great positive impact, for the KOL, the pharma company but also for other stakeholders such a patients.  As the KOL becomes more fluent and adept at using social media they will move towards becoming a KOI, ensuring good quality information becomes prominent in their field.  From the pharma company’s point of view if the digital information they produce and share is of good quality and of value  to the KOL, and their followers, the result will be more impactful digital assets with a greater reach.

Finally of course is the fact that this whole process can act as a great way to build, and strengthen, the relationship with that up and coming KOL, so that when they do reach the top the company has played a pivotal role in supporting them and being there, as a partner.  And of course let us not forget that eventually all KOL will be KOI anyway, it is just a matter of time – this opportunity exists now but will not exist in a few years time!


Thank you to KOL / KOI Dr James Underberg aka @Lipiddoc for his insights into this post.

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