As healthcare increasingly becomes digital, we all need to shift the way we engage online with healthcare professionals (HCPs), patients and other stakeholders. The ever growing need to reach HCPs and patients via a range of social platforms means we’re experiencing a shift towards engaging those who are comfortable communicating in these spaces, including digital opinion leaders (DOLs).
Pharma companies need to be engaging DOLs in the same way as Key Opinion Leaders (KOLs). But how can companies ensure best practice DOL engagement? Here are Say’s recommended critical factors for success.
- Your strategy must come first
It might seem obvious, but before you begin any DOL engagement programme you need to really understand why you want to work with influencers to ensure you get the right results. What challenges do you want to solve? What behaviours are you looking to change? And how will DOL activation support those needs? If your objectives and outcomes are clear, you can determine the right kind of influencers for you before you start identifying them.
- Define your sweet spots
To ensure you build and maintain strong relationships with influencers in the healthcare space, define those topics and angles where your internal goals align with the DOL’s own interests and needs – these are the areas where you can work together and forge a mutually beneficial relationship. Are there topics that are off-limits? Does the goal align with the long-term strategy for the company and/or brand? Get input from all stakeholders and business functions as early as possible to ensure that the project doesn’t get pulled at the last minute by a senior decision maker or by compliance teams.
- Matchmaking – Find your best influencers
Different DOLs have different needs, and we need to understand those needs and tailor engagement strategies accordingly. This requires a deep understanding of the DOL landscape. Take steps to understand the DOLs in your therapy area and their relationship with traditional KOLs. Explore how to best categorise and identify them based on their therapy area expertise and scientific activity, and their digital presence and online activity. Social listening can help here to identify where your target audiences are engaging and how these channels intersect with those of your chosen DOLs. Taking these steps will ensure you build an effective DOL identification and selection process.
- Build for the long term: cultivating relationships
The success of a sustainable DOL engagement strategy depends on being able to build robust relationships with influential individuals, as well as the ability to pivot and change direction when necessary. To foster long-lasting relationships, look beyond any commercial opportunities and see DOLs as partners in co-creating content, aligned on the mission and objectives of any initiatives. It’s important to preserve a DOL’s independence while cultivating their interest in topics that are close to your interests – their value is in their peers’ perception and respect.
- Set clear guidelines for engagement
Building a successful DOL engagement strategy requires careful planning and execution. This task will include creating clear guidelines for engagement, including how to interpret fair market value with DOL contracts, so you can create a framework for establishing these relationships and developing KPIs to measure success. Effective DOL engagement require a level of flexibility and agility that is often missing from traditional engagement strategies. To make the most of opportunities and overcome any pitfalls, an issues management plan is essential. This plan will enable companies to identify and outline the risks involved and identify who is responsible for any issues that arise so they can respond quickly to any unforeseen challenges arising during DOL engagement.
- Activation: leverage passion to quicken the pace
Engaged, passionate DOLs will spring into action, and while it will take time, effort and careful planning to build, develop and maintain your community it will be helped by working with a group of motivated advocates.
- Have clear measurements for success
While as mentioned above it is important to look beyond any commercial opportunities that arise from DOL activation, set measurable KPIs that reflect your objectives. These returns on investment may be qualitative (such as supporting and enhancing your corporate reputation or mobilising patients and other HCPs) or quantitative (such as market access or increased prescriptions).
As well as bearing in mind these critical factors, pharma companies should consider partnering with agencies with experience in the specific therapy areas, access to experts on tap, and the skills to deliver end-to-end support. Look for a partner who can plan and execute every step from the strategic planning to the execution – to ensure a successful campaign that creates long-lasting relationships with all influencers, both DOLs and patient influencers who play an increasingly important role.
Find out more about SAY’s healthcare campaigns that deliver what matters most.