The world is growing increasingly digital, and that includes the medical affairs process. Medical science liaisons (MSLs) are working with a new breed of key stakeholders called DOLs or digital opinion leaders. Some of these DOLs are influencers who transitioned their communication channels online during the COVID-19 pandemic, while others are social media natives.
Engaging with digital opinion leaders is essential to grow your brand recognition and to move your products forward. Follow these five tips to better connect with experts online.
1. Build Your Own Social Media Presence
One of the first things you will look for when identifying DOLs is their social media influence. This includes their number of followers, the frequency of their posts and the types of engagement they get. Most medical affairs teams want to connect with established digital opinion leaders so their efforts can have a significant impact. But why should these DOLs talk to you?
“The more channels you have a presence on, then the more likely you are to grow your target audience and become more accessible,” says Hayley Bonnick, group marketing manager at performance agency BBI Group. “Accessibility is also a key factor when it comes to digital marketing, since all platforms will have a predominant group of individuals using them.”
Before you can gain the attention of respected digital opinion leaders, make sure you have an active social media presence. Engage with people online and post insightful content. Build up your following. That way, your relationship will be mutually beneficial to the DOLs you reach out to.
2. Identify the Right Digital Opinion Leaders to Achieve Your Goals
There are an increasing number of digital opinion leaders online that claim to have varying levels of influence and expertise. Within your organization, you need to identify the top prospects who have expertise and a detailed background in the subject matter you want to discuss.
Consider looking into software systems that can help you identify digital opinion leaders for specific projects or products. You can sort digital opinion leaders into various categories and reach out to them based on their specializations. A system like TA Scan CRM can give you the tools you need to identify and develop the business-critical and highly scrutinized relationships between life sciences companies and KOLs in a compliant manner.
3. Listen Before You Act
One of the main benefits of building up your own social media presence before starting your outreach campaigns is the ability to better understand how internet communities work. You can learn how different DOLs interact with each other and what their interests are. This makes you more prepared to start a discussion.
“For medical teams, social media channels can provide valuable insights into what opinion leaders think, including their key concerns,” write Pim Kooreman and Laura Restrepo at strategic consultancy company Vintura. “Social media listening, or the use of social media channels to collect insights from stakeholders, is emerging as a powerful tool for medical teams to engage with a variety of stakeholders in digital channels.”
There are multiple ways to practice active listening online. These range from dedicating a resource specifically to follow digital opinion leaders or setting aside time each day to read the top posts from your influencer lists.
4. Look for Ways to Give Time Back
Some key opinion leaders (KOLs) are going digital because of the pandemic. These influencers were initially wary of the platforms outside of the traditional conferences and in-person meetings. However, they are now starting to reap the benefits of digital engagement. This surplus of free time also applies to MSLs.
“I previously spent a lot of my time on an airplane, which isn’t the most comfortable space to try to read scientific publications or prepare new slide decks,” says Erin Duffy, a medical science liaison for Merz Therapeutics. “But now, it’s great to have all that time back. Approximately 4 hours a day spent on flights is now mine.”
Look for ways to give time back to KOLs through digital channels. This might mean setting up a short call instead of a longer meeting like you did before. Even ending a meeting a few minutes early can create a positive impression. Everyone is looking for more time, which means you can provide this gift to the digital opinion leaders you engage with.
5. Ask for Feedback
As you start the digital engagement process, don’t be afraid to ask for feedback from the experts you engage with. You are both learning how to navigate this new environment and form digital relationships.
“By welcoming any suggestions the KOL might have, it can potentially improve your organization’s services and improve engagement with the KOL,” writes the team at Clarity Engagement Solutions. “Negative feedback can bring more insight as to why KOLs won’t collaborate with your organization on your product.”
Feedback can help you improve your future engagement efforts while strengthening existing relationships.
It takes time to build long-term relationships with digital opinion leaders. You will need to grow your own social footprint, listen to key influencers, and form close bonds over time. However, if you focus on quality engagement, these long-term efforts will pay off.