Team discussing online project, using laptop, at workplace; meeting KOLs concept

Meeting KOLs via Data Makes Initial Communications More Meaningful, Builds Relationships

Traditional methods for identifying key opinion leaders (KOLs) required legwork. Medical Affairs (MA) staff attended conferences to see who gave presentations and on which topics. In the office, they combed through scientific journals to see who was publishing and what they were saying.

Conferences and publications still play a role in identifying and connecting with KOLs, but data science makes it easier to track this and other information. Data science also simplifies creating an opinion leader’s digital profile, allowing MA teams to “meet” the KOL before making one-on-one contact.

How to Find KOLs

Today, KOLs still appear at conferences and publish work, however, their reach extends beyond the conference stage or journal publication.

For instance, up to 600,000 KOLs are active on X (formerly Twitter), according to Digital Science’s Mike Taylor and Carlos Areia. Following each of these KOLs, or even limiting the search to those active in relevant areas, poses a challenge beyond the resources of most Medical Affairs teams. KOLs’ participation on social media, while engaging, also runs the risk of distorting or oversimplifying their work and the work of other researchers. Ultimately, these KOLs’ publications and conference presentations provide more reliable information about their work and the work of others.

Key opinion leaders exist on nearly every topic, and become relevant and trustworthy to their audiences through the information they provide and the way they provide it. Researchers Khanh Vi Tran and Takuro Uehara, for example, found that a KOL’s perceived “fit” for a topic and their use of interactive content had a strong pull for audiences, raising their trust levels.

In a 2023 Scientific Reports article, Saeedeh Mohammadi et al. found that “power dynamics [in online communities] do not conform to a ‘one-to-many’ pattern.” That is, KOLs are developing complex relationships with their audiences through their presentations, publications, and clinical experience. Measuring these methods of outreach can provide a clearer view of the trust and clout a KOL builds through these relationships.

Today, many KOLs maintain an active online presence, blurring the distinction between themselves and digital opinion leaders. They may also participate in virtual conferences, publish in electronic journals, and otherwise share their expertise using methods that create a data footprint — one that MA teams can explore and analyze with the right digital tools. This footprint allows MA teams to track KOLs, identifying the true experts in the field and distinguishing them from those that merely engage in social media chatter.

Team uses large monitor with growth analysis charts, statistics and data; meeting KOLs concept 

Collecting KOL Data

KOLs interact with their audiences via more formats than in the past, and they tend to be more prolific.

Managing KOL interaction data becomes even more challenging when one source produces multiple data points. In a 2024 article in Sensors, Marco Furini notes that “fake accounts and farm bots” make it difficult to use social media follower counts or posting frequencies to measure an opinion leader’s impact. Instead, Furini recommends evaluations of the quality of KOLs’ contributions in their fields to determine which KOLs are having meaningful conversations.

To improve MA teams’ understanding of key opinion leaders’ influence and prepare MA teams for conversations with KOLs, collecting information about KOLs is essential. Tracking multiple data points can prove beneficial to MA teams by offering a clearer picture of a KOL’s overall impact.

In an April 2023 article in Heliyon, Min Kang and fellow researchers explored the use of dynamic methods to evaluate the influence of individual opinion leaders in an online learning community. They found that tracking multiple variables — user creativity, user posting quality, and user online interaction — provided a more accurate overview of individual opinion leaders’ influence than tracking any individual variable.

According to researcher Jose Ramon Saura in an article in the Journal of Innovation & Knowledge, applying data science to the collection and tracking of KOL data and other digital marketing and communications efforts can:

  • Improve data management, including management of information collected about KOLs and their audiences.
  • Streamline data collection and make data interoperable for de-siloing and ease of use across the organization.
  • Allow Medical Affairs and other teams to apply new data analysis techniques to generate deeper insights.

Business and healthcare professionals shake hands at hospital; meeting KOLs concept 

Making a KOL’s (Digital) Acquaintance

Virtual communication is nothing new for Medical Affairs and clinical trial teams that worked through the pandemic. As virtual communication persists, it also generates data. That data, handled effectively, can help MA teams get to know a KOL before ever meeting in person.

Essential information to consider when getting to know a key opinion leader includes:

  • Clinical trial data.
  • Presentation dates, venues, topics, and fellow presenters or panel participants.
  • Publication content, source, dates, and co-authors.

A KOL’s participation in online conversations can also be an essential source of information.

Tracking down these individual data points can be time-consuming, and is unnecessary with the right digital tools. Anju’s TA Scan, for example, is a web-based clinical and commercial intelligence solution that aggregates this information into a single database.

TA Scan allows Medical Affairs teams to transform unstructured data into a clear picture of which KOLs are relevant to a clinical trial or other project and why they matter. TA Scan can:

  • Analyze, measure, and rank KOL data to pinpoint those with the most relevant experience and impact.
  • Combine data from hundreds of public domain sources to provide deeper insights into KOLs’ work and reach.
  • Provide comprehensive profiles and scores to make it easy to compare KOLs and plan conversations with one or more opinion leaders, separately or together.
  • Offer experience-based insights to drive conversations with KOLs, principal investigators (PI), authors, conference speakers, and other relevant parties.

Within TA Scan, MA teams can rank KOLs according to various criteria. By accessing publicly available data, TA Scan can evaluate KOLs’ global and local connections, their connections over time, their participation in publications and presentations, and their work on clinical trials. These scores and the underlying information provide a rich sense of who a KOL is and what work matters to them.

Meeting KOLs digitally before meeting them in person lets MA teams prepare for initial contact — planning what to say and how to say it in a way that arrests the attention of a key opinion leader. It also allows Medical Affairs and clinical trial teams to choose when to integrate KOLs in the clinical trial process.

By getting to know KOLs before making contact, MA teams can also focus their relationship-building efforts on the opinion leaders who are most receptive to the MA team’s work and most likely to share it with key audiences. Tools like Anju’s TA Scan make this acquaintanceship process easier.

Images used under license by

Authored by Elke Ydens, Associate Director of Business Solutions, Data Division

Elke Ydens, Associate Director of Business Solutions at Anju’s Data Division, brings over a decade of life sciences experience and a PhD in Biochemistry and Biotechnology from the University of Antwerp. As a Subject Matter Expert in Data Science, she adeptly addresses customer needs, leveraging her background in neuro-immunology and biochemistry. Elke remains dedicated to professional growth, contributing to industry publications, and staying updated on industry trends, while also finding success in extracurricular pursuits, formerly competing in world and European bridge championships, and more recently active in beekeeping and coaching. Connect with Elke on LinkedIn to explore her achievements further.

Want to stay up to date with our news?

To top