In a prior blog, we identified the role digital opinion influencers (DOIs) can play in advancing strategy in healthcare marketing and medical education. Social media savvy, DOIs are healthcare providers (HCPs) at all levels providing physicians with relevant insight into trends and new studies and therapies. Now let’s see how we identify and engage these emerging opinion leaders.

Focus on the Community

Unlike traditional key opinion leaders (KOLs), many of whom serve in research and more academic roles with fewer patient interactions, DOIs with large online followings can give insight into how a patient community is responding to a given therapy or even current challenges or misconceptions with a health condition. Many DOIs are active in therapeutic areas/disease carrying a social stigma. It’s important to begin DOI identification by evaluating and understanding the disease community in which you’re interested.

Take oncology, for example. How many oncologists and patients engage in various social media platforms specifically focused on oncology? How many post actively vs viewing passively? How many followers do the active posters have? What are the hot topics? The preferred channels? Answering these questions will help us create topical segments before digging deeper in our quest to identify DOIs.

Taking the oncology example one step further, let’s say we want to identify a solid metastatic breast cancer DOI. We might find him or her by generating profiles with channels, topics of interest, follower count, geographic location, and other criteria. From these robust profiles, we can create network maps that identify connections between DOIs and their followers. The network maps also provide a foundation to examine the strength of relationship between a DOI and their colleagues. In other words, we can quantify a DOI’s sphere of influence and determine connections in an otherwise diffuse network.

How to Engage

When developing engagement plans for DOIs, ensure they deliver mutual value. Unlike traditional promotional marketing, plans that focus exclusively on brand goals will fail. We need to develop plans based on business needs that benefit the community and disease state in which they’re an active member. Start with some of the following:

  • Content creation: Have DOIs contribute content to social media channels on a timeline aligned with things like medical congresses, disease awareness days/weeks/months, or other key events
  • Recruitment: Enlist DOIs to help recruit patients for clinical trials or other patient engagement programs
  • Advisory boards:Invite DOIs to join advisory boards where they can guide content development for specific initiatives
  • Patient Support Programs (PSPs): Invite DOIs to help curate and share these critical PSPs based on what they are hearing and sharing in the digital world
  • DOI-focused content: Create webinar content on a DOI-tailored subject so they can integrate the content and engage their networks via social media feeds

Keep in mind these are just a few ways we can engage DOIs, but the possibilities are limitless. We must always keep in mind that DOI engagement, much like KOL engagement, is built upon creating mutual goals and operating transparently. DOI efforts serve as a strong supplement to our KOL marketing and medical efforts, allowing us to reach deeper into communities that sometimes go untouched by KOLs.


About the author

Trina Stonner, RN, MSN

Trina Stonner is an industry veteran on both the client and clinical sides. She began her career as an advanced practice nurse before working 15 years with a major Midwest pharma company.

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