Pharma companies have been interacting with key opinion leaders (KOLs) offline for years, and have clearly established processes in place to do this. However with the growth of social media the dynamics of interaction are changing and companies need to readdress their approach to KOL engagement.
While the top KOLs may not be overly active on social media, this is not necessarily the case for younger, up-and-coming KOLs. This group is trying to reach the top and build their name. Social media could be a valuable tool to do this, enabling them to extend their reach and influence.
This is also the group that pharma is often trying to build new relationships with for the future. Relying solely on traditional methods may no longer be the most effective way to do this, and may result in missed opportunities in social media.
One of the benefits social media brings is the opportunity to build these relationships online, and potentially at a far lower cost. The following steps detail how:
- Identify the KOLs and their digital footprint. The first step in this process often starts offline, by identifying a list of up-and-coming KOLs. A digital audit then needs to be done to identify two things: use of the KOLs’ name online (i.e., are other people talking about them?) and the KOLs’ own activity online (i.e., are they talking online and if so where, about what, etc.?).
- KOL classification and allocation. Once this research is done, the next step is to categorize the KOLs based on their level of digital activity. Those that are not very active may need additional support, which could be offered as part of media or speaker training that many pharmacos already provide. Those that are already active will need to be classified based on which channel they are most active on and how they would potentially interact with pharma online.
- Build a relationship plan and prepare team. Next, one needs to identify content and assets that can be developed that could interest, and be shared with, the KOLs. It is also worth identifying events and congresses that KOLs may be active at—both in person but also online. All of this information then needs to be pulled together in a detailed six-to-12-month plan.
Internally it is also important to identify who will be engaging online: Will this be done by the communications team (which often “owns” the corporate social media) or will the medical team engage using corporate or personal social-media accounts? Will training be required? What involvement will legal and compliance have?
- Engage. Once all of this has been identified and organized the next step is to start engaging. This is the part that often scares people the most but is actually remarkably easy. Engagement starts as simply as retweeting or sharing a KOL’s post, and extending thanks when he or she retweets your content. If the KOL takes part in any tweetchats, make sure that you are also there contributing. If the KOL mentions they will be attending an event, try to attend to meet him or her in person.
As the relationship, and trust, grows, you can start to build the conversation and potentially begin tagging content for the KOLs that they may find interesting. This takes finesse, because if tagged content is perceived as promotional or pushy, it can damage the relationship and reputation of the company.
Perhaps the key point to remember is, as with any relationship, it takes time to build and relationships cannot be rushed. But above all, you must be genuine—social media can be very unforgiving to those who try to be pushy or fake. Just as in the offline world, relationships are built on genuine, human interactions and trust.