As mentioned in my previous post, the dynamics of interpersonal interaction have changed and key opinion leaders (KOLs) are no longer the only people who lead and influence opinion. In the brave new digital world, influence now comes from key online influencers (KOIs)—individuals or groups that share relevant content and information that influences others in a significant way.
While in some therapeutic areas, like diabetes, pharma companies woke up to this fact years ago, in most cases, the industry has stuck to what it knows: the offline world of KOLs. This is now slowly evolving, driven in part by changes that are happening in the offline world, such as physicians restricting rep access. Slowly the industry is waking up to the fact that it needs to find new ways to engage with its stakeholders and that digital channels offer this opportunity. So what are the steps to engaging with these KOI?
- Identify: The first step is to identify the KOIs and their interests, needs and potential for collaboration with a pharma company. The identification can be done using social-media listening analysis of their sphere of influence, followers, etc. A manual check should then be done to better gauge what exactly they share, their attitude toward pharma and if they have any published rules of engagement. Social-media listening tools are great but do not underestimate the human element.
- Classify: Once the identification is done, the KOIs then need to be classified by what type of KOI they are, for example, patient, physician, journalist, as well as their channel and content preferences. A RACI (Responsible, Accountable, Consulted, Informed) model then needs to be built around the potential relationship, for example, with physician KOI relationships being owned by medical, journalists by communications, etc. Also it is important to think how legal and compliance will be involved. Who else needs to be kept informed? Who will develop content for the relationship?
- Prepare: Prior to engaging, it is important to prepare for the relationship building. Relationship “owners” may need training in order to actively and appropriately engage online. Content and interaction points also need to be planned: For example, are there any events that could be used to help build the relationship?
- Engage: Finally, once all these steps are complete, the engagement process can begin. As with any relationship building, this will take time and cannot be forced. Key ways to build these relationships include sharing content that the KOI shares, thanking him or her after sharing your content, taking part in tweetchats with him or her, and if possible meeting face-to-face. With time as the relationship develops, it can be turned into a more formal partnership—if appropriate.
The end result of this process should be a network of KOIs whom you can work with to share and expand the reach of your content, gain insights from and help improve your company’s reputation. Done well, online relationships can be a great asset for any individual or company. Other people are already building these relationships—are you?