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February 16, 2022

How to identify digital opinion leaders

In the second part of our three-part digital opinion leaders series, learn how life science teams are using technology to identify DOLs.
how to identify DOLs

Identifying key opinion leaders (KOLs) in life science is comparatively straightforward. They’re the speakers whose names appear time and again on the conference circuit. They’re the researchers whose work gets pored over by peers. They’re the thought leaders who contribute to the most popular journals and publications.

But digital opinion leaders (DOLs) do not move in these same traditional circles. Many of them don’t publish, and some aren’t actually HCPs themselves. They might be researchers, patient advocates, junior doctors or others whose insights are every bit as valuable as those of traditional KOLs.

In the second part of our blog series on digital opinion leaders, we’ll explore how life science teams can find and recognize the DOLs in their disease communities.

Social media

DOLs are highly active on digital channels such as LinkedIn, Twitter, YouTube, and Tik Tok. They’re creating content, promoting their peers, and becoming active participants in the discussion. For life science teams looking to engage digital opinion leaders, social media is a great place to start.

Platforms such as Twitter and LinkedIn use algorithms to connect users with their interests. Following accounts related to a particular topic or disease community and engaging with related posts will encourage the algorithms to suggest new accounts to follow. It’s an effective way to plug into a virtual community and gain exposure to the DOLs.

However, even the most advanced social media algorithms are flawed. While they might be good at revealing how often an account is engaged with, how many followers it has, or how often it posts, they won’t reveal how reliable its posts are, or how trusted it is by followers. There’s no guarantee that an account recommended by an algorithm is a true digital opinion leader.

Using a network analytics platform with comprehensive social listening functionality is a much more effective way to identify the true thought leaders in a virtual community. By building a map of the relationships within a particular community, life science teams can look at how people interact – who talks, who listens, and who has a disproportionate level of influence. That way, they can let the community tell them who the true thought leaders are.

How to spot a true DOL

Without powerful network analytics, it can be easy to misidentify individuals as DOLs. Online influence does not necessarily correlate with thought leadership, and this is especially true in the life science space. Here are some of the red flags life science teams need to look out for when attempting to identify DOLs.

  • Inflated influence. During the COVID-19 pandemic, we’ve seen how quickly and how widely misinformation can spread. Even bad actors can gain large, enthusiastic followings, so an engaged audience does not necessarily mean that an influencer is also a DOL.
  • Unverified claims. The fact that social platforms are largely unregulated has been one of the obstacles to wider adoption among HCPs. Without the checks and balances we associate with the life sciences, people are free to make inaccurate, unverified claims – and potentially gain a lot of traction before such claims are challenged. True DOLs check their sources and prioritize the veracity of the information they share.
  • A lack of specificity. Without regulation, influencers who are experts in one particular field may begin commenting in areas where they have no expertise or training. DOLs tend to stick to their areas of expertise, where they can establish themselves as true thought leaders.


There is a historical reticence among life science teams to engage on social media. There’s a perception that teams are opening themselves up to negative interactions – on top of the more serious issue of non-compliance. The consensus is that engaging on social media is simply not worth the risk of falling afoul of internal compliance teams.

Social media can be a useful tool to help find and identify DOLs, but when it comes to engaging them, conversations should take place in a secure, confidential, compliant environment. With a fully compliant virtual engagement platform, life science teams can effectively move to bring DOL engagement in-house, where conversations can be had away from the public eye – and to the satisfaction of internal compliance teams.

To find out more about identifying, engaging, and working with digital opinion leaders, read our comprehensive e-book on the subject, or explore the first blog in our three-part series.

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