Home From KOLs to KOIs – How to identify and engage the new healthcare influencers

From KOLs to KOIs – How to identify and engage the new healthcare influencers

Pharma has always looked to healthcare’s Key Opinion Leaders (KOLs) to understand likely doctor behavior, attitudes and treatment paradigms. Now, a new breed of physicians, Key Online Influencers (KOIs), are establishing a loyal following in the digital space of the global medical community. Pharmaceutical marketers looking to launch and position their brand optimally need to join the conversation.

Key opinion leaders vs. key online influencers

HCPs use a wide variety of digital channels to connect with the medical community so that they can support each other and learn about new treatments. According to WHPRMS, while 87% of doctors use social media for personal reasons, 67% of those doctors use social media for professional use to explore medical information. Within social media, it is possible to identify a cohort of qualified and practicing physicians who have the ability to communicate and influence an extensive online HCP and patient community. Research Partnership refers to these HCP social media influencers as KOIs.

As new digital channels appeared, HCPs who wanted to benefit the medical and patient community began to use them to share information, to debate and discuss healthcare issues. Online influencers using social media has dramatically increased in recent years and it has now become popular standard practice. As a consequence, KOIs have built up a large, highly engaged and supportive following. Communication using these methods is two-way, giving KOIs perhaps a greater opportunity to engage and influence.

Research Partnership has conducted a range of studies and found numerous KOIs with huge potential reach. Here is an example of one KOI’s profile:

Twitter followers: 35.6K, Instagram followers: 336K, Facebook followers: 79.2K, YouTube followers: 134k. Giving them a total audience of 584.8K. Two thirds of posts contain original content and 36% feature content sharing.

We can drill down further to see how much potential reach each KOI has. Using this example, if we look at their average tweets per day on a particular topic plus engagement, they have a potential reach of 20.8 million people on this one platform alone.

Pharma marketers need to recognize this powerful new breed of influencers. If they are able to identify the correct KOIs, they have an opportunity to develop and nurture mutually beneficial relationships which benefit the KOIs, pharma brands and commercial goals.

Case Study: KOI mapping

How we uncovered a HCP Oncology digital understanding in Latin America

Learn more >

How to map and identify key online influencers

Pharma companies usually have a clear idea about how KOLs can support product and brand developments, and have established methods of developing necessary KOL engagements. But what about KOIs? As you can see from our example above, they exhibit quite different profiles. Here’s how they compare:

Key differences between KOLs and KOIs:

Key opinion leaders (KOLs) Key online influencers (KOIs)
Platform Medical journals
Advisory boards
Multiple digital channels
Core network Colleagues/HCPs Broad online following
Volume of reach Generally more targeted High – large following
Topics of interest Scientific discussion Varying range of topics
Sphere of influence Experience
Medical journals
Public healthcare content
How to identify  HCP perceptions
Desk research
Social media analysis


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Introducing influencer ID – KOI identification, profiling and mapping

We have developed an effective approach for investigating, analyzing and profiling KOIs in the healthcare space to determine how influential their digital footprint is across social media, websites, blogs, forums, journals, online seminars and other digital channels. Our tried-and-tested approach identifies KOIs to reveal important metrics, such as:

  • Their audience
  • Influence
  • Frequency
  • Line of focus
  • Interaction
  • Engagement

A KOI’s changing influence over time can be tracked and monitored. It is important to note, some KOLs are expanding their online presence and becoming ever more ‘digitally minded’, so can also be identified as KOIs. This fact adds weight to the argument that pharma needs to keep up with the movement in order to engage with the most influential individuals in a particular therapy area or space.

KOI engagement and the benefits of developing a KOI strategy

Once research has identified relevant KOI’s and they have been profiled, pharma companies can begin to develop a strategy for engagement.

What that strategy looks like depends on specific marketing objectives set, and whether the pharma company can develop the correct relationship with identified influencers. This process can’t be rushed. The relationship must be mutually beneficial to both parties and slowly nurtured. There are a number of ways to do this. For example, pharma could begin by inviting them to be a speaker at a conference (including virtual events). The KOI could then share data and key messages before, during and after the event (as well as generate social media buzz and discussion).

Pharma can also invite a relevant KOI to lead a clinical trial, which can generate awareness of data among their online following. If the KOI often writes articles or blogs then the pharma company can provide them with exclusive information or support the development of original content, which can be shared with their audience.

Objectives can range from creating awareness around an access or patient support program, generating brand awareness, or tapping into their knowledge of the challenges in healthcare by inviting them to participate in an ad-board. The success of these activities can be tracked over time, using social media analysis and KOI mapping.

Experience of KOI research at Research Partnership

As a business, we have started to see significant interest in KOI mapping research across a range of therapy areas. Our tried-and-tested approach means we have been able to provide pharma companies with essential recommendations on how best to involve KOIs in their development plans. To find out more about our KOI MAP offering please contact us now.

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