Our earlier blog expressed the view that a paradigm shift to expand the current universe of opinion leaders beyond traditional pharma industry KOLs was long overdue. From this perspective, the medical response to the Covid-19 pandemic quickly demonstrated the potential of virtual solutions and served to accelerate the trend towards digital healthcare in the broadest sense, and at all levels.  

Only later did it start to become apparent how many of these pandemic-induced changes would be here to stay. For instance, in January, Pfizer announced plans to cut back its U.S. sales workforce. Why? Because “it expects doctors and other healthcare providers to want fewer face-to-face interactions with salespeople.” Elsewhere, more and more medical congresses are moving fully—or partially—towards becoming web-based events. Meanwhile, as in so many other sectors, hybrid working means commercial office space is also becoming less of a hot commodity. All these factors signal a sea change in how healthcare practitioners (HCPs), including digital opinion leaders in the pharma sector, now choose to interact with their industry.  

In this emerging landscape, HCPs who have mastered how to share and access information in the digital world through the use of social media are fast becoming the new medical opinion leaders. But the simple sharing of information is not enough to explain this phenomenon. It’s important brands not only understand the impact of the information shared by these digital opinion leaders in healthcare – who should be more accurately described as Digital Activators (DAs)– but also position themselves to leverage the potential benefits.  

We have seen certain impactful posts from such DAs getting more than a million interactions within a few hours of posting, even though it is difficult to achieve this consistently with one-off posts. Most of the time, this virality is the outcome of a continuing relationship between such DAs and their followers. This interaction is the mechanism which invariably leads to the building of trust between activator and audience. 

To harness the inherent power of this unique relationship, and direct its influence towards your brand, requires a clear strategy: A process-oriented approach which moves from digital opinion leader identification through to subsequent engagement and mobilisation. 

 How to choose the right DA for your requirements?  

Before any approach is made, it’s essential to define the objectives of your proposed digital HCP engagement. At this stage, it’s also vital your teams understand precisely why they need DAs, and have been briefed to identify DAs with an optimal profile matching those needs. And where there are geographical considerations, searches should also focus on relevant DAs for your TA in the targeted region.  

The starting point for any worthwhile assessment of the potential value of HCP digital opinion leaders should be a comprehensive grasp of what these influencers are talking about. This, of course, includes the topics and content they mention, but must identify the specific ideas that are gaining traction. While the number of followers is significant, researchers should also establish typical profiles for this audience and determine the extent to which the fans of each DA align with the company’s campaign objectives. This initial digital opinion leader profiling should also indicate whether their online reach is local or global.  

The next step is to map the online presence of your medical opinion leaders: Which online channels they are active on, including social media, forums and any other pharma/health platforms. In essence, this task seeks to learn as much as possible about each DA’s share of voice in the targeted TA, within the region, and in the overall market. At the same time, this exercise must gauge the trust levels these digital opinion leaders in healthcare enjoy among their followers, and assess the status of their respective online networks in terms of activity and engagement. Last but not least, it’s important to understand how DAs are interacting with societies, patient groups and serving their community.  

It can be quite daunting to look at the breadth and depth of data and information needed to pinpoint the right set of HCP digital opinion leaders in this crowded digital realm. That’s where the power of AI and machine learning can be used to complete this challenging task of data assimilation and churning. This streamlined process presents you with digestible insights to support effective decision making and help formulate an optimal brand strategy. Furthermore, accurate targeting also informs the most efficient utilization of resources to engage & mobilize DAs with precision, thus potentially achieving higher ROIs for this speculative endeavour.  

How to mobilize Digital Activators? 

Naturally, the first step towards digital opinion leader activation is to talk to them. Your profiling activity will ensure there is plenty of common ground to develop honest conversations and establish mutual goals for a successful collaboration. This mobilisation approach must, of course, be actively supported by the collective intelligence gathered by your team networks. And here it is sensible to set up cross-team collaborations to avoid the risk of intelligence silos which might otherwise prejudice anticipated outcomes. 

Having identified and engaged with your chosen digital active HCPs, mobilising them is an intuitive step to ensure their advocacy or engagement is effectively communicated online to those they influence. Successful DA mobilisation is wholly dependent upon building mutually sustainable relationships, a consideration which must be factored into your overall brand strategy.  

DA Scoring: the role of PeakData  

In conclusion, digital activators are HCPs with a robust, well-established digital presence who possess the ability to influence their peers via their digital networks. By targeting the right digital activators, pharmaceutical companies can reach more potential prescribers and thought leaders, and thus deliver their message earlier and quicker.  

As the only company able to profile the whole HCP universe across a TA, PeakData is uniquely placed to segment and prioritise HCPs according to their digital activation potential. This intelligence supports pharma strategies designed to mobilise these individuals to shape opinion and rapidly disseminate key messages.  

We identify digital activators in a TA by analysing their digital impact and influence across numerous online channels before correlating this data with more traditional measures of importance. The digital activation potential of the entire HCP universe is then visualized in our Digital Activator matrix on the PeakData platform. This means clients can review all HCPs at TA level, or explore individual HCPs in granular detail and evaluate their online content related to your TA, brand, or competitors.  

In case clients have flagged HCPs as a target or specific segment, they can also be integrated into the process. Our Digital Activator matrix then displays the DAs you are currently targeting, and those you are not targeting, thus revealing where there is opportunity to enhance your current engagement plans.  

Andy Latchford, Senior Vice President PeakData AG, sums up our DA capability as follows:  

“Our digital activator product has been hugely successful over the last 12 months as it offers a different but complementary approach to existing methods of customer prioritisation, the whole approach aligns with the strategic direction of our pharma partners to evolve their customer engagement models. We are already seeing brand teams incorporate digital activation insights into their plans to make a difference at the very practical level to optimise commercial target lists, identify HCPs to support specific brand activities (e.g., med. ed., advisory boards) or refine congress engagement plans, which really highlights the value of the process.”