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How to Recruit KOLs Through Online Channels

With the shifting digital landscape, pharma companies are now using strategies to engage key opinion leaders (KOLs) using online techniques. So why don’t we recruit KOLs through online channels as well? This post will discuss the struggles of approaching emerging KOLs and ways to identify and engage KOLs online. One of the best practices is to partner with a communications agency to understand how to recruit new KOLs using digital strategies. Medical communications agencies have typically formed quality relationships with KOLs and can be a great resource for pharma companies.

How to locate and engage emerging KOLs online
As today’s KOLs do not always fit the conventional roles that pharma marketers have identified in the past, recruiting upcoming KOLs is a much bigger challenge. Traditionally, pharma has approached KOLs who are distinguished by their number of publications or speaking engagements. Today’s KOLs should be characterized by how they impact a social media-driven digital landscape, and engaging with them often requires the use of a communications agency that has established a network of KOLs who are present online.

In order to locate and engage with emerging KOLs online, pharma companies need to better understand digital marketing tactics. Today, KOL marketing requires looking for healthcare professionals with the widest electronic footprint. Partnering with a medical communications agency can provide a gateway to the most appropriate KOLs and help you evaluate their online activity. When you recruit KOLs through online channels, look for leaders with a broad social and professional network, who use an active and consistent voice, and who demonstrate strong credibility. Keep in mind these do not necessarily intersect with traditional KOL qualifications. In fact, the new KOLs may not even represent conventional healthcare providers or leading physicians in an area of expertise.

This means pharma companies need to change their goals and recruiting qualifications when it comes to enlisting and engaging new KOLs. Think about collaboration and what can benefit your marketing strategies: What do these new tech-savvy KOLs have to offer? Once you can discern mutual interests or a common position on healthcare issues, you can better recruit KOLs through online channels and engage them in a relationship that ideally serves both your interests.

How to build relationships with KOLs via online channels
Engaging with digital opinion leaders and KOLs via online channels requires building relationships and sustained engagement plans—a task more challenging than it sounds. As leaders in the digital space, these new KOLs have their own agendas and often draw social lines they won’t cross—in fact, they would not want to be identified as brand ambassadors or seen promoting specific products. This makes managing the engagement process a bit more delicate. A good medical communications agency will not only help you identify the right online KOLs, but also will support the engagement process.

While it can take time to locate and engage with digital KOLs, the most successful approach is to take a long view. Build a relationship slowly and learn about their personal interests, what they find challenging, and ask them about their own goals. In getting to know your KOLs, you will be further able to create a more authentic evaluation of their qualifications (as the digital world can be slippery). And by aligning specific goals and objectives, you’ll both be able to better understand what can be gained from a strategic partnership.

What are the benefits of building online KOL partnerships?
As marketing strategies shift to a digital focus, there is a great need to embrace these new digital leaders and recruit KOLs through online channels. While the identity of KOLs—who they are and where they can be located—is changing, so are the opportunities for pharma companies to expand their voice using online channels. That said, recruiting new KOLs can help pharma companies conquer the same old marketing challenges, just on a different platform: drawing positive attention to a brand or product, sharing a message of pharma’s value, and providing new and easy ways to learn about the products or services.

While KOL engagement tactics are focused on digital interactions, they still should offer similar incentives. KOLs desire the same opportunities: to gain insight and knowledge into the product-development process, and to receive access to valuable content like clinical trial data or education modules. In short, even though the KOLs are different, they still crave the same access to quality information.

Knowledge is the new digital currency and, while providing KOLs with communications on scientific advancements and new technology goes a long way, it’s necessary to elicit their participation as well. The digital community is truly interactive, and KOLs look for engaging opportunities like online publishing, hosting a virtual seminar, or an invitation to contribute an editorial. The world is expanding, and the key is to keep it authentic by building real, sustainable relationships with KOLs who share similar interests and are eager to engage on a digital platform.

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