Will 2022 be the year of pharma’s digital opinion leaders?

Christian Rodgers, Senior Vice President, Social Media

First published in PRWeek.

Social media, once considered “off limits” for pharma, is now a must-have in the communications mix. One of the most compelling reasons for pharma to adopt social media is simply its efficiency for matching branded marketing messages with targeted audiences.

There are limited marketing channels available for pharma to reach physicians and their staff. Social media has the ability to both generate and capture demand in engaging ways absent from traditional health care marketing. When done correctly, social media can accelerate brand awareness and demand. It can help educate, build trust, engage, and nurture healthcare personnel relationships.

This is where a digital opinion leader comes in. Typically a physician, a DOL with an authoritative message, can help stop the scroll, or disrupt the user’s feed with a relevant, highly targeted piece of content.

DOLs reach more peer physicians on social media platforms such as LinkedIn or Instagram than on the conventional podium circuit. With a conference or event, it’s only a handful of other physicians in the room but with social media, physicians can connect with peers across the globe. Think of DOLs as the next evolution of key opinion leaders. These digitally connected clinicians have risen to prominence thanks to COVID-19, which brought the world online.

What makes a strong DOL?
One example is Vicki Chan, MD, an ophthalmologist and content creator with 373,000 followers on TikTok and 48,000 followers on Instagram.


Chan’s videos are not overly produced; they feel as if they were captured in her medical office at a moment’s notice.

Engaging content

She posts regularly about issues ranging from COVID-19 vaccines to reasons she became a doctor. She educates and shares accurate medical information.


Chan comments on issues we all ask ourselves about, when they happen.


Her posts are light and fun; they translate well across many audiences.

Engaging with Chan on Instagram is not about business; it’s less transactional, and as a result, it can be even more engaging.

But how does one find a DOL?

The process begins with a straightforward brand search strategy. It includes uncovering the type of clinical expertise sought, specific keywords, specialty sub-areas, key outlets and geographic areas. Each expert is manually researched independently to identify publication authorship, trial participation, biographical information, organization and editorial board membership, speaking engagements, and relationships within the industry.

We predict 2022 to be the “year of the DOL.” They will not replace KOLs, but DOLs will become another fundamental approach to help engage both physicians and patients.


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