'Digital sleuthing' helps pharma connect with the right social media influencers

Long before the pandemic turned medical influencers like Dr. Noc and Dr. Don into TikTok sensations, pharma companies had already been looking to social media to strike up relationships with key opinion leaders, or KOLs.

The pandemic accelerated that trend, and, with more and more “digital docs” growing their presence on those platforms, it’s getting more challenging for pharma to tease out what’s relevant from the noise, said Read Roberts, director of KOL data solutions for health marketing firm PRECISIONscientia.

“There are a lot of loud voices out there, and there may be people with huge followings, but it takes a lot of effort to find the true, most relevant opinion leader,” he said.

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His company has developed technology to help pharma with what he calls “digital sleuthing,” using artificial intelligence to parse through millions of social media conversations to help companies find the most impactful DOLs in their respective disease areas.

“Instead of having to do a really wide-ranging Google search, you can use tools to do a lot of the hard work for you,” he said. The tool can be especially helpful for companies with drugs for more obscure diseases, whose communities are less likely to include famous TikTok docs with millions of followers and flashy viral videos.

For example, if a pharma company is looking for experts in a specific rare disease, the technology, called DOL Map, can use keywords to sift through every conversation that’s out there online about a specific disease.

Not only does it identify who’s doing the talking, it analyzes who they are talking to, how often people are sharing their posts and how relevant the discussion is to the disease area. So a researcher who's followed by a high percentage of other doctors and who’s tweeting about medical congresses related to the disease would likely be flagged as a potential DOL worth engaging.

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After identifying a list of the top DOLs for a client’s requested area, the platform then displays those experts in a dashboard that keeps track of their online activity in real time. Roberts said one client that had just inherited a rare disease product through an acquisition used the dashboard to get up to speed on the types of discussions people were having about the disease.

By working with trusted DOLs, pharma companies can also help overshadow much of the false information that abounds on social media by steering patients toward credible sources for information, he said.