How an MSL can find and Engage Digital Opinion Leaders

The pharma industry has changed significantly in recent years. Now, more than ever before there are more clinical trials being conducted, more drugs being registered, more scientific articles being published and more digital opinion leaders sharing opinions and scientific output on a daily basis.

The rise and influence of digital opinion leaders creates a huge opportunity for MSLs to engage with a new group of key stakeholders and leverage these relationships to achieve key medical objectives.

As with all types of stakeholder mapping, the MSL must find these digital opinion leaders and engage them in an appropriate way that 1) adds values to the DoLs 2) is strategically aligned and 3) is compliant.

How can MSLs identify DoLs?

DoLs can be found via a few different channels but the most popular is Twitter.

It is better from a compliance perspective to not use your personal twitter account to engage with DoLs but instead create a separate Twitter account just for work purposes.

Prior to developing a digital engagement plan, check with your manager to understand if there are any particular rules around digital engagement in your company.

Note: Twitter is best used as a tool to research DoLs, actual engagement will be more impactful when done via either a Face to Face/Zoom interaction or via email (with reference to certain Tweets if relevant).

Step 1 in identifying Digital Opinion Leaders (DoLs) as an MSL:

Create a Twitter account for work and follow the medical stakeholder groups and patient associations of interest to your geographical and therapeutic area of interest.

Find these medical stakeholder groups from Google by typing in e.g. [breast cancer medical group US] or [diabetes medical group Germany] etc.

Add your photo, name and credentials (e.g. PhD, Bsc etc.) to your profile.

Step 2 in identifying Digital Opinion Leaders (DoLs) as an MSL:

Find conferences and congresses relevant to you and your therapeutic area and follow the conference hashtag to identify who tweets at the conference.

Find these conferences of interest from Google by typing in e.g. [breast cancer conference US].

The larger the congress, the more likely it will be to have lots of tweets tagged with its hashtag. Twitter activity for congresses gets busier in the run up to the congress and peaks during the conference so check last years congresses of interest to get a sense of who is tweeting the most.

Scroll through the tweets and follow DoLs who are tweeting things that are relevant to the drug you work on/therapeutic area you are working in. In addition, add those people who are tweeting to your DoL list.

Examples of these conference hashtags would be ASCO22 (oncology) or DDW2021 (gastroenterology).

Step 3 in identifying Digital Opinion Leaders (DoLs) as an MSL:

Search hashtags related to your therapy area and find out who is tweeting using these hashtags.

Note: focus on drug names (e.g. infliximab), molecular pathways/molecular targets e.g. (orexin or PDL1) as opposed to just the disease name.

If you only search by the disease name, you will find a lot of patients who are tweeting about their conditions. This can give you great insight into the patient experience, but these people should not be on your DOL list.

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Step 4 in identifying Digital Opinion Leaders (DoLs) as an MSL:

For those clinicians and researchers who are tweeting about your topic of interest, identify if they are simply retweeting something or are tweeting original content. If they are mostly tweeting original content, they are more likely to be thought leaders in that particular therapeutic area.

Click into their Twitter profile and identify how regularly they tweet. You want to focus on those DoLs that tweet regularly. Look at their last 20 tweets, they should be tweeting at least once every two weeks in order to be defined as regular tweeters. Identify how many followers they have. Look at their tweets and identify the number of retweets, likes and comments they get. Focus your attention on those DoLs who get a high level of engagement.

Engagement levels will vary greatly in different therapeutic areas. Oncology has the largest number of most active DOLs. Other TAs will have fewer active DoLs and therefore less engagement on posts. High engagement can be calculated based on the following criteria. If a DOL meets the thresholds in columns B, C or D they have a high level of engagement.

Criteria for calculating high level of engagement:

Create a table using the template below for between 10 and 20 digital opinion leaders. Some of these may already be on your original KOL list, that’s great. Some of them may not, that’s also great as you are expanding your stakeholder list.

Template Table:

Step 5 in identifying Digital Opinion Leaders (DoLs) as an MSL:

Once you have done this the next step is to go through each of the ten most recent twitter posts from each of the DoLs with a high level of engagement and assess what you can learn about the DoLs interests, clinical experience with different products and opinions in general in the therapeutic area.

There will be some DoLs who may say something positive about the drug you work on, you can mark them as having a positive sentiment. Some will say something negative. Mark them as having a negative sentiment.

For those KOLs who say something positive (these people are advocates or potential advocates) assess who (if anyone) has retweeted their tweet. This will help you identify other advocates of the drug you work on. You can then work with these DoLs to help disseminate best practice on the quality use of medicine with regards to the drug you work on.

For those KOLs with a negative sentiment about your drug, identify if there are any safety concerns and report any adverse events to your pharmacovigilance department. Next identify if the negative sentiment is due to a lack of understanding about the drugs efficacy or mechanism of action and develop a plan to educate those DoLs and address that knowledge gap. Also identify where the negative opinion comes from. Engage the DoLs and understand if the negative sentiment is as a result of their clinical experience, something they read, something they saw at a congress, something they heard from a peer etc.


  • Digital opinion leaders are important and should be engaged by MSLs.

  • Twitter is the best tool to identify digital opinion leaders.

  • Identify congresses, medical stakeholders and patient associations relevant to your therapy area.

  • Identify DoLs with a high level of engagement.

  • An engagement strategy can be developed around these DoLs based on their sentiment towards the drug you work on.

Interested in learning more about KOL stakeholder mapping? Check out our MSL Upskill Guide.

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