The KOL Of The Future


Key Opinion Leaders (KOL) are still one of the most important corner stones for the marketing machines of pharmaceutical companies. Their network, expertise, reach and authority is what pharma is interested in. We’ve written about KOL stardom in the past and how to attain it. In this post I’d like to take a closer look at the implications social media has on KOL’ism.

First off, let me tell you one thing – I am sick of the term “social media”, it’s being used so ubiquitously and so often that it doesn’t mean anything anymore. I mean think about it – the whole internet is social. Show me a site where you can’t “like” or comment stuff. That’s the essence of social media and web 2.0. But that’s another story.

Let’s put these linguistic talks aside and get real: social media is here to stay and the day will come when even doctors will embrace it as professionals.  The future KOL must understand that. She must be able to interact with social media and interact with strategic peers on a far superior level. Usually, authority has always been a regional phenomenon, only a few enter the “stage of the world”, as the famous Austrian novelist Thomas Bernhard once put it.

There are a lot of actors out there, but only a very small percentage is known globally. But again, social media changes things.

A future KOL, might not be a local hero, but rather known around the globe. Through Twitter and Facebook, the geographic borders vanish. So it has become quite easy to turn into a leading voice in your specific medical field with the help of novel (at least for physicians) social media outlets.

The implications of this vary. For sure though, pharma will need to work with these global KOLs in the digital sphere. A tweet from guys like Bryan Vartabedian (@doctor_v)  can help and harm your brand in an instant. Think about how pharma will need to embrace social media in order to keep up and cope with such physicians. They must understand that it’s bidirectional, it’s not sales anymore, it’s pure and absolutely transparent communication.

Until now, only very few physicians are seeing the value and possibilites of social media and the internet in general. If you’re one of the physicians who understand and master Twitter & Co, you’re well on your way to establishing your personal brand. But be aware that this advantage will become smaller and smaller as more and more physicians catch the social media train.

Any thoughts? Let’s hear it in the comments section.




  1. I think that you’re 100% right.  The face of influence (or “opinion leading” if you prefer) has completely changed in the last 5 years.  Now it takes more than just being affiliated with a brand-name news outlet or health system to influence conversation and opinion. 

    If you look at Spike Jones’ book, “Brains on Fire,” it’s filled with examples of brands who were willing to supplement their “influencer relations”strategy with a program to cultivate *passion*.  As he’s fond of saying, “Influence can be created.  Passion can’t.”  

    I’m quite sure that Bryan Vartabedian isn’t influential because he sought influence; on the contrary, he’s one of the most giving and humble people I know.  He’s become influential because he’s passionate about improving the lives of the people he cares about – his patients, their families and his fellow physicians.  

    In my experience, few companies have really understood this concept yet, but the smarter ones are beginning to. Do things look different from your perspective in Europe?  [Full disclosure: Spike Jones is a colleague of mine at WCG.  But you should still read “Brains on Fire.” ;-)]


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