COVID-19 has impacted traditional relationships between the pharmaceutical industry and healthcare professionals, reinforcing the role of remote interactions and more globally multichannel approach.

In this article, we analyze the impact of COVID-19 on the relationship between Opinion leaders (OL) and pharmaceutical companies but also the management of Opinion Leaders.

  • What are the implications? How is COVID-19 pushing the pharmaceutical industry to reinvent the management of its experts?
  • What is a Digital Opinion Leader (DOL)?
  • How to use digital as a lever to engage and activate your Opinion Leaders (OLs)?
  • How to adapt your operating model to manage DOLs?

Evolution of the environment and impact on the industry

The place of digital technology in our daily lives is growing steadily over time. In an age where social networks and other forms of online communication are as influential as, or even more than, traditional media, Digital influencers are becoming increasingly important.

This rise in digital channels, which is also prevalent in the pharmaceutical industry, has led to an evolution in communication with healthcare professionals. The impact of this pandemic will certainly affect everyone's practices in the long term.

Figure 1: Examples of development areas supported by the rise of digital

What is a Digital Opinion Leader?

It is essential to specify that the concepts of "Opinion Leader" and "Digital Opinion Leader" are not mutually exclusive. Indeed, the construction of a medical-marketing plan, for example, will consider these two categories of experts depending on the objectives defined and the desired effect.

Digital Opinion Leaders are people with a committed community of peers on one or more digital platforms and active on a specific subject or therapeutic area. As traditional Opinion Leaders, they can be academics or healthcare professionals. Digital Opinion Leaders offer the possibility of obtaining a wider communication voice, especially among the new generations of HCPs, who are more involved in the digital sphere.

Figure 2: Traditional and Emerging Opinion Leaders Model [1]

Digital Opinion Leaders can be of several types, including content creators, those who share content (whose sources may be diverse, such as publications from their hospital’s account, a patient association, learned societies, their peers, etc.), or those who are not very active in a "direct" way but are mentioned on social networks by many of their peers.

Focus on healthcare professionals (HCPs): what are the different types that Pharma can solicit?

Our matrix segments HCPs into six categories based on two dimensions:

The scientific dimension, traditionally considered for the OLs: publications, participation in medical guidelines, etc.

The digital dimension, specific to DOLs including presence on social networks and the ability to share and engage their community.

Figure 3: Segmentation of HCPs according to their digital and scientific influence

Each of these segments has its own characteristics, as shown in the table below. Depending on the needs but also on the therapeutic areas or strategic issues, the pharmaceutical industry will have to work in collaboration with different categories of HCPs to meet its ambition.

Figure 4: Characteristics of the segments identified through influence and scientific scores

How to activate digital to maximize the impact of your projects with your experts?

Our Approach 

1. Shape

This first phase consists of defining your project's ambition and strategic objectives and their impact on the identification of Digital Opinion Leaders.

This approach, fully customizable, allows to:

  • Agree on the definition of a Digital Opinion Leader specific to your challenges
  • Define a set of relevant criteria that will be the basis of the Opinion Leaders mapping
  • For example, many dimensions or criteria can be considered during this “shaping” phase:
  • Does it publish relevant content? Innovative content?
  • Does he or she publish in your therapeutic area?
  • What is the engagement of his peers or the public on his digital publications?
  • What is their offline influence?
  • Are they already collaborating with your company?

Defining these criteria allows you to create rich profiles, adapted to your objectives and allowing you to initiate the next phase.

2. Explore

This second phase aims to identify the most relevant Digital Opinion Leaders to meet the needs and objectives set during the "Shape" phase. Based on the criteria defined, it consists of an in-depth analysis of the digital sphere to collect the relevant data for experts’ segmentation in compliance with the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).

The analysis, segmentation, and finally, the selection of Digital Opinion Leaders will allow you to define which category of HCPs to choose for a given initiative and to select the Digital Opinion Leaders that meet your needs.

3. Activate

This last phase aims to set up an action plan for the management of your experts. Indeed, it is essential to anticipate how to engage Digital Opinion Leaders to create a long-term relationship with them. Therefore, an overall reflection must be carried out on the actions that can be put in place to successfully engage the Digital Opinion Leader in the future. It is also interesting to think about the actions that can be implemented to develop the digital component in Traditional Opinion Leaders. Beyond the action plan, a reflection on the appropriate “operating model” ensures the success of the management of Opinion Leaders in the digital world to have a sustainable and structured approach.


Despite a changing environment and the increasing use of social networks, the Opinion Leader remains an indispensable reference in the pharmaceutical industry's medical marketing strategies. Nevertheless, collaboration with Digital Opinion Leaders must be seen as a complement to this strategy and represents an opportunity for broader and innovative dissemination to other HCPs and the public.