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January 12, 2021

A guide to KOL mapping and KOL identification

Make the most of your KOL engagement by identifying the right experts faster to help you reach your goals.
kol identification
Article updated May 2024.

What is KOL mapping? KOL mapping is a quantitative method of identifying at global, national, and regional levels which KOL is right for a particular job. Beyond simply identifying a list of obvious prominent candidates, KOL mapping gives you insight into which key experts influence communities that are important to you.

Your team invests significantly to develop and nurture relationships with key opinion leaders or KOLs. Identifying the right key opinion leader for the task at hand – across different therapeutic areas, specialities, and geographies – makes the most of this investment and ensures a faster return of more actionable insights for better decision-making in the pharma industry.

Uncover key opinion leaders you won’t find in publication data alone.

Before you hold a virtual advisory board or other KOL engagements, you’ll want to ensure you’ve identified the right KOLs. Preeminence measured by publication volume or tenure does not necessarily make a KOL or KEE the right person for your project. Effective KOL mapping, supported by technology that measures influence in your disease community, ensures you identify the experts you want to help you achieve your team’s goals, regardless of global region or clinical area.

What’s the difference between KOL mapping, profiling, and identification? What makes a good KOL? And what is the difference between a KOL and an influencer? Let’s discuss.

Effective KOL mapping finds the right experts faster

Within3’s disease community landscape accelerates and improves your organization’s understanding of the target therapeutic area to drive strategy and actionable insights from the most relevant experts in sync with a project’s specific goals. How?

  • Pre-filtered disease community landscape, including US treatment patterns and locations of HCP influence
  • Data analysts who custom-define your specific disease community
  • Year-round social listening for insight into trending conversations across digital spaces
  • Disease community analytics reveal connections among the healthcare network to determine key connectors, understand influence, and engage the most relevant voices

Real-world client success in KOL MAPPING

One Within3 client team discovered several key opinion leaders from fields of medicine outside gastroenterology, including a respirologist. None of these KOLs would otherwise have been considered to sit on the board.

The respirologist recognized that the molecule showed significant activity in treating a different, unrelated condition. Further investigation revealed and unlocked a wholly unexpected high nine-figure out-licensing opportunity that hadn’t been considered, leading to the development of an extremely rare potential blockbuster drug.

Why is KOL mapping valuable?

By identifying individuals with expertise in specific therapeutic areas and matching, or mapping, them according to their level of influence, life science teams can quickly ascertain who to engage for highly targeted feedback on a variety of subjects. The ultimate goal is pinpointing an individual with high levels of influence and interest in the specific therapeutic area to accelerate commercialization or product adoption in the pharma industry. Similarly, you’d want to identify a KOL in clinical research when looking for an individual equipped to help achieve success in a clinical setting.

In the past, your team might have been hampered by logistical limitations like travel budgets, busy schedules, and language differences among global experts. Practically speaking, this would limit the effectiveness of KOL mapping.

Technology makes it easier to take full advantage of KOLs or KEEs located in diverse geographic areas, including those who cannot travel extensively or participate in conversations in a different language from their own. In an asynchronous discussion, your team can engage whatever number of KOLs is right for the job – there’s no limit to how many KOLs you can include and no travel budget to exceed. However, regarding KOL management in pharma, it’s still important to identify the experts who can provide the most relevant and actionable insight to your medical affairs team.

Effective KOL mapping finds the right experts faster, accelerating time to important milestones. Within3’s insights management platform improves your understanding of your target disease community, increasing the likelihood of collecting more actionable insights that are aligned with your goals. Our capabilities include:

  • Pre-filtered disease community landscape, including US treatment patters and locations of HCP influence
  • Data analysts to help you define your disease community
  • Social monitors to gain insight into trending conversations in digital spaces
  • Disease community analytics to reveal connections, determine key influencers, and help you engage relevant voices


Identifying new voices to drive research breakthroughs

A biopharmaceutical firm wanted to convene an advisory board of gastroenterology experts to advise on developing, marketing, and releasing a promising new drug. Within3’s technology revealed several KOLs from fields of medicine outside gastroenterology, including a respirologist. Thanks to the insights this previously overlooked KOL provided, the team unlocked a high nine-figure out-licensing opportunity that hadn’t been considered, leading to the development of an extremely rare potential blockbuster drug. Learn how they did it.

Is your KOL list off by 30%?

Many teams are concerned their expert engagement is compromising strategic impact. Learn why this is happening and how to get the right KOLs every time.

Smart KOL mapping reveals overlooked KOLs, yields a nine-figure out-licensing opportunity for a biopharma company

One Within3 client discovered several key opinion leaders outside their target therapeutic area. Previously, these KOLs would not have been invited to participate. But by engaging these previously unfamiliar experts, the team obtained fresh perspective – and unlocked some key insights.


What is KOL identification?

To strengthen pharma KOL engagement, identify influential individuals in specific therapeutic areas and within the appropriate geography. Note who consistently speaks at important medical congresses and scientific meetings and publishes journal articles or is frequently quoted in the media for their clinical experience.

Here again, technology is your friend. Network analytics and publicly available information allow you to understand more about what KOLs discuss online, the size and scope of their audience, and whether someone outside of traditional parameters might be someone you need to engage.

You should also consider what your KOLs need: How important is it for them to stay close to work and home rather than travel to a meeting? Do they tend to be more introverted in face-to-face settings? Are they rising stars who might be reluctant to speak up around more experienced clinicians?

While it’s true that any expert thought leader can thrive in a virtual setting, your medical affairs KOL management team may find it beneficial to understand which individuals are actually more comfortable and authoritative in an asynchronous discussion. Enabling KOLs to use the venue in which they’re most comfortable and most likely to participate in a meaningful way is a win-win in which your team collects a higher volume of actionable insights and the KOL is able to share their knowledge while continuing to establish their place alongside other experts in the pharmaceutical industry.


MAPS Elevate Podcast: Using technology to identify experts

Within3 CEO Lance Hill talks with Garth Sundem of MAPS about two critical innovations: widening data sets and network analytics applications. Evidence suggests that medical affairs teams that don’t adopt these technologies may assign resources to incorrect experts 20 percent of the time – or one of every five meetings. Teams applying these tools can reduce that number to five percent, accounting for a significant competitive advantage via effective KOL mapping and identification.

What qualities make an ideal KOL?

Trustworthiness, credibility, and authority are all important qualities in KOLs. In a virtual setting, your team will also want to identify proactive experts, have a partnership mindset, and share an interest in collaborative knowledge exchange. Building a deep bench of talent is essential to obtaining the quality of insight that moves your work forward.

One school of thought says that a KOL’s prominence is the most important quality. While it’s true that certain KOLs are rock stars in very high demand, pharma and medtech teams also benefit from engaging with more specialized KOLs that might be flying under the radar. These individuals might be micro-influencers in their particular field or specialty, active with high-value and high-currency networks in channels like LinkedIn, and they might bring to the table a deeper understanding of subjects critical for life science teams.

Most of these qualities apply to both in-person and virtual settings, and most Within3 clients find that age, technical savvy, or previous experience with asynchronous platforms don’t preclude KOLs from engaging and thriving in virtual discussions. A modern insights management platform with virtual discussion capabilities is easy to navigate by design.

What is the difference between a KOL and an influencer?

While influencers – such as those who represent consumer brands – are mainly motivated by self-promotion, KOLs are moved to promote science and data or raise the profile of their profession, research, or work with patients. They have deep knowledge of their therapeutic area and understand the impact of sharing that knowledge with life science teams.

In other words, KOLs have a degree of authenticity that lends authority and trustworthiness to the information they share – it’s both why you engage with them and why you want them to engage with others on your behalf.

KOL mapping and insights management

Within3’s insights management platform finds the voices you haven’t heard thanks to sophisticated disease community network analytics. It also powers global HCP conversations and collaboration with in-platform translation and anytime accessibility. Gain real-time summaries of ongoing conversations that enable you to act quickly with follow-up questions and discussions to drive more insights, then accelerate sharing summaries internally so you can refine team conversations before the discussion concludes.

In August 2023, Within3 expanded our industry-leading group engagement applications suite with an AI-powered Moderator Assistant, providing 3-7x more real-time feedback versus typical methods like web conferences or in-person meetings and dramatically reducing the time and effort required to monitor and analyze insights.

The Moderator Assistant and insights reporting capabilities were developed specifically to create efficiencies and reduce expenses for medical affairs teams. “Our goal is to remove 90% of the work and cost from the process of gathering, analyzing, and integrating insights while at the same time improving insight quality and decision-making,” said Lance Hill, Within3 CEO.

Start the conversation or book a demo today.

PharmaVoice. KOL Mapping: the GPS of Thought Leader Identification.
Research Optimus. Need for Key Opinion Leaders in the Pharma Industry.
McKinsey. A Vision for Medical Affairs in 2025.

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