The simple truth is… I didn’t know what a “KOL” was until I joined WCG. I knew of the term ‘opinion leader’ from Lazarsfeld and Katz theory back from my communication studies, but KOLs? That sounded like a foreign animal.

Apparently, these are the people I worked with for the past six years while organizing committees, conferences and speaking engagements, and supporting scientific publications, people I shared laughs had fruitful discussions with at meetings, conferences and dinners. People I supported for the majority of my career as a Programme Officer at the European Molecular Biology Organisation.

Scientists, researchers, physicians, Post-Docs, PIs, Group Leaders or Institute Directors – they all are different and similar at the same time. Some of them are fantastic presenters, some make great writers or engaging communicators, some are remarkable scientific experts in variety of fields and some make great inspirational leaders.

What unites them is their dedication to the work they do, their passion to science in general and their never-ending curiosity.

They can be an endless source of information and inspiration and their opinions are valuable and integral part of science and healthcare communications. Their patients, peers and students, the general public and politicians all listen to what they have to say, but like most of us, each one of them has their own way and medium they use to communicate their ideas and thoughts.

And here is where things can get tricky since it is only human to categorise. We have this primordial need to look for similarities, unite things and treat them as one.

We group birch, cedar, ebony and cherry into the groupings ‘tree’ or ‘wood’, for example. However, if we are looking for something that would make a good table, we look for a specific type of wood with the qualities we need the table to have: hard-wearing, beautiful, cost-effective. For the same reason, you won’t engage with just any opinion leader to pursue all the activities you plan.

If you are shooting a webcast – you need an engaging speaker, if you need someone to consult on your R&D strategy – top science is key. Not all opinion leaders need to be on Twitter, have a blog, great publications and be good speakers. Allow them to use the skills they have and help them to gain new ones. Create the interaction that will be beneficial for both of you and you will acquire dedicated advocates that you seek.

I’m against using the term “KOL” – the more I use it the more I feel that I myself starting to forget the diversity of this community and the variety of activities and channels its members master. To flip a phrase, am I starting to miss seeing the trees for the wood?

Our aim as communicators is to engage with different stakeholders via appropriate medium and with help of the skilled advocates suited for that type of interaction. This is where Analytics and classic PR merge for that perfect tango: by correctly articulating the need for your market and precisely identifying the right advocates with right skill-set you can build the influential and inspirational leaders that our clients and patients need. And by doing so you are paving the road to a better patient education and better treatments.

In WCG we see this every day as we create proprietary tools to marry online and offline influence and by leveraging a heritage in medical education with the innovation of digital platforms and social media.