key opinion leader
Digital & Marketing Strategy

Key Opinion Leader: The New, Better Influencers?


Finding one’s way through the maze of opinions is more difficult today than ever before. This is mainly due to the almost infinite amount of accessible information and the increasing number of people who publicly share their knowledge and views. Some of these are called key opinion leaders.

The areas in which they do this are as diverse as the Internet itself. This can be anything from opinions about favorite brands and products on blogs to more political or scientific topics and content. Social media platforms such as Instagram or Twitter are becoming increasingly important and with them, all those personalities who make their opinions known there.

What Is a “Key Opinion Leader” ?

In addition to influencers, it is increasingly Key Opinion Leaders (KOL) that companies rely on today to promote either a product, a topic, or a service.

Key Opinion Leaders are individuals who are opinion leaders and experts in their fields.

This expertise can come from either acquired knowledge or experience.

Above all, it is important that key opinion leaders have a high degree of credibility and authenticity. They have not acquired their knowledge on or through social media, but have general knowledge that, in the best case, also has value independent of Instagram and Co. has value.

On the contrary, the identification of a KOL always takes place in the offline world. An expert in the real world can become a KOL, but the other way around is rather unlikely.

The Representative Elected by Others

Another important difference between influencers and key opinion leaders is that a person can stage himself as an influencer, but a KOL can only be recognized as such by others.

A Key Opinion Leader‘s stance within his own community is solidified. He is an opinion leader and probably the person you would call or ask first about certain issues. This recognition can often be transferred quite easily from the real world to the digital world.

Key Opinion Leader vs. Influencer

But what exactly distinguishes key opinion leaders from influencers? Probably the most striking distinction is that key opinion leaders also have expertise and valuable experience outside social media.

Influencers, on the other hand, are pure products of Instagram. Often, they have built a social media persona, a character built primarily on influencing people’s buying behavior. That’s why you typically see a high turnover of brands and products that influencers promote.

Influencer marketing is primarily aimed at sales. With influencers, topics such as expertise and a well-founded opinion take a back seat. Instead, the aim is to convey a certain attitude to life that customers can also bring into their homes by purchasing the advertised product.

Status Comes From the Real World

The situation is completely different with key opinion leaders. They are people who have earned their status outside the digital world. Their understanding and insights into their specialist topics are extensive. Often, it’s not even celebrities who rise to become Key Opinion Leaders. KOLs frequently excel as experts first before stepping into the digital role.

Here’s an example to get a better understanding of the difference: Probably very few of us would take medically sound workout tips from an influencer who is not very athletic.

athletic key opinion leader

A fitness coach, on the other hand, who is well-trained and agile, immediately inspires more confidence. This shows why KOLs form opinions on a completely different level. But who are the people to consider as KOLs?

Who Has the Right Profile to Be a KOL?

As already mentioned, the probability of an influencer becoming a key opinion leader is rather low. This is because the place where the very knowledge and experience that distinguishes the KOL is acquired is not the virtual space.

Rather, it is precisely the interest and commitment of the (future) Key Opinion Leader that makes him or her such. If you as an entrepreneur are looking for suitable KOLs, conferences are a good place to start.

conference key opinion leader

Participants and lecturers there have natural knowledge about this area. There you can, for example, get recommendations as to who could be considered as a KOL for you. But an agency can also advise you in this regard.

From Being a Star to Political Activist

Another way is when already famous personalities become Key Opinion Leaders. A fascinating example is George Clooney. For a long time, the actor carried the image of the Hollywood beau.

But he gradually became more and more involved in politics, building his reputation as someone to be believed in. Thus, his public perception slowly changed. Away from the Hollywood beau to a key opinion leader.

Having a Strong Network Is Half the Battle

Another way to achieve key opinion leader status is to network properly. Because connections and contacts have never been as important as they are today. An opinion leader can therefore not only convince through their own knowledge and experience, but also through whom this opinion leader is in contact with.

Especially on social media, you can quickly become an opinion leader. Because here the networks provide the necessary credibility.

Social Marketing With KOLs

One area where the role of an opinion leader is even more significant than it already is social marketing. It is enormously important that the person and the marketing objective match here. After all, social marketing is value-oriented and, in the best case scenario, aims to convey these values.

Influencers often only stand for a certain look or lifestyle. That’s why KOL marketing, especially in social marketing, is a special form.

What Is Social Marketing?

But first, let’s clarify what social marketing is. In this special form of marketing, the goal is not to sell products, but rather to influence behavior.

social marketing key opinion leader

For example, campaigns on waste recycling or water conservation fall into this category. The issue is always of social relevance. And more and more companies are also recognizing their responsibility to society and getting behind an organization or issue they consider important.

Credibility Through Key Opinion Leaders

More than in other fields, the credibility and influence of a key opinion leader weighs many times more in social marketing. These resources come into their own, especially in this field. After all, values can only be communicated if the person communicating them is also credible.

How to Work With KOLs

You already know what KOLs are and how they are defined. Now let’s take a look at how you can most efficiently cooperate with these special advertising media.

Find the Right KOL

You’ve found a Key Opinion Leader that matches your values and what you want to convey. Now it pays to do a little more intensive research. Take a look at the opinion leader’s social media channels:

  • Is there active communication with followers there?
  • Is there activity and sharing on the part of the users?
  • How much and how frequently does the key opinion leader post content

All of this, and a look at any sponsored posts, will allow you to draw conclusions about whether this Key Opinion Leader may be the right choice for you.

Don’t Jump the Gun

Before you can enjoy the new heights of your brand awareness, you need to get the opinion leader’s approval for a collaboration. This is where caution is needed. After all, it’s precisely because the value of a KOL is so closely tied to their credibility that Key Opinion Leaders are much more cautious when choosing their collaborations.

As a person, a KOL is not a classic advertising medium and therefore will not simply work in pictures or in ads. Here, too, content counts more. And these want to be communicated!

Use the Expertise

Much can be written about the functions and possibilities of the Key Opinion Leader. But it is certain that it will primarily be your own channels, such as a blog, that are of interest to you.

With a guest post from a Key Opinion Leader on your own blog, you will not only attract readers by name, but also add more authenticity to your own brand.

All these steps are referred to as KOL management. Whereby the complete life cycle of interaction falls under this term. From an initial idea of KOL marketing, through joint strategy and planning, to success tracking.

To use this strategy successfully, consider consulting a marketing agency.

From Prospect to KOL User

So for companies, the reasons to make KOL marketing decisions are more than varied. But there are also benefits on the other side, the KOL user side. As a customer, you no longer have to worry about the sources behind the information, because they can be considered safe through the key opinion leader.

Unlike influencer marketing, there is often a mountain of data and experience behind the KOL, from which KOL users, in particular, can benefit. Texts and entries on blogs can also be extremely valuable for companies connected with these key opinion leaders.

That’s because KOL marketing today is much more targeted, audience-specific marketing, and its sales rate will almost certainly be higher. That’s because instead of using a watering can approach to generate as much reach as possible, KOL marketing focuses much more on high-quality contacts.

Those who make the effort of KOL management and go all the way will certainly be rewarded with success. Because users trust key opinion leaders and this trust can also be transferred to your company.


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