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What is a KOL?

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KOL Meaning And How To Become a KOL 

Key Opinion Leaders are becoming a great marketing asset. But, this has brought along a lot of debate about whether KOLs are just influencers. This article talks about KOL marketing by defining who they are, how you can use them in your marketing strategy or even become one yourself, and, finally, the difference between influencers and KOLs.

You’ve heard of influencers. Now get ready for Key Opinion Leaders (KOLs)! Some people say they are the same as influencers while others disagree. But before we go into that.. who exactly are Key Opinion Leaders? Let’s find out!

KOL Meaning And How To Become a KOL 

KOL Meaning And Why They Are So Important 

Key Opinion Leaders (KOL) are prominent people whose opinions are respected or listened to when making decisions. They are usually people with proven expertise in a certain field. Think of them as industry experts who just happen to influence people. For example, physicians can be KOLs for the healthcare field. KOLs can be organizations, too! 

Since KOLs have proven experience in their field, their voice carries a lot of weight and influential power. Companies often consult with them before making huge decisions. This might look like a pharmaceutical company consulting the director of a hospital before rolling out a new drug. They may even “take on the role of influencers” to promote new medical devices.

KOL Meaning And How To Become a KOL 

KOLs are also used to generate awareness to the public. Since the beginning of the pandemic, you might have seen doctors busting myths about the coronavirus. They are KOLs, too!

In short, their opinion is valued because they have spent years perfecting their craft and building a reputation are now considered industry leaders.

The term originated from China, where KOLs have a stronger influence than any other country. It is a whole business model in that country because most consumers place weight on KOLs to give them product recommendations. Some KOLs also act as brand ambassadors!

KOL vs. Influencer: Are They Both The Same? 

Some Key Opinion Leaders can be influencers while some influencers can be Key Opinion Leaders. But they both are not the same!

The main difference between the two is that KOLs have a main profession. They are often journalists, doctors, IT experts, and so on. They simply hold influential power over people because of their reputation. 

Influencers, on the other hand, have created a career out of influencing people. They choose niches that they are passionate about, and slowly build a reputation. This is often their main profession. 

KOL Meaning And How To Become a KOL 

KOLs also do not spend a lot of time on social media. They usually give their opinions through interviews, podcasts, TV, or even newspapers. They can, of course, have a large social media presence. But that is not their goal. They remain KOLs despite the number of their social media following. They don’t make a living off of social media. This means the opinions of a KOL matters both offline and online

For example, Neil Gaiman is famous because he is a popular writer. But he also uses his social media platforms to give opinions on things. He endorses local bookstores, asks people to check out certain plays, among others. In this way, he acts as a KOL whose opinions are valued because of his skills as a writer. 

On the flip side, influencers make a career out of building a social media following. They devote most of their time to blogging/ vlogging. The larger their audience, the more money they can make. 

How Much Does a Key Opinion Leader Earn? 

On average, KOLs make nearly $73k per year. The top 10% can make as much as $110k annually!

Many KOLs, however, charge per speech or per hour. Since KOLs are frequently used in the healthcare field, let’s take them as an example and look at how much they can earn. 

Influential doctors are often invited to give speeches or opinions on new drugs. On an average, they can earn $400 per hour. For a scientific speech, they are paid more than $3000. In order to work on clinical trials, doctors may charge $300 per hour! KOLS from China, on the other hand, can earn as much as a whopping $150k per post!

KOL Meaning And How To Become a KOL 

The reason that KOLs earn so much is because of their specialized subject matter expertise. So, the more experience they have, the more they can earn. Moreover, people tend to believe experts over companies. So, they act as a bridge between the brand and the consumers. 

How Can KOL Marketing Benefit Brands? 

KOL marketing gives brands a lot of credibility and helps consumers make the best choice. Let’s say there is a new beauty product in the market. Suppose the brand uses a cosmetologist to act as a Key Opinion Leader for this product. 

This increases the credibility of the product because a recommendation from an expert holds more weight than normal brand advertisements. These are known as high-impact recommendations and are 50 times more likely to trigger a purchase.

KOL Meaning And How To Become a KOL 

KOLs also help brands target a specific audience. Let’s say the product is a protein-filled smoothie geared towards athletes and fitness enthusiasts. Working with top fitness KOLs helps brands get their product in front of their ideal audience. 

Since KOLs are experts in their particular fields, brands can also collaborate with them to improve their product. This will help them tailor their product towards the needs of consumers and generate more sales in return. 

How To Become a Successful Key Opinion Leader? 

  1. Identify your niche. This should be a field that you are an expert in; a field in which you hold a degree or many certifications. KOLs are not born in a day. Instead, they carve out a place for themselves through years of experience. 
  1. Establish your personal brand and make a name for yourself within your field. Showcase yourself as an expert who is worth listening to by giving unique opinions and advice on existing problems. Share knowledge and give tips that add value to the viewers. 

For example, let’s say you are a chef working at a 3 star restaurant who specializes in vegan recipes. You can show unique recipes and cooking tips to establish yourself.

  1. Make strategic connections by networking. Engage with other leaders both online and offline. Collaborate with them by conducting live Q and A/ talk sessions. Have debates with them about your opinions. The possibilities are endless! 

The more you build your network, the more opportunities you will get to give speeches and share your opinions. And the more you do this, the more space you make for yourself as an expert in your field.

  1. Act as a KOL at your workplace. There will always be decisions to be made at any workplace. Be an authority figure and give practical advice at your workplace. Help them solve problems. Starting at the place you work is one of the best ways of truly establishing yourself. 
  1. Most of all, be passionate about your field. Having a friendly disposition is also important for connecting with your audience. Remember, your opinions have the power to influence hundreds if not thousands of people! 

Ready to become a successful KOL? Most brands are always on the lookout for thought leaders. So, follow the tips above and get started! And don’t forget to share this article with others. 

Karina Gandola was born and raised outside the city of Charleston, in the beautiful mountain state of West Virginia. Karina loves writing about the influencer marketing space and an area she is passionate about. She considers her faith and family to be most important to her. If she isn’t spending time with her friends and family, you can almost always find her around her sweet yellow Labrador retriever, Poshna.

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