Table of contents
  1. 1. Definition of Key Opinion Leader (KOL)
  2. 2. KOLs vs. influencers
  3. 3. When to use KOLs and when to use influencers
  4. 4. How to find the perfect-fit KOLs on the market

Definition of Key Opinion Leader (KOL)

A Key Opinion Leader is an expert whose opinion is valued in a specific industry or area of knowledge and is listened to by a broader audience. KOLs are individuals who are trusted and respected specifically for this knowledge.

The term Key Opinion Leader is not new in the marketing universe. Many companies tried to connect and collaborate with the KOLs within their industry in order to promote their products or services. Since KOLs are able to deliver the message in an intimate and authentic way, their role eventually becomes more and more important and relevant in any marketing strategy than mass media or traditional advertising. If a KOL is visible and accessible on social media, he or she becomes the motivation for marketers to use implement influencer marketing to expand the audience, reach the target group and trigger buying motives. 

 

KOLs vs. influencers

Is an influencer a KOL? Although the two terms are often used interchangeably, they are not exactly the same. Understanding the differences can help you decide whether working with an influencer or a KOL is right for your brand or campaign. Both influencers and KOLs are individuals who influence a consumer’s opinion about a product or service. Influencers can have a strong influence on an audience present on social media platforms like Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.

However, while KOLs may have a presence on social media, these platforms don’t have to serve as their main communication channel and revenue generator. An influencer’s credibility comes from their online persona, their content and their perceived authenticity. A KOL’s credibility comes from direct experience in an industry, professional qualifications or time spent engaged in a subject. In contrast, the trust of an influencer’s audience is based on identification and personal preference.
 

When to use KOLs and when to use influencers

Influencers and KOLs appeal to different audiences, so if you’re deciding which one to work with, you’ll need to consider who your target group's demographics is (for instance, using the audience data feature of any influencer marketing platform).

The Audience Data can help marketers distinguish between KOLs and influencers © InfluencerDB premium software

Influencers appeal to the average consumer, while KOLs influence the influencers. Compared to KOLs, influencers often have an unspecified audience. What connects all of the followers is a shared interest in the influencer’s attitude, personality or lifestyle. People follow influencers because their content matches the follower’s interest, taste or opinion. Because of these similarities, the follower is more likely to identify with the influencer but does not necessarily match the demographics of the influencer.

Key opinion leaders, on the other hand, speak to a particular demographic. Their audience values the KOL’s opinion due to their expertise and experience in a certain industry. Followers turn to them for knowledge and advice and usually have a deeper understanding and knowledge of an industry themselves. Unlike influencers, followers aren’t necessarily fans of the KOL as a person but they respect the KOL’s expertise.

If you want to target audience members in a specific demographic or with interests in a specific topic, then finding Key Opinion Leaders who speak to that demographic can be an effective way to reach a new audience or extend your reach. However, don’t pay more for a KOL who has a large reach but is working outside your area of interest. Their pricing might be based on the reach they have within a certain topic area, and their influence will not be effective outside that area of expertise. 
 

How to find the perfect-fit KOLs on the market

There are a few things to consider to best pair a KOL with a brand. The first is, again, to look at how relevant the influencer is with the target demographic you are trying to engage. Are you trying to trigger the motive of end-consumers or trend-makers? Assessing which one and which channel is most visible to your target audience will ensure the right people—and hopefully future customers—see it. After discovering relevant influencers, determine the strategy and process of your influencer marketing campaign as well as prepare to initiate the relationship with them.

In most cases, micro-influencers tend to have a smaller yet more engaged following, making them more appealing from both a conversion and cost perspective. The contrast between smaller and larger KOLs is something that companies need to consider—not only in terms of budget—but also in terms of their brand image.