What are Key Opinion Leaders (KOLs) in Marketing and How to Run Successful Campaigns With Them

As a small business in retail, reaching your target market can be tough. You’re constrained by marketing budget, resources, and oftentimes are coming across lots of new competitors.

Yet, one thing is true: Working with key opinion leaders (KOLs) and social media influencers can quickly fuel brand awareness across your demographic and expedite revenue growth. It’s quickly grown into an industry of it’s own with the influencer marketing industry to reach $16.4B in 2022.

Trying to grow your audience organically, without the help of influencers and KOLs, is a marketing strategy for the long term. Like most businesses, you probably want to grow as fast as possible and as much as you can in the near term. This is where KOLs and influencer marketing come into play.

In this article, we’ll share what a KOL is, how you can find the right KOLs to partner with, and how you can run campaigns with them to drive home your revenue metrics.

Let’s dive in!

What does KOL stand for?

A KOL stands for Key Opinion Leader.

What are KOLs?

A Key Opinion Leader is someone with proven experience in a specific topic that has a trusted opinion among a niche audience. Their advice, guidance, opinion, or stance is able to reach and persuade other people just by stating it.

This could be someone in a particular field, like life sciences or healthcare, but it could also be someone with a trusted opinion in something less technical, like plus-size fashion. Typically, key opinion leaders are thought leaders to their target audience.

Finding the right KOL for your industry can help you drive word of mouth and expedite your marketing efforts.

Is a KOL an influencer?

It depends. Both are independent, therefore someone can be one or both. Typically an influencer is someone with a number of followers on a social media platform–that have a good engagement rate. They might not be a trusted opinion leader in their field with a niche audience, but they might just be an entertaining personality.

One example, a dietician blogger who specializes in blood sugar levels might be a key opinion leader to a niche audience of those looking to manage their insulin resistance and interested in blood sugar. The dietician’s opinion on certain products, like a new drug, or their promotion is likely to successfully drive brand awareness to a niche target audience.

As for an influencer who’s not a KOL: A micro-influencer who dances on TikTok, or a micro instagram influencer who dances on Reels, might not be a trusted key opinion leader with proven experience on a given topic or area of expertise. They can still help sway purchasing decisions and promote your product in an influencer marketing campaign, however they wouldn’t be classified as a KOL marketing strategy.

Top benefits to working with KOLs

Expand your reach instantaneously

By working with a KOL who has a specific audience related to your product, you’re able to reach your target audience in one instant. This can help build your organic audience by driving brand awareness, or lead to sales directly if a KOL is promoting new products you’re selling.

Increase revenue and customer acquisition

If you create partnerships that lead to referrals of the KOLs’ audience, this means new customers and revenue created. Pretty self explanatory!

Cost-effective marketing

The cost of paid ads are rising, and the return on investment is becoming more and more unpredictable. The rules are constantly changing across Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, YouTube, and Snapchat. Heck, even Google.

Partnering with KOLs is one way to ensure you’re going to run an ROI-positive marketing campaign by relying on someone else’s guaranteed influence rather than advertising platforms.

Collect new content

When you partner with KOLs that are also influencers, you can collect new user-generated content for your team to use. For example, partnering with a TikTok skincare influencer who’s a key opinion leader can mean video content created for your team. You can then use the content in ad campaigns on other platforms, on your social media platforms, or on your website.

Gather feedback

Since key opinion leaders typically have, well… opinions, you can ask for their opinion on your products or partner with them to ask their audience for feedback. This can help improve your products and affect your product roadmap positively, but also help tailor your messaging better to the right audience.

What are some examples of KOLs?

KOLs are seen as a trusted source of information and can boost the credibility / trust of your brand through partnership. Here are three examples:

Brand Mondo. A hairdresser who’s influence started on YouTube by reacting to bad haircuts or hair dyes. Brad became an influencer and quickly a trusted key opinion leader in hair dye, actually creating his own product line Xmondo.

Gordon Ramsay. Not only is he a celebrity and personality, but Gordon Ramsay is a key opinion leader in the cooking world having earned michelin stars and running various world-renown restaurants.

Seth Godin. A leader in the business world, Seth is an author and key opinion leader in the business world. Having him promote a new product on his podcast can be a game changer to many looking for his opinion in the business world.

How to start a successful KOL campaign

KOL influence can drastically change your brand image and fuel your marketing efforts.

Set goals for your campaign

First, what’s the goal for your KOL marketing campaign? Choosing awareness versus direct revenue growth can impact the KOLs you should choose to work with or the platforms you decide to focus on growing within.

Ensure your goals are SMART (Smart, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, Timely) and can be measured by the platform you choose to host your program on.

Decide on the channels to reach your audience

TikTok? Instagram? Twitter? Linkedin? Focusing where you want to reach and grow your audience can impact the success of your KOL marketing campaign. Some KOLs will have influence on some platforms and not others.

So, start by focusing on one platform and finding the right KOL that fits your niche audience on that platform. If you’re trying to reach millennials, snapchat might not be the best channel, however if you’re trying to reach Gen-Z, then it might just be.

How to find KOLs for your brand

You can find the top KOLs for your industry in a number of ways. Here’s how to find the right KOLs that you can partner with.

If your product is in healthcare, science, wellness, or fitness, reaching out to a traditional KOL might make sense. However, typically people seek to find key opinion leaders that are also influencers on a specific topic.

Finding traditional KOLs

If your industry is a little more established, you can find KOLs the old-fashioned way. To find traditional KOLs, look to conferences on specific topics and find those who are speaking. For academic industries, look to research papers posted and those who are teaching others about their field.

Finding KOLs who are also influencers

Searching relevant hashtags to your brand is a manual way to find KOLs who have used your hashtag previously and potentially have an audience that make them the best partner for you. The downside to this is that it’s a manual process.

You can use discovery tools to find influencers (and micro-influencers) with followings your brand might benefit from reaching.

You can also use social listening tools to find top converting content about topics or hashtags that your brand wants to influence. Buzzsumo is an example of a social listening tool.

Reach out and build a relationship

Once you have a list of potential KOLs you want to partner with, you can reach out with a personalized note, or if you have an affiliate marketing program or brand ambassador program, reach out with the call to action as your program landing page.

Keep in mind, some KOLs will only work with one or a handful of brands at a time, or won’t promote a product unless they truly believe in it. One idea is to also send them a product to use with no promise of partnership and no expectation of their endorsement. If they like your product, they could be more inclined to partner with you in promoting it.

Track the success of your KOL marketing campaign

Once you’ve launched a partnership with one or more KOLs, start to track the success of the campaign. Depending on the goal you set, this could be awareness and followers that you gain from their promotion, or it could mean direct revenue driven from their promotion.

Tracking referred revenue through influencers can be tough, but using a platform to track every referral through a link or discount code, and paying out the influencer on their commission is easy using a platform like Social Snowball.

With Social Snowball, you can set up various customized programs, create custom links or discount codes for a KOL to promote, and pay them out easily without fees. You can try out a 30-day trial here.

Key Takeaways

If you takeaway nothing else from this article, here are the three most important things:

  1. Working with the right KOLs can transform your brand and expedite revenue growth.
  2. You can create a successful KOL marketing campaign, but finding the right KOLs to partner with for your brand is extremely important.
  3. Incorporate your affiliate and influencer marketing programs with KOL marketing.

To start setting up your programs and keep them organized, you can use a 30-day trial of Social Snowball and start structuring your word of mouth marketing today.

Bonus: Frequently Asked Questions about KOLS

What’s the difference between a KOL and a celebrity?

A KOL is a key opinion leader in a specific topic with proven expertise, while a celebrity is a famous or well-known person. Someone can be one or both. For example, a scientist may be a key opinion leader, but not a famous celebrity. As an other example, a celebrity can sometimes be a key opinion leader, like Leonardo Dicaprio on climate change.

What is a KOL’s goal?

A KOLs goal is to continue gaining experience in their field, and continue to reach more people in their target audience. Sometimes just by gaining experience in their field, a KOL continues to influence more people.

Affiliate Marketing
Published on
November 21, 2022
Written by
Katie Krische
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