What are KOLs & How Should Brands Work with Them?

Niraj Sharma |
 02/19/21 |
6 min read

What are KOLs & How Should Brands Work With Them

Key opinion leaders (KOL) are respected for their expertise in a given niche. They’re not celebrities typically, not in the traditional sense at least, but are famous to those who follow whatever industry they inhabit. And they are followed for their thought leadership around a specific topic – and their knack for recognizing emerging trends. And brands definitely want to know what they know, and get tapped into their insight – in more ways than one. Let’s see how that looks!

We’ll dissect and demystify KOL marketing as we go, including:

  • Assessing KOL credibility
  • Brands enhancing credibility through value alignment
  • Brace for impact – KOL evaluations

And these statistics help to peel away the layers around KOL influence:

  • KOLs can influence the perception in a company
  • 61% of marketers consider finding relevant key opinion leaders and influencers for a campaign challenging, having the right social listening tool eases this strain.
  • 92% of consumers say they’re more likely to trust personal recommendations over ads

2021 KOL Industry Report

Key Opinion Leaders (KOLs)’ Credibility 

To start, let’s dig a little deeper into what a key opinion leader (KOL) is. KOLs are influencers whose credibility comes from their vast knowledge and experience in a specific industry. They have specific training or understanding that makes them a respected voice. As a result, businesses they mention or connect with benefit from positive perception as well, as they put their reputation on the line with every idea or connection they put forth. Their name alone carries clout and credibility, and their influence is a byproduct of their expertise or skill.

As an example, when we think of cryptocurrencies, Elon Musk comes to mind.  In fact, his opinion matters so much in this category that on February 8 when he mentioned Dogecoin on Twitter, it caused a jump of $2,000 dollars in share price.


As a company, having KOLs on your side lends your product or company an elevated level of trust. And even just mentioning them in the right context offers a bit of a subliminal nudge with fans.

We used a smidge of competitive intelligence magic (contextual analysis) to locate top KOLs in the cryptocurrency space beyond Elon Musk, who captures our top spot.


Elon has earned an equal amount of influence, authenticity, and trust from his followers. In fact, each of our KOLs have an abundance of notoriety in these elements, though some do better in some categories than others:


Key Opinion Leaders are Authentic, Influential & Trustworthy

Winning in authenticity is Satoshi Nakamoto. No one really knows who this person is, or if it’s a group of developers, but either way – he/they created Bitcoin. No matter who, or how many is behind the mask – this father of cryptocurrency is a go to source.

Joining the realm of cryptocurrency fathers is Charlie Lee, creator of Litecoin. He resonates with people because his coin is said to have elevated security. In short, this means it’s less vulnerable to attack, which is key since hackers were able to steal 283 million worth of cryptocurrency in 2019 and those numbers are expected to grow over time.

And two KOL creators stand out to the Gen Z crowd, Vitalik Buterin, co-parent of Ethereum and Dogecoin’s CEO Billy Markus.

Ethereum can be used in a diverse mix of ways, including to power its blockchain-based streaming platform Audius and its 700,000 monthly users. The fact that Ethereum is so diverse causes it to stand apart from other competing currencies.

And then there’s Dogecoin, which is coinage that started out as a joke and is inspired by a meme. Either way, Dogecoin’s total market cap is up to $8.2B and has reached celebrity status. This has everyone paying attention to what Markus says.

Using competitive intelligence, we can explore demographics of audiences discussing these two young KOLs. They confirm that their largest audience is made up of Gen Z and Millennials:


As an aside – it’s important to understand both the demographic and psychographic footprint of your category’s audience(s) when selecting the right KOL.  The age of the key opinion leader isn’t really the issue, but matching his/her appeal to your target audience matters a good bit. In NetBase, you can explore this both ways (KOL appeal and market demographics) to ensure you have a match. This is one of many ways to narrow down your key opinion leader selection search, as you’ll find there are more than handful to choose from.

What else should you know? Lots.

Consumer & Market Intelligence Supporting KOL Selection Criteria

Below, our competitive intelligence identifies vital intel for any brand to explore about a topic – or a key opinion leader, including: net sentiment, passion intensity and how many mentions they have over the past month.


It’s no surprise to see Billy Martin on top with mentions, as it’s his coin that Elon Musk recently tweeted about. And although Satoshi Nakamoto has the least mentions, his Passion is at 100 and Net Sentiment is sitting pretty as well.

But, regardless of the stats – it’s important to choose a KOL that aligns with a brand’s value, particularly as it can be challenging to distance oneself from the media attention a KOL creates once you’re connected!

Brands Enhance Credibility Through KOL Value Alignment

Credibility can be enhanced through association with top, relevant key opinion leaders. Unlike an influencer, where there’s a paid partnership with the brand, KOL marketing is aligning yourself with their thoughts and opinions to garner more attention and reach. You typically aren’t paying these folks, nor could you – but you’re getting on their radar as a point of discussion.

As an example, a brand to himself, hopeful mayoral candidate Andrew Yang talks about cryptocurrency, including Bitcoin as a part of his NYC plan. If he were to engage Satoshi Nakamoto in conversation about this online, followers and fans would take note – and Yang’s planning would reach a new level of acceptance:


And if you think KOL marketing is just for big brand/names, think again. It can be advantageous no matter how big, or small the company.

KOL Marketing for Every Budget

Finisher Secrets is a company committed to productivity and entrepreneurship. So, it’s fitting that they use this picture and quote of Elon Musk about doing your own thing and working hard:


They’re seeking expanded awareness in the entrepreneur space, and by the looks of those likes, it’s working. Just knowing who the main players are and creating relevant content for followers can edge the awareness needle in your favor.

And for individuals in the cryptosphere, Crypto_arena_99 is an investor (and affiliate marketer) who gets it. In the post below, they’re not only letting you know they respect KOL Vitalik Buterin, but aligning themselves with his hardworking spirit:


And this KOL understanding is not limited to cryptocurrency or productivity products. It can quite literally be applied to any category, fashion, food, pets – you get the idea.

KOLs aren’t simply great for credibility and awareness, they’re often amazing for likability, merely by value alignment. Ninety-two percent of consumers say that they’re more likely to trust personal recommendations over ads, and the same applies (though to a lesser degree) toward unpaid, authentic mentions. And though it’s unlikely an individual cryptocurrency investor will rate a mention from Vitalik Buterin, demonstrating an admiration of his values implies similar values that a consumer can related to and potentially associate with this individual and/or brand.

And then they also expand your reach beyond social media to news media, television, industry publications and more.

Evaluating KOL Impact

Understanding which KOLs have the most positive sentiment and traction in your topic area is a great first step – but how do you know what kind of impact they have when you take the time to align with them to boost your brand?


61% of marketers consider locating relevant influencers for a campaign challenging, never mind sorting out the best KOLs to reach for. Having the right social listening tool eases this strain, locating KOL’s and pinpointing details to help you in your decision. And beyond that – to measure your efforts during and after the fact. Brands can compare specific campaign summary metrics against those of the total brand conversation, for one:


Or Share of Voice by follower count; sentiment by follower count; and authors by follower count – to see if conversation about your brand is increasing in ways that match your goals:


And digging in to see where, specifically, those conversations are happening:


KOL’s are your transportation to wider and more diversified audiences web-wide. Their expertise makes them appealing to consumers and fans everywhere. Finding relevant ones for your efforts and then applying real-time social media monitoring tactics to your efforts is really all a brand needs to do. Having a tool that can accurately analyze that intel is the trick.

We know where to look and how, so take a moment to reach out for a demo. It’s time your brand starting taking advantage of KOL marketing to boost your presence and your credibility in whatever space you inhabit!

2021 KOL Industry Report

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