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Opinion Leaders

A brief overview about opinion leaders


Research on opinion leaders dates back quite a while now. It was in 1944 when Lazarsfeld & Katz (The peoples choice) and his team researched public communication and found out that communication does not directly flow to the mass but is actually interpreted first by opinion leaders and then forwarded to the rest of the people. They have described this process as the “Two-Step-Flow of Communication”.

The Two-Step-Flow of Communicaiton asserts the following points:

  • Information is transferred not only by the (mass) medium but also through interpersonal communication
  • There are people between the medium and the interpersonal communication network which are called opinion leaders
  • The influence of such opinion leader is significantly larger than that of the medium

Characteristics of Opinion Leaders

Generally it is assumed that opinion leaders have certain characteristics which make them special.One definition of opinion leaders is the one of Kotler (in his book Marketing Management) where he defines them as “people who can influence members in the social community because of special techniques, knowledge, personalities and other uniqueness”

Rogers (in his book Diffusion of Innovations) describes opinion leaders as people with

  • high social participation
  • high social status
  • and a high social responsibility

Robertson (in his book Innovative Behavior and Communication) mentions that they are:

  • more directive
  • more innovative
  • and more professional

Impact of opinion leaders

According to Rogers, who describes the process of innovation, the decision process has five stages

  • Recognizing and understanding
  • Forming an attitude
  • evaluation of innovation
  • Testing and performing of innovation
  • Adoption or Rejection

Especially in the recognition and evaluation of innovations people are under the influences of their  interpersonal network. Here opinion leaders can play an important role.  In the recognition and understanding of an innovation opinion leaders can provide valuable information for members of their communication network. In the evaluation stage opinion leaders can serve as a norming element publicly deciding for a group
which innovations are good and which are bad.

Having a central role in their community opinion leaders can help to spread the word about an
innovation faster because of their many ties they have with the members.

Measurement of opinion leaders

Rogers provides four ways of identifying opinion leaders:

  • Observation ( e.g. recording the communication network chain and behavior of members in a community)
  • Identifying Key roles (e.g. find roles by instinct and grade them)
  • Interpersonal Relationship measurement (e.g. Ask people in the community who they ask for information and suggestions)
  • Self identification (e.g. ask everybody in the group if they feel like an opinion leader)

Identification of Opinion leaders

To identify opinion leaders in e.g. Twitter networks we can use the first suggested method since people in twitter leave tons of traces and their networks are public. A first attempt of doing this could be:

  1. Collect a community on a given topic
  2. Determine the connections between all members and save the data in a network format
  3. Find central players in the community by using social network analysis methods

In the next article I will show you how to achieve this and which problems and discussions we encounter on the way.

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About plotti2k1

Thomas Plotkowiak is working at the MCM Institute in the Social Media and Mobile communication group which belongs to the University of St. Gallen. His PhD research in Social Media is researching how the structure of social networks like Facebook and Twitter influences the diffusion of information. His main focus of work is Twitter, since it allows public access (and has a nice API). Make sure to also have a look at his recent publications. Thomas majored 2008 in Computer Science and Economics at the University of Mannheim and was involved at the computer science institutes for software development and multimedia technoIogy: SWT and PI4. During his studies I focused on Artificial Intelligence, Multimedia Technology, Logistics and Business Informatics. In his diploma/master thesis he developed an adhoc p2p audio engine for 3D Games. Thomas was also a researcher for a year at the University of Waterloo in Canada and in the Macquarie University in Sydney. He was part of the CSIRO ICT researcher group. In his freetime thomas likes to swim in his houselake (drei weiher) and run and enjoy hiking in the Appenzell region. Otherwise you will find him coding ideas he recently had or enjoying a beer with colleagues in the MeetingPoint or Schwarzer Engel.

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