The Definition and Importance of Opinion Leaders

Why your marketing should include opinion leaders your customers trust

Professionals speaking collaboratively about a project.

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People who were once called industry insiders or decision-makers are now more commonly referred to as "opinion leaders," "thought leaders," or even "influencers." These individuals or organizations are usually experts within an industry whose views are widely known and trusted. As a result, they can have influence over public opinion — including your customers.

The Role of Opinion Leaders in Marketing

Opinion leaders have established authority in a given area, market, or industry. Some may make a career out of influencing their audience, impacting their feeling about industry trends and current events, as well as affecting their consumer behavior. Others may simply be active and trusted in a given community, whether that is a physical area, industry, or online community.

Because opinion leaders can validate a company's product or idea, marketers often seek out opinion leaders for collaborations, advertising campaigns, or product endorsements. This kind of partnership both increases a brand's visibility and builds trust between the business and the influencer's audience.

Influencers and Opinions Leaders on Social Media

Social media has expanded the definition of what an opinion leader is by facilitating the rise of internet influencers.

This set of opinion leaders are often ordinary people, with or without professional experience in a given industry, who have a wide following on social networks and the skill to stay on top of social media trends.

A verified Twitter user with a large following is likely to be considered an opinion leader. Likewise, a YouTube star whose videos are highly viewed has influence over his or her following. These influencers often have a connection with their audiences that feels personal to followers, creating a high level of trust that is hard to achieve through traditional advertising channels.

If your target audience is known to follow a particular opinion leader on social media, a collaboration or sponsored promotion may be a quick way to build trust and increase sales.

How to Identify Opinion Leaders

In every industry or community, there are people with natural stature and credibility. Sometimes that status is earned through achievements such as prestigious awards or financial success. Other times that influence is created over years of industry experience or through a high number of trusted personal connections. 

Determining which opinion leaders to collaborate with depends on the target audience that you are trying to reach. Though many businesses pursue industry experts and influencers with a large social media following, those opinion leaders won't be the best fit for every brand.

Barbers, bartenders, and hairdressers, for example, often know more about what's happening in a community than anyone else and are likely to have influence among their longtime customers. Consider whether you will find your ideal customers internationally, nationally, online, or in your local community. Then look for opinion leaders who are best able to reach that audience.

As with other forms of marketing, finding the right opinion leaders to include in your marketing mix depends on understanding your ideal customers and identifying the influential personalities they already trust.