What Are Opinion Leaders?

Definition & Examples of Opinion Leaders

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Opinion leaders are individuals or organizations that are experts within an industry or otherwise have views that are both widely known and trusted. As a result, they can influence public opinion—including the opinions of your customers.

Here's what you need to know about opinion leaders, and how they can help your business.

What Are Opinion Leaders?

Opinion leaders are the people who were once called "industry insiders" or "decision-makers." They have established authority in a given area, market, or industry. Some may make a career out of influencing their audience on everything from industry trends to current events and consumer behavior. Others may simply be active and trusted in a given community, whether that community corresponds to a physical area, industry, or online community.

How Do Opinion Leaders Work?

There are many different types of opinion leaders, and they all can play a unique role in the promotion of your business. The type of influence imposed by these thought leaders can be subtle, like a product placement that's integrated into their routines. It can also be obvious—opinion leaders can simply urge their followers to consider an idea, product, or business.

In every industry or community, there are people with 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 robust network of trusted personal connections.

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.

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 and bartenders, for example, often know more about what's happening in a community than any YouTubers who happen to live in the area. They may have a more grassroots influence, especially when it comes to longtime customers.

While barbers and bartenders are great resources for engaging with a local community, that may not be the most appropriate form of outreach for every business. Start by considering whether you will find your ideal customers internationally, domestically, online, or out and about in your local community. Once you have an idea of who you hope to reach, then you can 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 depends on understanding your ideal customers and identifying the influential personalities they already trust.

Social media has expanded the definition of what an opinion leader is by facilitating the rise of internet influencers. This set of opinion leaders may or may not have professional experience in a given industry. Instead of industry expertise, these opinion leaders build a following by developing a branded online persona that takes advantage of social networks and social media trends.

A verified Twitter user with a large following is likely to be considered an opinion leader. Likewise, a YouTuber with consistently high view rates for their videos will likely have an audience they can exert influence on. These influencers often have a connection with their audiences that feels personal to followers. This creates 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 with that person may be a quick way to build trust and increase sales.

Key Takeaways

  • Opinion leaders are people with expertise or influence in a specific area.
  • Opinion leaders can be used by businesses to build trust with their customers or grow their sales.
  • Common examples of modern-day opinion leaders include social media "influencers," like Instagram celebrities and YouTubers.
  • Different opinion leaders hold sway over different types of communities, so it's important to keep your target audience in mind when considering partnerships with opinion leaders.