Opinion leadership

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Opinion leadership is leadership by an active media user who interprets the meaning of media messages or content for lower-end media users. Typically opinion leaders are held in high esteem by those who accept their opinions. Opinion leadership comes from the theory of two-step flow of communication propounded by Paul Lazarsfeld and Elihu Katz.[1] Significant developers of the opinion leader concept have been Robert K. Merton, C. Wright Mills and Bernard Berelson.[2] This theory is one of several models that try to explain the diffusion of innovations, ideas, or commercial products.

Opinion leaders play an important role in information flow, because we tend to seek advice from others in the social environment. Information from the mass media does not directly flow to the target audiences, but through a mediation process, in which influential people digest the information and spread it to the public. Opinion leaders have certain characteristics that make them influential in the decision-making process and the behavior of the public. Through knowledge sharing, opinion leaders may help others do jobs better, facilitate personal development and improve personal recognition.[3]

According to Yufu Kuwashima, an opinion leader’s power and influence come from the network their followers create.[4] Dedicated supporters reinforce the leader’s messaging to other media consumers, strengthening their influence. If one were to remove the opinion leader there would still be a network of connected users that could share ideas with one another. An opinion leader has constructed this network, but the ability to influence others lies in the network itself.[4] In order to effectively influence the opinion of followers, they must find the leader to be above them.[5]


Merton[6] distinguishes two types of opinion leadership: monomorphic and polymorphic. Typically, opinion leadership is viewed as a monomorphic, domain-specific measure of individual differences, that is, a person that is an opinion leader in one field may be a follower in another field.[7][8] An example of a monomorphic opinion leader in the field of computer technology, might be a neighborhood computer service technician. The technician has access to far more information on this topic than the average consumer and has the requisite background to understand the information, though the same person might be a follower at another field (for example sports) and ask others for advice. In contrast, polymorphic opinion leaders are able to influence others in a broad range of domains. Variants of polymorphic opinion leadership include market mavenism,[9] personality strength[10] and generalized opinion leadership.[11] So far, there is little consensus as to the degree these concepts operationalize the same or simply related constructs.[12]


In his article "The Two Step Flow of Communication", Elihu Katz,[13][14] found opinion leaders to have more influence on people's opinions, actions, and behaviors than the media. Opinion leaders are seen to have more influence than the media for a number of reasons. Opinion leaders are seen as trustworthy and non-purposive. People do not feel they are being tricked into thinking a certain way about something if they get information from someone they know. However, the media can be seen as forcing a concept on the public and therefore will be less influential. While the media can act as a reinforcing agent, opinion leaders have a more changing or determining role in an individual's opinion or action.

This does not mean that opinion leaders can be always easily used by external agents to promote what they want to promote. Influential individuals might not be willing to change their behavior and may even lose their opinion leader status, if they do.[15]

Factors for leadership[edit]

In his article, Elihu Katz[1] answers the question, "Who is an opinion leader?" One or more of these factors make noteworthy opinion leaders:

  1. expression of values;
  2. professional competence;
  3. nature of their social network.

There are personal characteristics that make up an opinion leader. Opinion leaders are individuals who obtain more media coverage than others and are especially educated on a certain issue. Opinion leaders that utilize social media are more likely to be introverted. Introverts don't receive as much interpersonal interaction offline.[16] They can compensate by creating a controllable network of followers to interact with and gain recognition from in a social context. Opinion leaders seek the acceptance of others and are especially motivated to enhance their social status.[17] Public individualism is the idea that an individual will act different from others because they are different.[18] Kenny K. Chan and Shekhar Misra found opinion leaders possess this trait. “The individuation process and this personal-influence process both involve a reciprocal interchange which involve a willingness to stand out in a group situation."[19] An opinion leader’s willingness to stand out is what sets them apart from their followers. In the jargon of public relations, they are called thought leaders. Research has also found that opinion leaders tend to be boundary spanners.[20]

In relation to their followers, opinion leaders maintain a particular degree of separation in terms of socio-economic status. According to Gershon Feder and Sara Savastano, it is not effective for leaders to be a part of the same socio-economic status as followers. “opinion leaders who are superior to followers, but not excessively so, are more effective in transmitting knowledge.”[21] Meanwhile the leader must be close enough in standing to relate to the followers they want to influence.[22]


In a strategic attempt to engage the public in environmental issues and his nonprofit, The Climate Project, Al Gore used the concept of opinion leaders. Gore found opinion leaders by recruiting individuals who were educated on environmental issues and saw themselves as influential in their community and amongst their friends and family. From there, he trained the opinion leaders on the information he wanted them to spread and enabled them to influence their communities. By using opinion leaders, Gore was able to educate and influence many Americans to take notice of climate change and change their actions.[23]

Matthew Nisbet describes the use of opinion leaders as intermediaries between scientists and the public as a way to reach the public via trained individuals who are more closely engaged with their communities, such as "teachers, business leaders, attorneys, policymakers, neighborhood leaders, students, and media professionals." Examples of initiatives that take this approach include Science & Engineering Ambassadors, sponsored by the National Academy of Sciences, and Science Booster Clubs, coordinated by the National Center for Science Education.[24]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Katz, Elihu; Lazarsfeld, Paul F. (1957). Personal influence (E. ed.). New York: Free Press.
  2. ^ David Riesman; Nathan Glazer; Reuel Denney (2020). The Lonely Crowd: A Study of the Changing American Character (Abridged and revised ed.). New Haven: Yale University Press. p. 278n2. ISBN 978-0-300-25347-4.
  3. ^ Yao et al (2021) Construction Safety Knowledge Sharing on Twitter: A Social Network Analysis, Safety Science, 143, 105411, https://www.researchgate.net/publication/353546913_Construction_safety_knowledge_sharing_on_Twitter_A_social_network_analysis
  4. ^ a b Kuwashima, Yufu (2018). "The strength of an opinion leader's supporters". Annals of Business Administrative Science. 17 (6): 241–250. doi:10.7880/abas.0181009a.
  5. ^ Bandura, Albert (2002), "Social Foundations of Thought and Action", The Health Psychology Reader, SAGE Publications Ltd, pp. 94–106, doi:10.4135/9781446221129.n6, ISBN 978-0-7619-7271-6
  6. ^ Merton, R. K. (1957). Social theory and social structure. Glencoe: Free Press.
  7. ^ Childers, T. L. (1986). "Assessment of the psychometric properties of an opinion leadership scale". Journal of Marketing Research. 23 (3): 184–188. doi:10.2307/3172527. JSTOR 3172527.
  8. ^ Flynn, L. R.; Goldsmith, R. E.; Eastman, J. K. (1996). "Opinion leadership and opinion seekers: Two new measurement scales". Journal of the Academy of Marketing Science. 24 (2): 147. doi:10.1177/0092070396242004. S2CID 145349660.
  9. ^ Feick, L. F.; Price, L. L. (1987). "The market maven: A diffuser of marketplace information". Journal of Marketing. 51 (1): 83–97. doi:10.2307/1251146. JSTOR 1251146.
  10. ^ Weimann, G. (1991). "The influentials: Back to the concept of opinion leaders?". Public Opinion Quarterly. 55 (2): 267–279. doi:10.1086/269257.
  11. ^ Gnambs, T.; Batinic, B. (2011). "Evaluation of measurement precision with Rasch-type models: The case of the short Generalized Opinion leadership Scale". Personality and Individual Differences. 50: 53–58. doi:10.1016/j.paid.2010.08.021.
  12. ^ Gnambs, T.; Batinic, B. (2011). "Convergent and discriminant validity of opinion leadership: Multitrait-multimethod analysis across measurement occasion and informant type". Journal of Individual Differences. 39: 94–102. doi:10.1027/1614-0001/a000040.
  13. ^ Katz, Elihu (1957). "The two-step flow of communication: An up-to-date report on an hypothesis". Public Opinion Quarterly. 21: 61–78. doi:10.1086/266687.
  14. ^ Katz, Elihu (Spring 1957). "The Two-Step Flow of Communication: An Up-To-Date Report on a Hypothesis". University of Pennsylvania Scholarly Commons. 21 (1). Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA: University of Pennsylvania: 61–78.
  15. ^ Zhang, Aaron (2020). "Forget opinion leaders: the role of social network brokers in the adoption of innovative farming practices in North-western Cambodia". International Journal of Agricultural Sustainability. 18 (4): 266–284. doi:10.1080/14735903.2020.1769808.
  16. ^ Amiel, Tel; Sargent, Stephanie Lee (2004). "Individual differences in Internet usage motives". Computers in Human Behavior. 20 (6): 711–726. doi:10.1016/j.chb.2004.09.002. hdl:10919/33844. ISSN 0747-5632.
  17. ^ Rose, P.; Kim, J. (2011). "Self-Monitoring, Opinion Leadership and Opinion Seeking: a Sociomotivational Approach". Current Psychology. 30 (3): 203–214. doi:10.1007/s12144-011-9114-1. S2CID 143621972.
  18. ^ Maslach, Christina; Stapp, Joy; Santee, Richard T. (1974). "Individuation: Conceptual analysis and assessment". Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. 49 (3): 729–738. doi:10.1037/0022-3514.49.3.729. ISSN 1939-1315.
  19. ^ Chan, Kenny K.; Misra, Shekhar (1990-03-19). "Characteristics of the Opinion Leader: A New Dimension". Journal of Advertising. 19 (3): 53–60. doi:10.1080/00913367.1990.10673192. ISSN 0091-3367.
  20. ^ Matous, P.; Wang, P. (2019). "External exposure, boundary-spanning, and opinion leadership in remote communities: A network experiment". Social Networks. 56: 10–22. doi:10.1016/j.socnet.2018.08.002. S2CID 53947635.
  21. ^ Savastano, Sara; Feder, Gershon (2006-05-05). "The Role Of Opinion Leaders In The Diffusion Of New Knowledge : The Case Of Integrated Pest Management" (PDF). Policy Research Working Papers. 34 (7): 1287–1300. doi:10.1596/1813-9450-3916. hdl:2108/17676. ISSN 1813-9450.
  22. ^ Rogers, Everett M.; Cartano, David G. (1962). "Methods of Measuring Opinion Leadership". Public Opinion Quarterly. 26 (3): 435. doi:10.1086/267118. ISSN 0033-362X.
  23. ^ Nisbit, Matthew C.; Kotcher, John E. (March 2009). "A Two-Step Flow of Influence?: Opinion-Leader Campaigns on Climate Change" (PDF). Science Communication. 30: 341.
  24. ^ Nisbet, Matthew (2018). "Ambassadors for Science: Harnessing the Power of Opinion-Leaders across Communities". Skeptical Inquirer. 42 (2): 30–31. Retrieved 1 June 2018.

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