Solid research is the only way to cut through the chatter about identifying and prioritizing influencers for word-of-mouth marketing and other forms of influencer marketing. Mike Gotta (Burton Group / Gartner ) points out a just such a study, from the pharma industry. I like this study because it focuses on finding the hidden opinion leaders who drive the first wave of word-of-mouth product referrals.

The study identifies two distinct types of opinion leaders among the target physicians: those who are trusted and respected by peers (called sociometric leaders) and those physicians who think of themselves as well connected and influential (called self-reported opinion leaders).

The opinion leaders identified by their peers are not the traditional targets pursued by marketers. If anything, they contradict current marketing wisdom about influencers and influentials. They are not overtly well connected, outgoing or high profile in terms of being published or public speakers.

Three nuggets to think about:

The study finds little overlap between the two types of influencers. Physicians fell into one group or the other.

The under-the-radar opinion leaders are quicker to use new product and more likely to influencer others to try it. This finding is based on matching network data with perscription records.

The under-the-radar sociometric opinion leaders are more interested in what their peers are doing, and are more open to word-of-mouth or social influence, than the self-reported opinion leaders.

Both types of opinion leaders play important roles in robust influencer marketing programs. One group is not better than the other; they’re just different kinds of people. The best course of action is to identify and address both types of opinion leaders. That means doing more research and more segmentation.

Useful links:
Summary at Knowledge@Wharton (hat tip to Mike Gotta)

Opinion Leadership and Social Contagion in New Product Diffusion - by Raghuram Iyengar, Christophe Van den Bulte, and Thomas Valente, 2008 [08-120]

Popularity: 6%

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