Managing word-of-mouth has become a significant marketing activity, as marketers try to identify opinion leaders and take advantage of the influence they wield over potential consumers.
Here, authors Goldenberg, Lehmann, Shidlovski, and Barak hypothesize that there are two types of opinion leaders: experts (people who have wide knowledge and understanding of a specific product category) and social connectors (people who have many social connections and tend to talk to many people). Based on a meta-analysis, they suggest that product innovativeness may be a potential moderator for opinion leadership and that the correlation between product knowledge and opinion leadership is significantly decreased when the product innovativeness is increased. They test their hypotheses in three studies.
Study 1 demonstrates that both expertise and social connectivity influence the extent to which consumers want to consult with an opinion leader. Study 2 shows that a consumer's innovativeness influences the type of opinion leader he or she wants to consult. That is, less-innovative consumers, who represent the mainstream market, prefer to consult with an expert for an incremental product innovation and with a social opinion leader for a radical product innovation. More-innovative individuals consistently prefer to consult with experts although they too prefer to do so more in the case of an incremental innovation. Study 3 extends the results to a more radical product scenario using an existing Internet panel.
These results suggest that there are subtle relations involved in how influential different individuals are in new product adoption. While it is widely thought that experts lead the adoption process, these studies show that in the case of radical innovations, social opinion leaders may actually be more effective. Because social opinion leaders have large numbers of connections, they influence many people; in addition, they may push forward the (radical) innovation to the mainstream market.