Public Perception and Opinion Leaders

“American public opinion is like an ocean, it cannot be stirred by a teaspoon.”

– Hubert H. Humphrey

Public perception of the issues related to the change you’re trying to make is often not based on evidence and facts. Those facts and that evidence cannot always see the light of day because of countless layers of myths, propaganda, and media coverage.

The cultural barriers to truth and reality are just as influenced by fiction, as they are by “news” coverage. Ask the average person what they know about Native Americans, and they’ll likely recount a view portrayed in a film, TV, and literary genre known as Westerns. Ask them what they know about the Korean War, and you’ll often get what they remember from episodes of the TV series, M*A*S*H.

With all of the powerful forces contradicting the ‘truth,’ is it possible to change public perception without some enormous, well-funded public relations machine? Yes it is.

Word of mouth communication is as powerful a force as it has ever been. We listen to the voices that we trust.  We listen to people who we believe have demonstrated wisdom in their advice or opinion leaderguidance in the past. These trusted people are known as opinion leaders. Their influence is felt in informal conversations, at work meetings, and today it is abundant on social media.

The recognition of opinion leaders is increasingly common in marketing circles, where ‘word of mouth advertising’ has always been important. Social media has made it easier to identify potential opinion leaders. Just look at people whose YouTube channels have many hundreds of thousands, or millions of followers. These internet celebrities are constantly being sent free products in the hopes that they’ll get a testimonial delivered to a captive audience.

It isn’t just internet celebrities who have opinion leaders in social media. Anyone with followers or friends on social platforms can exert influence. That influence can extend to the distributed networks of those followers and friends as well. So who do you know with lots of followers or friends?

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