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Grow Your Business Sales & Marketing

Study: Marketing Should Target Opinion Leaders, Not the Masses

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The concept of using social media to promote small business has become pretty well accepted. How to do it if effectively remains a mystery to many.

New research suggests a business can make the most of social media by targeting its message to “opinion leaders” who will then pass the message along to their contacts.

While the concept of opion leaders driving trends is not new – Malcolm Gladwell covers it thoroughly in his book, “The Tipping Point” (Back Bay Books, 2002) – the new study drills down to the details of how small businesses can apply the technique, via today’s fast-changing online social media landscape, to their own marketing plans.

It’s a different way of thinking of social media’s marketing potential because it belies the idea that getting the message to as many people as possible is what’s most important. Instead, targeting the right people is what companies should focus on, the study concludes.

“People are being more judicious in spending their marketing money, and we found that money spent to reach out to a large audience would be better spent focusing on well-connected, influential members of a social network – such as opinion leaders on blogs, industry leaders, and so on,” said Jon Bohlmann, professor of marketing at North Carolina State University. “Instead of an ad campaign, [they’ll] seek out the opinion leaders in the network [they’re] marketing to.”

The best way to do that, Bohlmann told BusinessNewsDaily, is to use the information you have about your customers and use it to figure out who they listen to, read, follow and respect. A lot of that information can come from the sales force that has the most interaction with customers.

It’s also important to use technology to figure out from where Internet traffic is being driven.

“Figure out which blogs, which tweets are resonating with consumers and target those people,” Bohlmann said. He warns, however, that attempts to reach out to those opinion leaders must be genuine.

“You can’t fake your way in social media or it will backfire,” he said. “You have to be genuine and responsive to customers.”

Once you do that, Bohlmann said, your influential customers will do the rest for you.

The findings will be detailed in the September issue of the Journal of Product Innovation Management.

Jeanette Mulvey

Jeanette has been writing about business for more than 20 years. She has written about every kind of entrepreneur from hardware store owners to fashion designers. Previously she was a manager of internal communications for Home Depot. Her journalism career began in local newspapers. She has a degree in American Studies from Rutgers University. Follow her on Twitter @jeanettebnd.