Originally published in the Boulder Daily Camera and the Longmont Daily Times-Call.

My dad knew the answer to anything – he really did. Long before people consulted Google, dad was always on the other end of the phone, ready for whatever came his way. Want to know who a certain actor was in an ancient long forgotten movie? Call Dad. Having a disagreement among friends concerning the true signing date of the Magna Carta? Call Dad. Want to know history, which football teams to support, what running shoes are really the very ultimate best? Call Dad.

Dad was an opinion leader in his day. Strangers would stop him in public to ask him how to vote, whether certain streets were becoming a problem and if they should perhaps speak to their child’s teacher about their recent poor grades. It was at his knee that I learned how opinion leaders and influencers make significant impact on all of us each day without us realizing it.

Opinion leaders are well known individuals or organizations that have the ability to influence public opinion on subject matter for which they are known. They may be famous, or they may be your neighbor down the street. The key is the amount of credibility they bring to the table. In Dad’s case, he was Mayor of our community for many years and had a career in leadership at the University that lasted over a thirty years. His credibility was earned over time with different audiences.

Opinion leaders are active in the community – physical or virtual. It may be a small group or an organization. The key factor is that there is established credibility, and thus perceived authority.

Influencers, talked about frequently in social media circles, are individuals that have the power to affect purchasing decisions of others because of their authority, knowledge, position or relationship with their audience(s). They have followers in a particular niche and may have social relationships that are viewed as potential assets for branding purposes.

There are both paid and unpaid opinion leaders and influencers. For some situations and topics credibility is maintained by not being paid. Other situations call for more involvement of key individuals, and reimbursement may be appropriate.

When developing strategies for communicating with your target audiences, it’s important that your messaging and positioning resonate with them. Affecting opinion and utilizing influence to reach your target audience is key. Competing interests in the broadcast and print media, as well as the plethora of online choices for consumers, has led to the fragmentation of the mass media into smaller niche interest areas. This is when affecting opinion and influence become so important.

Choosing individuals or organizations to carry your message should be done with thoughtful intention. Efforts to marry the wrong messaging with the wrong influencer are likely to backfire.

Consider findings from Pew Research recently. They note that 71% of consumers find brands engaging in politics to be annoying, particularly on social media. Seventy-five percent appreciate humor within appropriate boundaries, but don’t appreciate “edgy” humor. Lastly, 88% will drop a brand if they feel mocked or put down. This relates directly to opinion leaders and influencers. Failure to understand your specific target audience could result in choosing individuals that not only don’t resonate with your audience, but may in fact alienate them. Success is found when you truly understand your audience.

Think about the decisions you make each day. How many are driven by the opinion or influence of someone else? Let’s face it – most of us, on any given day, are driving under type some influence. Make sure your influence counts.

Stacy Cornay is the owner of Communication Concepts Public Relations & Advertising. 
She may be reached at 303-651-6612; scornay@comm-concepts.com; www.comm-concepts.com; Facebook.com/Communication Concepts; Twitter @CommConceptsPR; or Linked In.

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