Categories: Blog Posts

by Wendy O’Donovan Phillips


While thought leadership and social influencer marketing in the 2020s have evolved considerably from what they were in the earlier part of this century, it all began at the start of the last century with opinion leadership. Let’s take a quick look:

  • The roots of opinion leadership can be traced back to early studies of propaganda and mass communication during World War I and the interwar period when researchers began to explore how media influenced public opinion and how certain individuals played key roles in this process. Today, propaganda is widely shared on social channels.
  • In the 1940’s, Paul Lazarsfeld developed his Two-Step Flow Model of Communication, which posits that media are indirectly mediated by opinion leaders who first consume content and then pass on interpretations and opinions to their social circles, thus influencing a wider audience. Sounds a lot like the social influencer marketing of today, doesn’t it?
  • In the 1960s, Everett Rogers’s book Diffusion of Innovations identified opinion leaders as crucial players in the adoption and spread of new ideas and technologies within communities. In time, this theory eventually gave way to Paris Hilton being recognized for being famous just for being famous in the 2000s.
  • In the 1970s, the concept of opinion leadership became integral in marketing and consumer behavior studies, with researchers exploring how opinion leaders influence purchasing decisions and brand perceptions. A good modern example of this is when Taylor Swift wrote a public letter to Apple criticizing their payment policies, which led to a change in their policy and significantly boosted the service’s credibility. When she later appeared in Apple Music ads, it reinforced her influence and likely contributed to an increase in subscriptions.
  • In the 1990s through today with the emergence of the digital age, new types of opinion leaders have emerged, such as influencers and bloggers, who wield significant power in shaping public opinion and consumer behavior. The rise of social influencers came particularly in the 2010s as individuals acquired or developed notability first on platforms like Facebook, YouTube and LinkedIn and more recently on TikTok. Who remembers Psy’s “Gangnam Style?”

What follows is an easy guide to keeping up with influencer marketing in this evolving market. Here’s what to know:

  1. Interact. Social media is like an open house happening for your organization. If you aren’t there, you aren’t representing your brand. If you’re there, but not saying or doing much, you’re representing your brand in a tired way. Make it a weekly task to review your industry’s social activity, your organization’s social postings and your own social footprint. For real, like, comment and share! The basic rule of thumb is to post three to five times weekly. On LinkedIn, it’s okay to post to the organization’s page and then share the same post to your personal profile. Regular participation in your socials gives your brand a broader reach in front of more varied audiences.
  2. Think. Yes, as thought leaders we can increasingly rely on AI to generate text, but that content better be chock full of relevant data points and predicted trends. No one wants to read a robot’s droll report on nothing. Share evidence-based opinions and more engaging thought leadership by surveying your clients or target audience to serve up timely and original insights that truly benefit your audience. Thought leaders are increasingly collaborating with peers, industry experts and their audiences to co-create content and solutions, enhancing the value and diversity of insights shared​.
  3. Get real. There’s a growing expectation for thought leaders to be authentic and transparent, sharing not only their successes but also their failures and lessons learned. This authenticity helps build trust and credibility​. In a meeting with a client company’s CEO this morning, she and I noted how post-pandemic in particular, authenticity is not just expected but required. Cut through the bull and be yourself.

Above all, have fun. No one wants to hang out with a bore at a happening open house!

Since 2007, Big Buzz® has helped Stage II to Stage III organizations systemize marketing to achieve growth goals. Founder and CEO Wendy O’Donovan Phillips is the author of two books available on Amazon, Kaboom and Flourish, multiple data-driven eBooks, has been published in McKnight’s, in Forbes, and has been quoted in The Washington Post, ABC News, and Chicago Tribune. She has lectured for the American Dental Association, Argentum, several chapters of LeadingAge, and dozens of other organizations in front of audiences ranging in size from 25 to 3,000. She has been honored by the American Marketing Association for excellence in her field and has been named a Gold Key Award Winner by the Business Marketing Association. In her two-decades-long career, she has consulted with hundreds of organizations globally to support improved marketing clarity, strategies and outcomes. Get details: visit and follow Wendy.

by Wendy O’Donovan Phillips



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