When we talk about influencers and influencer marketing, we often talk about the most recent developments in the world of digital influence. The concept of influencers isn’t new, though. A wide variety of industries and marketers have been using Key Opinion Leaders (KOLs) since well before the social media boom, and today’s social media influencers are opinion leaders who operate in a new digital and mobile arena.
Influencer marketing is a key pillar of many brands’ marketing strategies because it gives marketers an opportunity to introduce a powerful human element to their messaging. According to Nielsen, 92% of consumers say that they’re more likely to trust personal recommendations over ads, making that human element a vital component of a successful campaign. In a digital landscape that’s crowded with advertisements, brands that devise innovative ways to use key opinion leaders will find themselves able to stand out in the eyes of consumers.
Key Opinion Leaders are often brand or product advocates that have a professional or expert status that elevates their opinions in the eyes of consumers. Because personal, expert and word-of-mouth recommendations are important to the vast majority of consumers, key opinion leaders are vital to brands because they humanize and personalize messaging. An analogous example of the use of KOLs is the relationship between doctors and pharmaceutical companies.
Pharmaceutical companies that are looking to promote specific drugs work to get the approval and recommendations of doctors who prescribe drugs to patients. Endorsements from these doctors carry a lot of weight in the eyes of patients and drug consumers because there’s a fundamental layer of trust that exists between doctors and patients.
Key opinion leaders exist in other industries, too, though they may not always be identified as such.
Key opinion leaders exist in sports, photography, publishing, entertainment, and any other industry that relies on consumers. These opinion leaders might be commentators, athletes, or auto mechanics. They’re KOLs not necessarily because of their popularity, but because their opinions are trusted among the vast majority of consumers and those who are often less informed on their specific fields of expertise.
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Some companies may use the term “influencers” and “opinion leaders” interchangeably, and that’s because both terms describe individuals who have the power to engage and impact people within their spheres of influence.
Influencers, like opinion leaders, can have a great deal of impact on consumers. They’re trusted among their audiences and fans, who look to them not just for entertainment, but for advice, opinions, and more. Where influencers are typically defined as social media personalities with large audiences, “opinion leaders” is a broader term that extends to experts in fields like science, agriculture, medicine, politics, technology, and more.
There’s some degree of overlap between opinion leaders and influencers. While not all opinion leaders have the popularity and fan bases of influencers and not all influencers have expert opinions to offer, there are plenty of examples of expert influencers who are opinion leaders.
When they promote or review products that are within their area of expertise, they’re not just getting a product or brand in front of a large audience, they’re offering an expert opinion or endorsement.
Cristiano Ronaldo is one of the world’s top soccer players, and his endorsements of athletic gear carry a lot of weight as a result. When top photographers like Michael Yamashita recommend Sony cameras, consumers know that his opinion comes from a place of expertise. And if Rosanna Pansino, one of the most popular food YouTubers, recommends a set of kitchen tools, fans are likely to trust that endorsement.
Trust and expertise are central to the idea of key opinion leaders. Whether by way of popularity or training, these opinion leaders are prominent voices within their specific communities and industries. They’ve built relationships and/or credibility with their audiences, and that credibility translates to the ability to impact purchasing decisions.
From lifestyle categories to gaming to the world of athletic equipment and tech, social media influencers as opinion leaders are key for brands and marketers looking to add a personal, expert, human element to their marketing plans. No matter what they’re called, these key opinion leaders have a great deal of impact on audiences and can help brands rise above the noise in order to stand out to consumers.