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Sunday, September 28 • 11:21 - 11:40
"Traces of Influence: Understanding Opinion Leaders in Context"

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Background: “Opinion leaders” are influential members of society who are thought to use social pressure and social support to transmit media messages to the wider public (Katz & Lazarsfeld 1955). While opinion leaders once relied on the mass media to receive messages and face-to-face and telephone communication to transmit messages, in a new hybrid media system (Chadwick 2013) new tools and options exist.

Objective: The aims of this paper are twofold. First, the paper highlights the utility of incorporating digital data and visualizations of personal networks in the interview setting. Second, the paper aims to describe the ways in which opinion leaders make use of varying media tools in the process of transmitting political messages.

Methods: Twenty Canadian opinion leaders, all active on Twitter and interested in politics, are treated as mini case studies. Data collection of personal Twitter and Facebook networks, as well as other news media and social media used by that individual is conducted for a two week period. Following data collection, an in-person interview is conducted with each participant. During this interview the offline social network of each individual is elicited and visualizations of online networks are discussed and interpreted jointly by the researcher and participant.

Results: This mixed methods approach revealed that opinion leaders in this sample rely on a variety of tactics and tools to deliver political messages depending on factors such as identity performance per setting, topics, and events. In other words, opinion leadership in these cases is highly contextual.

Conclusions: Incorporating digital data and visualizations into the interview setting allows for the contextualization of findings. The specificity and quantifiable nature of digital trace data paired with insight from thoughtful reflection by the actor during the interview help tease out the intricacies of political messaging and opinion leadership. The chance to comment on, and help interpret data, also provides participants the opportunity to strengthen the dataset by filling in gaps and correcting misinformation while also providing explanations for why certain actions took place.

Chadwick, A. (2013). The Hybrid Media System. New York: Oxford University Press.

Katz, E. and Lazarsfeld, P. (1955). Personal Influence. Glencoe, Ill : Free Press.

avatar for Elizabeth Dubois

Elizabeth Dubois

DPhil (PhD) candidate, Oxford Internet Institute
University of Oxford, United Kingdom

Sunday September 28, 2014 11:21 - 11:40
TRS 1-149 Ted Rogers School of Management

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