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The Power of Social Networks & Opinion Leaders

Some time ago my PC crashed and being old it was not worth replacing. The first thing I did was to talk to friends who had gone through similar experiences, and I prepared myself for the new purchase by talking to vendors about their products and by checking books and reviews by acknowledged experts. Then I shared with my network details of the models that I had investigated. By that time I had already decided on the PC I felt would best fit my requirements, but in talking to my friends I was persuaded to change my mind and pick a different model.

I purchased that machine and it is giving me excellent service. I don’t believe that this experience is at all unusual; indeed, I think it’s quite commonplace in dealing with everyday problems of all kinds. Most of us welcome support in addressing our challenges, and seek the help and advice of our social networks in resolving them. The example shows that I did not exclude expert commentary, but it also shows that intervention by familiar trusted social elements is often what provides the final, but most influential, recommendation in the decision-making process. This is because these members of a trusted network ensure the ‘safety’ and ‘cultural fit’ of the decision. Other arms-length elements provide guidance, but in the final analysis they often seem too distant from the complexities of the local situation to be persuasive or perhaps trustworthy.

For me this episode says a lot about the power of networks and defines many of the principles of “opinion leaders”. It got me wondering why, if we follow this process so frequently in our everyday lives, we do not follow it in our organizational lives? Well, guess what – as individuals in informal organizational communities we do! Unfortunately, we don’t formally recognize it, or attempt to address its ramifications or leverage it as a matter of organizational policy and practice. Maybe it’s so commonplace that we all fail to see its utility, just like goldfish are said to fail to comprehend the need for the water in which they swim. Or maybe it’s just not technologically sexy enough.

This acceptance of the power of networks and opinion leaders is at the heart of much of what I and TLA’s Associates ( www.tlainc.com ) bring to our various assignments and I’m delighted to dialogue on  this if you feel like contacting me …

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