A medium for opinion leaders, a medium for audience leverage

Eric Vernette
University of Toulouse I
Bruno Schmutz
HFM/Interdeco Global Advertising


Consumer attitudes are increasingly intricate, and predicting them accurately becomes very challenging. Very often, advertisers and media companies alike, when defining their target audiences, keep rehashing traditional sociodemographic variables such as gender, age, income level, etc., in spite of the fact that such criteria are no longer adequate to probe and accurately anticipate consumers' behavioural patterns. In order to understand better such developments, some market researchers pointed to the fact that actors exchange information and interact within networks or dyads (Iacobucci and Hopkins, 1992; Semp, 2000). Social groups and networks are said to play a key role in major areas, especially when it comes to understanding how coalitions are established within decision making process, or identifying opinion leaders in wordofmouth communication. More recently, thanks to widespread dissemination of the Internet, sociologists have discovered that neighbourhood and kinship ties are but a fragment of people's overall community networks: computers allow the emergence of worldwide social virtual communities through electronic mail, bulletin board systems, newsgroups or Internet Relay Chat (Wellman and Gulia, 1996).