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Sunday, September 15 • 3:41pm - 4:00pm
“Identifying the opinion leader: Influence, Twitter, and Canadian politics”

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Studies have attempted to identify influential users on Twitter and within givenTwitter communities. Studies tend to identify influentials as those users who are themost popular (Cha & Gummadi, 2010), the most talked about (Bakshy, Hofman,Watts, & Mason, 2011), or, the instigators of the longest cascades of information(Lerman & Ghosh, 2010). While this has proven effective for identifying what Rogers(2010) would call “influentials” in the diffusion of innovations process, and may sufficefor market researchers looking to send a message to the widest possible public (Watts& Dodds, 2007; Hill, Provost, & Volinsky, 2006), these techniques do little to identifyinfluence on a more local/personal level.

Katz and Lazarsfeld (2006) describe the “opinion leader” as a person able tochange the opinions, attitudes, and/or behaviors of their “everyday associates” (Katz,1957). Opinion leaders use social pressure and social support to exert personal in-fluence. These locally influential individuals are important because they help guidepolitical discussion, integral to the strength of democracy (Dillard, Segrin, & Harden,1989; Mutz, 2006). Further, from word-of-mouth advertising (Li & Du, 2011; Bakshyet al., 2011) to get-out-the-vote campaigns (Middleton, 2006), it has been shown thatpersonal connection increases the chances of a target buying a product or going tovote.

Given the importance of these opinion leaders and relative lack of literature onthe topic this study aims to answer two main questions:

Who are the “opinion leaders” within two Canadian political Twitter communi-ties?Which methods most effectively identify and distinguish users from being either“influentials”, “opinion leaders”, or “followers”?

Responding to these questions, we collected all tweets containing the hashtags#CPC (Conservative Party of Canada, Government) and #NDP (New DemocraticParty of Canada, Official Opposition) over a two week period. From this set, weemployed a qualitative analysis to eliminate users not discussing Canadian politics. We selected the Canadian political Twittersphere given the lack of current researchon influencers within this community, and because, while active, the community issmall enough to conduct meaningful qualitative analysis which serves as our baselinefor comparison.

In order to identify opinion leaders, we first classify users as “influentials,” “opin-ion leaders,” “followers,” or “not political” based on their profiles and most recenttweets. We then use other methods of identifying opinion leaders in order to illustratesimilarities and differences and to assess which methods are most effective.

Self-identification is the traditional mode of identifying opinion leaders (Katz &Lazarsfeld, 2006), and continues to be used in recent work (Norris & Curtice, 2008).We implement this by sending links to a short online survey to all users withinthe network. Measures of indegree (Cha & Gummadi, 2010; Java, Song, Finin, &Tseng, 2007; Romero & Kleinberg, 2010), eigenvector centrality (Weitzel, Quaresma,& Oliveira, 2012; Bigonha, Cardoso, Moro, Almeida, & Gon¸calves, 2010) (socialnetwork analysis), user interaction, and user information sharing with others (Lotanet al., 2011)(content analysis) are methods adapted from studies of network wideinfluential identification. Finally, the clustering coefficient (Lerman & Ghosh, 2010;Java et al., 2007) (social network analysis) is used as an operationalization of thenotion of being socially embedded in ones local community.

We find that each measure has its strengths and weaknesses both in terms ofaccuracy and practical feasibility. Our findings suggest that there are multiple kindsof opinion leaders.


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avatar for Elizabeth Dubois

Elizabeth Dubois

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

Devin Gaffney

Little Bird, United States

Sunday September 15, 2013 3:41pm - 4:00pm
ROWE 1020

Attendees (14)