Finding Key Opinion Leaders & Influentials using Social Network Analysis

Professionals do not make decisions in isolation. In addition, they do not decide based on facts and numbers alone. Like the rest of us, they use their local network of trusted others for advice, opinions and expertise.

The network map above reveals how physicians seek each other out to discuss new medical treatments. Physician names have been replaced by numbers to protect their privacy. If physician A looks to physician B for advice/opinion/expertise then an arrow is drawn from node A to node B. The pattern of direct and indirect arrows surrounding a node, helps determine the influence of that person -- influence is mostly local.

Who are the key opinion leaders in the above community? And who do they influence? You need more than one opinion leader to reach the whole community!

The eye naturally looks to those nodes who have many links pointing to them. The node with most arrows coming in [social network analysts call these in-degrees] is physician 048, followed by 013 and 081, and then 078. Does this simple analysis reveal who is most influential in this group of professionals? No. This elementary analysis is not always accurate.

We use a more sophisticated algorithm that takes into account both the direct and indirect links in the network. This approach provides a more accurate evaluation of who really influences thought and practice throughout the physician network. This method also allows our clients to find hidden experts -- those who may not have many conections, but strongly influence other opinion leaders.

Using the same algorithm, in reverse, we can quickly show the direct and indirect influence clusters of each key opinion leader. Where does their influence flow? And where does it intersect with other possible opinions?

Who are the key opinion leaders in your market? And who listens to them? Do the leaders have a web of diffusion [others who will pass the message on] around them?

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Copyright © 2008, Valdis Krebs