This journal article was written by Joo-Young Jung from the International Christian University, Japan, and Yong-Chan Kim from Yonsei University, Korea. The two authors explore the concepts of opinion leadership and followership in the current social and media environment. The journal article proposes the re-examination of the two concepts as complementary and interactive with each other rather than competing. Jung and Kim (2016) suggest that changes in the social and media environments have made the conceptualization of opinion leaders and followers much more complex and dynamic. Individuals may not just be passive followers but can actively pursue multiple sources of opinions. Regarding opinion leadership and followership, Jung and Kim (2016) proposed four groups: opinion givers/seekers, opinion givers, opinion seekers, and nondiscussants. This study identifies the relationship between opinion leadership and followership. In the two-step flow model of communication, opinion followers are at the final stage of information flow. Jung and Kim (2016) found from previous studies that “A positive correlation between opinion leadership and followership challenges the commonly held notion that opinion leadership and followership are at opposite ends of a scale.”
The two authors examined how individuals form and maintain their social networks, and how they have evolved over time. When compared to the mid-20th century, Jung and Kim (2016) found that recent people’s social networks are less define by clear membership in certain communities and more by fluid connections with various groups. With the expanding world of technology and networking, the Internet enables individuals to access and be more selective in seeking opinions from various sources. Jung and Kim (2016) found that it has become more difficult to clearly distinguish “factual news” and “opinions.” They further mention that this trend has been intensifying as more people receive news, information and opinions on mobile media (Jung & Kim, 2016). They also found in a recent study that active and selective following of news and opinions is necessary to be an effective opinion leader.
Re-examining opinion leadership and followership, Jung and Kim (2016) proposed that viable opinion leaders are also likely to be “effective followers.” To take a more neutral stance on the topic, the authors preferred the terms givers and seekers as opposed to leaders and followers.
The study of this topic was conducted through various studies and surveys which provide insight to how results changed over time. Jung and Kim’s research comprised of comparing the four previously mentioned groups of individuals in terms of five criteria: socioeconomic status, media connectedness, curating skills, offline political participation, and political participation on social network services. The article mentions that opinion leadership is associated with higher income and education from an earlier study. Jung and Kim (2016) have found in recent studies that opinion leaders are more likely to follow political news in mass media more closely than others. In addition to media connectedness the two authors also found that more people rely on individuals who have strong curating skills, which is the ability to critically select and share information with others. The journal article suggests that the growing prevalence of an online environment has made it easier for curators to share content.
According to Jung and Kim (2016), early studies have shown that opinion leaders were more likely than opinion receivers to participate in offline formal and informal political activities. This same trend was also apparent in political participation on social network services. Jung and Kim (2016) found a relationship between opinion giving and seeking and political participation on social network services. They also mentioned that individuals who are likely to influence others have tendencies to share news on social media.
An online survey was conducted in Seoul, Korea in the form of cluster sampling pertaining to the previously mentioned five criteria. Based on the survey conducted, Jung and Kim (2016) found that out of 625 total respondents, 36.5% belonged to the opinion givers/seekers group, 23.7% to opinion givers, 22.7% to opinion seekers, and 17.1% to nondiscussants. Based on the survey data collected in Seoul, the study suggests that opinion givers/seekers are distinct from other groups in several ways (Jung & Kim, 2016).
The data collected in this journal article conclude that opinion giving and seeking are not competing or mutually exclusive concepts, but rather opinion seeking has become a more essential condition to being an opinion leader in the current communication environment (Jung & Kim, 2016). The results of the previous studies mentioned in the journal article demonstrate that opinion givers/seekers demonstrate characteristics of what past studies have called opinion leaders (Jung & Kim, 2016).
Jung and Kim (2016) further draw connections between opinion givers/seekers and opinion givers which may reflect the ways in which people interact in the current media environment.
They later speculate that being an opinion giver/seeker likely promotes participation in political activities.
Jung and Kim conclude with the limitations of the study. Relationships between variables and concepts were based on theories and past research, which the two authors suggested to be taken with caution. This study can be a basis to form concrete claims to further test differences between the four groups.