Diffusion of 3D Printing and Leveraging Opinion Leadership

Sjostedt Oliver & Miller Adrian

Student thesis: Master thesis


This thesis takes interest in how innovations spread through social systems, with a focus on the role of the most influential individuals – the opinion leaders. The innovation of interest is consumer 3D printing in the setting of 3D Hubs, a peer-to-peer platform where individuals can sell access to their personal 3D printers. Two research questions are investigated. The first research question concerns whether the members of 3D Hubs, and the opinion leaders especially, use their social influence to push for 3D printing to be adopted as a service rather than as an ownership technology. The second research question addresses a research gap and explores whether opinion leaders value becoming more influential by a firm that offers an opportunity to enhance the opinion leaders three defining characteristics (sources of influence). The purpose of this thesis is to through diffusion theory investigate the direction of the muchdebated technology of 3D printing and to add to the construct of opinion leadership. The value of describing in what direction the members of 3D Hubs are pushing 3D printing using their social influence, is that it is a unique sample of well-informed individuals on the matter of 3D printing and ownership contra service. The value of the second research question comes from the fact that it is already established that social influence is instrumental for the dissemination of innovation, and firms acknowledge that to best utilize social influence it is the most efficient to engage the most influential individuals. This thesis explores whether there possibly is a win-win scenario where opinion leaders appreciate becoming more influential by the very firm that wish to use their social influence. To approach the two research questions a thorough literature review was done on the marketing school of diffusion theory and opinion leadership research. The review explores social influence and what makes opinion leaders especially influential, resulting in a proposed new definition of opinion leadership that entails the three defining characteristics of engagement, network position, and credibility. The study was carried out as a descriptive study with a quantitative approach, utilizing a web-survey that included an acknowledged scale for identifying opinion leaders. The findings show that both the opinion leaders and non-leaders (followers) of 3D Hubs push consumer 3D printing more in the direction of service than ownership through their social influence. Additionally, the study found that the industry trend of 3D printers becoming easier to use has the largest deteriorating effect on the benefit of 3D printing as a service (3D Hubs), followed by the trends of cheaper 3D printers, and more 3D printing application areas. The findings for the second research question interestingly suggest that opinion leaders do indeed disproportionally value being leveraged by firms through a firm setting (3D Hubs). An implication of these findings is that it presents a new way to create value for opinion leaders for firms that wish to leverage them. Furthermore, this study shed new light on the future of 3D printing through the perspective of the individuals that personify the duality in which the innovation can be adopted.

EducationsMSc in Business Administration and Information Systems, (Graduate Programme) Final Thesis
Publication date2015
Number of pages139