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February 03, 2008

The Influenceables

Lots of chatter about Duncan Watts and his take that ordinary people have just as much influence as influential people have in making something popular. Cory, Guy, Seth, Spike, and scores of others have all chimed in.

On The Media interviewed Clive Thompson who wrote the Fast Company article that compellingly explains Duncan Watts’ word-of-mouth randomness theory. In the radio interview (available online here), Clive summarizes Duncan’s complex theory this way,

“It’s not how influential each person is, it’s how influenceable everyone else is. If society is ready to embrace a trend, almost anyone can start it.”

Hmm … could it be the marketing society is ready to embrace the trend that individuals have just as much sway as influentials do in starting the next big thing? Could it be that marketers are an influenceable bunch?


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I'm glad you found that nugget from Clive. He is saying essentially what the article was saying and what we can apply to thinking about viral marketing. I continue to be unimpressed with formulas as applied to human dynamics and the expectation that they would be predictable. As for marketers, I am starting to warm up considerably to the concept of herd.

This is interesting. I think it's a quicker means of spreading ideas to use the influencer's, but if your friend is friends with 10 influencer's, that may lead you to the same success.

Gosh, I've never heard of that before. But that is a great point - and if casted to the right people, I think it could be a cool confidance-builder.

I don't think The Tipping Point is the best example of how the gatekeeper model works. Alex Wipperfurth's Brand Hijack is a better example- check out some samples from the book at

In any case, anyone arguing that influencer marketing does or doesn't work is missing the point. It works in some categories, in others it doesn't. For example, it's absolutely critical in lifestyle categories like fashion, entertainment, and youth culture. If you think you can launch a sports brand, for example, without getting the blessing of the right influencers, you're dreaming.

In other categories like, say, laundry detergent, I'd guess that anyone can be an influencer.

Just my $.02

The takehome that I got from Watts' article was that we marketers can't just rely on our instincts. He showed how for decades we have relied on "wisdom" that wasn't really tested. Whether he's right or wrong about influencers, I think Watts makes a good point about testing our relied-upon theories.

Does anyone know of any hard data about the actual effectiveness of marketing programs targeting Influentials? I’ve read a lot about the theories behind it, which are fascinating, but haven’t come across anything quantifiable.

Perhaps marketers really are an influenceable bunch. The gatekeeper model seems to be the prevailing theory in marketing culture, but are we embracing it because it actually works or because other marketers are saying it works?

Hello, here is something I don't understand: shouldn't there be a distinction made between "Receiver-WOM" and "Sender-WOM", when discussing the role of influentials/opinion leaders?

Watts/Dodds have shown that for "viral message spread", the influential is not that, well, influential. However, there is also WOM-demand - people ask for opinions, prompt others for their advice.

And this, I believe, is where influentials play a more important role. They don't produce fast-spreading cascades of communication effects, but they provide highly relevant advice when prompted. Translated to the web, it's the well-linked bloggers that you find when you search for a brand and hope to get some helpful advice. So it does make sense to establish good relationships with people that have such a reputation. However, the effects only work long-term. For a quick viral effect, nothing beats being more broad and finding the influenciables.

I am missing this distinction in the debate.

I hope that marketers are influencable! I'm trying!

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