Monday, February 4, 2008

Influencing the Influencers: Is it worth the effort?

I've occasionally wondered why millions of generally level-headed Americans flooded department stores in the 70's and spent their hard-earned money on bell bottoms. And not only spent their money, but actually wore them out in public! Seriously though, how did this (and other trends) begin? What ignites crazes such as this? Who should we blame for bell bottom pants, hush puppies, tight rolled jeans, and Disco?

In recent years, marketers have become increasingly convinced that by simply influencing a select group of charismatic, social alphas, they'd spread the good news of their product to the masses. Reach the influencers and you reach everyone. This theory dates back to 1955 when when the pioneering sociologists Elihu Katz and Paul Lazarsfeld wrote Personal Influence. They had argued that advertising affected society through a two-step process: Companies broadcast messages, which were then seized upon by "opinion leaders" who proselytized their peers. In recent years, books such as The Tipping Point have further explored this topic with similar results.

The Febuary edition of Fast Company, however carries an article (which you can find here) that outlines current research by Duncan Watts which contradicts the influencer theory and states that these special, socially gifted people have no such effect. Indeed, they have no special role in trends at all. Watts doesn't deny that influencers play an important role in society, as their peers rely on them for advice on everything from cellphones to vehicle purchases. However he goes on to say that influencers can not , by themselves, ignite an trend into existence.

The outcome of this study may have widespread impact on how marketers carry the message of their brand to the masses. No longer will it be easy as simply targeting a select group of social influencers. Check out the complete article here, and let us know your thoughts.

Is it worthwhile to influence the influencers? What do you think?


Scott said...

For a broader perspective you might find this new book an insightful read -

Jason Isenberg said...

Thanks Scott. I took a look at the link you provided and it appears to be an interesting read...thanks for the info.