Debunking Roles of the Influencers

    January 29, 2008

When I first saw the link on Fimoculous with the title “Is the Tipping Point Toast?” I thought someone was going to debunk the whole idea behind it.

But what was being debunked was just the concept of roles of people involved in making a trend “tip”, and most importantly the influencer’s. Sounds terrifying to most marketers because the whole idea of finding and cultivating influencers is often the cornerstone of “seeding” viral/WOM campaigns, and as they say in the article marketers spend millions on this process.

The article is on fast company and key point of the article though is to point out that it is not the people spreading an idea that matter as much as the idea itself, and societies readiness for the idea. I think this is one of the reasons that ideas that are laser focused on a niche often succeed, it’s because the idea can be much more finely tuned to appeal the people who will initially receive it. Once it is successful in that very small niche it’s likely you will have the critical mass to get out to the broader audience you seek. It’s kind of like starting a fire, the niche is the kindling

Watts believes this is because a trend’s success depends not on the person who starts it, but on how susceptible the society is overall to the trend–not how persuasive the early adopter is, but whether everyone else is easily persuaded. And in fact, when Watts tweaked his model to increase everyone’s odds of being infected, the number of trends skyrocketed.

“If society is ready to embrace a trend, almost anyone can start one–and if it isn’t, then almost no one can,” Watts concludes. To succeed with a new product, it’s less a matter of finding the perfect hipster to infect and more a matter of gauging the public’s mood. Sure, there’ll always be a first mover in a trend. But since she generally stumbles into that role by chance, she is, in Watts’s terminology, an “accidental Influential.”

It reminds me of what Jonnie Moore was saying on his blog recently about social objects:

So don’t let all the talk about social objects make you think that marketing is all about the props. The props are great if they spark relationships, and they may look important as markers of relationships… but they’re not the real magic.

And Guy Kawasaki agrees :-)