Finding and using influential people is a myth says social behavior researcher Paul Adams, author of Grouped: How small groups of friends are the key to influence on the social web.
According to Adams, the focus on influentials is based on the view of how we want the world to work versus how it actually works.
The Law Of The Few
Malcolm Gladwell first described The Law of the Few in his 2002 book The Tipping Point. It states that if you reach and persuade the minority of influential people in society, they will in turn influence hundreds, thousands and even millions of others.
Much of the marketing for the past several years has focused on finding and winning over influencers who then spread the message to their followers.
The Influential Facts
The 2011 research Everyone’s an Influencer: Quantifying Influence on Twitter concluded that it’s rare for one person to influence many other people. Instead, word-of-mouth information spreads via small waves triggered by ordinary individuals.
The Keller Fay Group has conducted several studies on how people communicate. They concluded that about 15 percent of the population are considered influencers and generate 30 percent of the conversations about brands. People not recognized as influencers still generate 70 percent of the conversations. That 70 percent happens when you and I share information and content with our friends over lunch, having coffee, on our Facebook page or around the water cooler at work.
Research by BuzzFeed and StumbleUpon found that there is little data to support so-called influencer behavior. Instead, stories go viral when large numbers of people share content with small groups. The best way to go viral is to engage thousands who share in small networks.
The Shift To Marketing To Small Networks
Adams says that we are at the beginning of a cycle where organizations will shift from focusing on influencers and instead focus on marketing to small connected groups of close friends. He identifies three primary factors causing this shift.
1. Our online world is catching up with our offline world.
The web is undergoing a major shift in its architecture. It’s shifting from being built around content to being built around people. People are increasingly seeking information from others, instead of sourcing it directly from organizations. This is not new. People have always asked others for opinions, feedback and information. Up until now, online information came to us from an organization, not people.
2. People already live in networks.
For years we have considered people as isolated, independent creatures. Most of our consumer models are grounded in the belief that people act independently, moving through a decision funnel while making objective choices. Recent research in psychology and neuroscience shows that’s not how people make decisions. A person’s network influences almost every aspect of their life. We turn to others to help us make our decisions.
3. The shift toward small connected networks.
Today, for the first time in history, we can accurately map and measure person-to-person interaction. Our online social networks connect millions of people and support communication between these people. We can measure who is connected to whom, who talks to whom and who share ideas with whom.
This shift will eventually move organizations away from interruption marketing towards permission marketing. Successful organizations of the future will move toward an understanding of how groups of friends talk about their brand, products and services.
What will organizations need in order to shift from interruption marketing towards permission marketing and connecting with small groups of friends? What steps should organizations undertake to understand basic social human behavior and social patterns?