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March 09, 2008

The Myth of A Listers and Influencers

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Continuing on the theme of Duncan Watts and the demise of influencers and A listers, CNET Networks conducted a three-part study called "The Influencer Study from CNET Networks: Challenging Perceptions." It explored the structure of social networks, the motivations for giving advice, and methods of acquiring information.

The results challenge three commonly-held perceptions:

  1. "The Few Inform the Many. While the size of personal networks varies widely, with some individuals having ten or fewer connections and some having more than 100, each person wields some influence. Viewing the model as a pyramid discounts the much larger number of moderately connected individuals who can help spread the work about your product or service."

  2. "They Share Because They Know More. Influencers aren’t driven to share information for the sake of appearing knowledgeable or to demonstrate their expertise. They’re primarily motivated by a basic desire to help others. They develop a stronger sense of self-confidence when it's well-received, further motivating them to help and advise others."

  3. "A Single-Minded Focus. Influencers aren't necessarily single-subject experts. Our research shows that influencers have diverse interests crossing a wide range of topics. On average, they are interested in ten to twelve topics and they actively seek information on these topics. This is true whether they have large or small networks. There are two critical attributes for information to be valued by the influencer, no matter what topic they're investigating: it must be both unique and trusted."

According to the study, "The flow of information isn’t coming just from a small group of connected individuals at the top. It flows between networks, regardless of the size of the network. Instead of a pyramid, the model of influence is more accurately shown as a diamond, emphasizing the importance of the large number of moderately connected influencers."

The study provides three key marketing takeaways:

  1. "Two unique characteristics of information that influencers value are that the information is unique and trusted. Your company can’t insert itself into an influencer’s social network, but you can place your messages in environments that have both attributes, not just one of them."

  2. "Shape your marketing messages for the larger network of moderately connected users, not just the few highly connected individuals at the top. This involves considering this group's emotional and informational needs, not just modifying the messages you used for the top tier."

  3. "Make content actionable for users. Whatever format your message is in, make it easy for others to forward and share it. Have an instructional video online? Add a quick "Forward to a Friend" link."

Click here to read the entire study. Then figure out how you can apply its findings to your marketing.

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