Doug Garnett’s Blog


New Data Challenges the “Cult of Market Influencers”

Market influencers. A good concept. But it has run rampant in marketing — especially in the exaggerated hype surrounding social media.

Social media’s growth is based on a theory. That theory says (a) companies will reach their key influencers through social media and (b) that these influencers are effective at driving messages that lead to purchase. But let’s remember – a theory is just a theory.

And now there’s some facts. So don’t send that next Tweet until you read “Measuring User Influence in Twitter: The Million Follower Fallacy” (Meeyung Cha, which analyzes “2 billion follow links among 54 million users who produced a total of 1.7 billion tweets”. In this article we learn some very important truths that should change how we approach social media.

Ms. Cha and her coauthors have found that the typical measures of influence used to evaluate Twitter users don’t actually reflect influence. So the people you thought were influencers might not be. (Unfortunately, the article didn’t deal with the really important issue: deciding if your most important influencers are highly active in social media or able to be activated through social.)

They also found (as predicted by current social theory) that message spread depends less on influencers than on the target culture’s readiness to receive the message.

This shouldn’t come as a surprise. I’ve thought for years that Malcolm Gladwell’s success at popularizing the idea of influencers has caused untold harm to marketers. And I’ve been shocked by our industry’s willingness to throw aside a century of savvy development in advertising in favor of the hail mary pass of word of mouth marketing.

Now reality returns as we consider this article. And I’m stuck by a profound, but simple thought. If what these authors say is true, then working harder up front to find the message that matters will have far more payoff than any other efforts we make.

That should come as no surprise. The most successful teams put more effort into strategy and message development: because it delivers effectiveness.

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