Fast CompanyClive Thompson’s Fast Company story about Duncan Watts and his stance that books like Malcolm Gladwell‘s The Tipping Point and The Influentials by Ed Keller and Jon Berry are basically bunk – that influencers play only a minor part in trend setting and producing the viral effect so many brands and marketers are in search of – is an interesting read. As Rob May of BusinessPundit.com put it, “I always enjoy seeing conventional wisdom kicked in the face.”

Rob emailed me the link yesterday morning (he gets up way earlier than me) with the subject line, “Mass Media vs. Social Media.” Watts says companies should harness the pass-along power of everyday people, not just the well-connected, and do so by continuing to rely on some mass media methods. Reaching out to influencers is the conventional wisdom Watts is lined up to punt.

Thompson’s article is entitled, “Is The Tipping Point Toast?” Yes, it is. But Watts didn’t burn it. He only pressed the button. What turns the knob to “darker” is that conventional wisdom is in search of the wrong kind of influencer.

In Gladwell’s book, the well-connected, over-stuffed Rolodex types are your target. They know more people. More people know them. They’re influencers. They have pass-along power. But, as Watts points out through his research and hypothesis, they don’t always use that power while what appear to be random folks with less connections can imitate it.

Where Watts makes the mistake is assuming that the mimicking of influence is random. The seemingly random and “insignificant” people have pass-along power as well. You should give them the tools they need to pass along information about your brand. But the ones who use those tools have something entirely different that neither Watts, nor today’s average marketer, are looking for. They have pass-along passion.

It isn’t good enough to have power. You have to want to use it.

What brands need is not connections to the well-connected or mass media appeal mixed with finger- and toe-crossing. What brands need is to seek out those seemingly random and “insignificant” folks who are passionate about your brand. Your influencers are there. You just aren’t looking for them.

Other Posts You’ll Find Interesting:

  1. Influentials On The Web Are People With The Power To Link
  2. Scientist Debunks “The Influentials” Theory
  3. Influencers, Tipping Points And Trends, Oh My!
  4. Keep The Tip(ping Point)
  5. The Debate Continues: What Is Influence?

[tags]Duncan Watts, influencers, influentials, marketing, brand ambassadors, brand evangelists, branding, The Tipping Point, Malcolm Gladwell, mass media, social media[/tags]

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About Jason Falls

Jason Falls

Jason Falls is the founder and chief instigator for Social Media Explorer's blog. He is a leading thinker, speaker and strategist in the world of digital marketing and is co-author of two books, No Bullshit Social Media: The All-Business, No-Hype Guide To Social Media Marketing and The Rebel's Guide To Email Marketing. By day, he leads digital strategy for CafePress, one of the world's largest online retailers. His opinions are his, not necessarily theirs. Follow him on Twitter (@JasonFalls).

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Comments & Reactions

Comments Policy

Comments on Social Media Explorer are open to anyone. However, I will remove any comment that is disrespectful and not in the spirit of intelligent discourse. You are welcome to leave links to content relevant to the conversation, but I reserve the right to remove it if I don't see the relevancy. Be nice, have fun. Fair?

  • http://www.brainsonfire.com/blog Spike Jones

    Thanks for the sweet, sweet link-love, Jason.

    I think you nailed it: brands need to look for THEIR influentials…which is different for every brand. There’s not one group that holds all the keys for all the brands.

    Keep on keepin’ on.

  • http://www.pr-squared.com Todd Defren

    Good post. I’ve got that article in my bag, to read on my flight today. You’ve given me some good context before I dig in, thanks Jason.

  • http://broadcasting-brain.com Mark Dykeman

    Watt’s article has certainly sparked some debate!

    I don’t think we can completely discount the concepts that Gladwell talked about, because they do work in some cases (no one else has come up with a better example of the Hush Puppy craze in the 1990s). However, it’s a mistake to think that they are the only means of spreading a message.

    Other people (including Seth Godin, just today) raised the point of passion. That’s very important, too.

    It’s a complicated and fascinating subject matter area.

  • Pingback: Links to posts about the Duncan Watts article in Fast Company | Broadcasting Brain

  • http://www.socialmediaexplorer.com Jason Falls

    Spike — Link love is warranted. Great post your ownself. I appreciate the validation. Thanks for stopping by.

    Todd — Glad to help out. Hopefully, you’ll come back and give us a more complete reaction once you read the piece. Happy flying.

  • http://www.conversationagent.com Valeria Maltoni

    Good title! I say we “Forget Influentials: Viral Marketing is About Context”. I could see the article would generate a flurry of posts. We’ve had a conversation among several blogs, too. I think we are ready to think and believe that it is a bit more complex than just pitching a handful of people.

  • http://www.socialmediaexplorer.com Jason Falls

    Valeria — Amen to that. Love the title, too. I’m convinced viral is a scientific process. Brand enthusiasts + outreach X strength of content = viral score. Now if I could only put numbers to all that, I’d have a mint.

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