In modern marketing, this idea–that a tiny cadre of connected people (“influencers”) triggers trends–is enormously seductive. It is the very premise of viral and word-of-mouth campaigns: Reach those rare, all-powerful folks, and you’ll reach everyone else through them, basically for free.
Just as we thought we are sold on that influentials theory framed by Malcolm Gladwell in Tipping Point comes this critique by Duncan Watt eloquently summarized by Clive Thompson in Fast Company. [Tip of hat : Ben Casnocha]
According to Watt, if society is ready to embrace a trend, almost anyone can start one–and if it isn’t, then almost no one can.“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.”
An ordinary online campaign can work wonders by harnessing the pass-around power of everyday people–and ignoring influentials altogether.
Who is right – the influentials theorists or Duncan Watt? Who will deliver – the social alphas or the average slob? What is overpowering – Gladwell’s Law of the few or Watt’s Random postulate?
My take. Trends have several triggers. I see Watt’s repudiation of Gladwell’s influentials thesis running not so deep. The difference is just that Watt replaces the identity of Gladwell’s hyper-active celebrity influential with that of a random outlier or the average slob as he puts it. To me, what sustains the trend is more important than what starts it off. Pleasant sensory appeal wins the first look-ins, utility drives wider adoption and cool quotient stimulates an osmotic contagion. It will be difficult to pin-point which one is the major driver. If the trend has to be sustained, it’s not enough to have all these elements present; users should have open channels for two way conversations and the enterprise had better listen in. Then, have the good sense to exploit it before the next fad raises its hood.
This dichotomy with an accent on identity also reminds me of yet another debate Security v. Privacy on Bruce Shneier’s blog where he says –
“Security and privacy are not opposite ends of a seesaw; you don’t have to accept less of one to get more of the other. Think of a door lock, a burglar alarm and a tall fence. Think of guns, anti-counterfeiting measures on currency and that dumb liquid ban at airports. Security affects privacy only when it’s based on identity, and there are limitations to that sort of approach….. It’s not a question of security v. privacy as much as it is of liberty v.control”