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February 1st, 2008

The Power of Targeting Influentials Questioned

Fast Company just published an article that raises some questions about targeting Influentials (you know, those people whose actions and opinions cause others to follow suit) as the best approach to reaching one’s intended audience.

Duncan Watts, a Columbia University professor on sabbatical and now at Yahoo!, argues for caution because he feels it’s unclear how Influentials do what they do:

“[T]here are a lot of ways an Influential could convert the masses. Merely talking to a friend once could infect her with an idea. Or it might take several conversations. Or maybe Influentials are so persuasive they’re like trend vampires, and each victim they bite becomes hyperpersuasive too. Depending on how you define the specific mechanics of influence, you’d get totally different types of epidemics–or maybe none at all. But gurus of the Influentials theory never directly clarify these mechanics.”

Sure, but on that last point I’d argue that simply because the mechanics aren’t fully explained yet shouldn’t dilute the recognition of the impact that Influentials have. And then again, anyone who has been in the communications industry long enough would shy away from saying that targeting Influentials is the one-and-only approach to take.

Marketer Ed Keller, co-author of The Influentials, criticizes Watts’ computer model-based theories as “too academic to reflect reality,” noting that he “is making a straw-man argument. Because nobody, including myself, thinks that Influencers are the only group of consumers who matter.”

Which in the end is probably the take-away here — communications professionals have to continue doing what they’ve always done, namely customize their approach and strategy depending on the myriad of factors involved, such as audience, product/service, timing and a host of other things.

Filed in Marketing, Public Relations, Social Media

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