There’s a commonly accepted view that the key to viral-based trend-setting in both B-to-B and B-to-C environments is the identification and cultivation of so-called key influencers or “hubs” in the prevailing social networks related to your targeted marketing environments. Books such as The Tipping Point by Malcom Gladwell and The Influentials, by Ed Keller and Jon Berry.We know see a (gad)fly in this ointment – that of Duncan Watts – a network-theory scientist at Yahoo. His analysis apparently concludes that “highly connected people are not, in fact, crucial social hubs.” and that, in fact “your average slob is just as likely as a well-connected person to start a huge new trend”I urge you to read Clive Thompson’s excellent article on this topic over at Fast Company – “Is the Tipping Point Toast?”Watts argues that much of the research supporting the importance of key influencers in viral/social marketing is based on “after the fact” analysis in which key networkers are identified as the springboards for the spreading of the meme. However, such influencers emerge on their own, cannot be readily identified in advance, and once identified, are likely not to replicate their role in future viral campaigns.If Watts’ theories are indeed fact, then the prevailing view (and the associated marketing budgets for programs based on this view) are off-target, and that a traditional mass media approach of reaching the broadest possible population wills serve to ultimately generate the greatest number of influencer/networker hubs.What has been your experience with viral marketing campaigns? Were you successful in identifying key influencers beforehand that in fact served as such hubs for spreading the word?
Director, Strategic Marketing & Innovation Practice
Quantum Leaders, Inc.
Update: Seth Godin has weighed in on this issue via a recent blog posting.