The idea of ‘influencers’ – highly connected people who are the Typhoid Marys of cultural zeitgeists – has always seemed suspect to me. Sure, you can identify influencers in a post-hoc fashion. But that’s a statement about a role they played. Marketers would like it to be a statement about the kind of person they are.
The whole Gladwellian scheme has achieved traction in the Marketing world because it fits in with the way marketers are trained. We segment people into groups (like mavens, influencers and connectors) and choose a target segment (as viral marketers seek out black-clad, irony-laden hipsters to carry their message). Like all marketing, sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. Here’s what marketers don’t like to hear: that success or failure has more to do with the message or product than with the targeted messengers.
If you study viral marketing you’ve heard of Blendtec – David Meerman Scott was touting them long before I’d heard of them. They get 3-4MM views on Youtube for many of their ‘Will It Blend‘ videos. Why?
Typical Marketing response: Because they’ve identified the key influencers who can quickly make an idea spread until it reaches a tipping point
The Egghead response: Because they put a freakin’ iPHONE in a freakin’ BLENDER! Who doesn’t want to see THAT?
Disclaimers: I have no interest in bashing Gladwell and find value in ‘The Tipping Point’. I just think that compelling content or product wins over smart targeting every time. And I know full well that in using the dated word ‘hipster’ I identify myself as anything-but-hip.