Influencing Influencers - how to do it the right way
In Malcolm Gladwell's book The Tipping Point, he popularised the theory of The Two-Step Flow of Communication (Lazarsfeld & Katz, 1955)1 by explaining how innovation and information is spread in a two-step flow, from mass media to influencers - and then onto the masses via the influencers. Gladwell renamed this theory ‘The Law of The Few’ and colourfully reworded it as, "The success of any kind of social epidemic is heavily dependent on the involvement of people with a particular and rare set of social gifts (the ability to influence others)".2 If you can overlook the blatant plagiarism, Gladwell must be congratulated for bringing the principles of the original theory back into the mainstream almost 50 years after its original publication, at a time when understanding influencers is more important than ever (if you're in marketing or politics).
In the time before the mass proliferation of the internet, marketers had to engage large numbers of micro influencers to propagate their messages throughout the wider target audience. This meant giving brands broad appeal and creating one-size-fits-most messaging. The last decade of human existence has witnessed an unprecedented schism in the communication paradigm, and the gatekeepers of information have been replaced with groups of highly influential opinion leaders outside the mass media. The extent of which was illustrated when former Australian Prime Minister Gillard, invited the 25 most influential parenting bloggers to her Christmas party at the expense of traditional journalists.3
Now not only have the rules of influence been democratised, we can also use data to identify and track the opinion leaders. But why are marketers so slow to capitalise on the phenomenon? Technorati’s annual Digital Influence report highlights the fact that currently the lions share of online marketing budgets are assigned to display, search and video, with only 10% of that going into social (predominantly Facebook) and only 11% of that going to blogging and engaging influencers. Why is that so when almost every marketer I’ve ever met deifies Gladwell?
Is it because we are hard wired into traditional mass branding practices?
Based on this, I’ve outlined a draft approach to branding where mass messaging is less important, and the focus is on creating a brand that connects with the highly influential opinion leaders:
1. Categorising the product into definable segments
2. Identifying segment influencers and profiling their needs
3. Developing a brand that appeals to the influencers
4. Engaging influencers through direct channels, targeted press, and/or paid media
The above is by no means a scientifically replicable methodology, but more of a start point from which to explore new approaches. Any thoughts or criticisms are more than welcome!
1. Elihu Katz and Paul Felix Lazarsfeld, Personal Influence: the Part Played by People in the Flow of Mass Communications, 1955
2. Gladwell, Malcolm The Tipping Poing, 2000