Let’s talking about finding influencers.
While I’m not an expert in the science of finding influencers, I hear the word often enough that I can’t totally avoid it.
I try to never say “influencer.” Not just coz it has icky connotations, but coz it’s part of the larger science of network analysys/social network analysis, and I prefer to borrow more specific terms from that body of work.
But I’m sympathetic to why people are drawn to the word and the idea, influencer.
It’s an easy concept for our brains to grab. Lotsa animals, humans included, seem wired to be aware of status. Who’s important? From there it’s not a big leap to “who’s influential?”
It’s natural to want to keep track of a small number of important folks.
Who’s in the VIP? Who’s A-List?
(Or in social-network-analysis-speak: “Who is the important node in the network?” If you want to sound really smart, definitely talk about “nodes” whenever people bring up Klout scores :D)
But in flailing for influencers, it’s easy to forget why it even matters- to get people to consider a new idea/song/recycling habit/brand of laundry detergent. It’d be pretty cool if Kim Kardashian tweeted about your lipstick, but you can waste a bit of energy going after that scenario. Plus… it can be demeaning for all involved.
The good news
But what if there’s a workaround? And in the spirit of the egalitarian bias of the social web, what if it’s waaaaay less icky than courting influencers? What if you could interact with more normal folks, get the same results, and have way more dignity?
Both my experiences and the math say it works.
What’s the catch?
You need to interact with more “nodes.” But unlike the process of courting influencers, encountering a disinterested node is not an issue. Just move on. Just work the process.
The amount of people you need to engage is dependent on the size of the network. Is it “everybody who follows $competitor?” Is it “everybody who Likes $MusicArtistAlbum?”
If you’re interested in this stuff, I just read a great paper [pdf] from West Point (!) about how to calculate your “seed set.” (The amount/body of people selected from larger network to engage with.)
But here’s a summary from their blog.
The spreading of a trend or behavior in a social network is a very active area of research. One very important model of trend spreading is the “tipping” model. With tipping, an individual in a network adopts a trend if at least half (or some other proportion) of his or her friends have previously done so. An important problem in viral marketing is to find a “seed set” of individuals in the social network. If all members of a “seed set” in a social network initially adopt a certain trend, then a cascade initiates through the tipping model which results in the entire population adopting that trend.
…seed sets in real-world online social networks can be very small. For instance…we found a seed set that consisted of only 0.8% of the population.