Clive Thompson always writes fascinating articles (seriously, if you want a detailed feature piece having to do with technology, Thompson is one of the best), and his latest is no exception. It's a profile of Duncan Watts debunking the importance of so-called "Influentials"
in getting buzz on something. This concept was a big part of Malcolm Gladwell's "The Tipping Point," and has shown up as a key aspect of things like "word of mouth marketing." In fact, it's hard to find a modern PR firm these days that doesn't try to tout its relationships with "influentials" (even if that "relationship" really is "we have his or her email address"). Yet, what Watts found is that so-called influentials aren't that influential. If a meme is to take hold, there are a variety of things that can kick off the viral message, but it rarely comes from influentials. Sometimes it does, and sometimes they help push it along, but a viral message can actually be kicked off by almost anyone. Of course, that doesn't mean you should throw the baby out with the bathwater. As Mathew Ingram astutely notes
, what this really means is that rather than targeting a small group of people, you still need to try to get a message out widely so that the random folks who will spread your idea can spread it. It doesn't mean that word of mouth marketing doesn't happen, it just means it has little to do with getting "big name blogger X" to write about your idea. It should be about getting a message out that anyone wants to talk about.