As more and more people are realizing that banner ads don't work
very well as advertising, there's a rush on to find better alternatives. What's now getting a lot of attention is "influential" ads. News.com has two examples of new companies trying to put this into action. The first is a company called 33Across that tries to use some algorithm to figure out who is most "influential" online
and target ads towards them, hoping they'll influence others. The other is a company with the most generic name for this space: SocialMedia, who is hyping up the fact that it's come up with a "FriendRank" to determine how influential someone is
, and then try to get those influential people to effectively "endorse" advertisements that their friends see.
These approaches have plenty of problems, but the biggest one is the simple fact that studies are starting to show that the concept of "influentials" is overstated
. Sure, people are influenced by others, but it's not because some officially designated "influential" influences them. Influence doesn't work that way. People don't trust people because they're suddenly considered influential. They trust people because they know that individual
well and trust them on that particular topic. In other words, Bill could be influential on a certain topic to Jill, but won't be influential to others or on other subjects.
But, these services don't seem to do much to recognize that. Instead, they assume that people actually have some sort of universal "influential" rank. What they'll quickly discover is that this won't be very effective, because people won't be influenced by who these services think are influential. And, if anything, these efforts will decrease influence by inserting additional friction. If I were to see a friend in an ad for a product, before making me think that product is more interesting, it will make me wonder what my friend gets out of it, and whether or not he really believes in the product. I trust recommendations that come up unsolicited -- not those that are built into an ad unit.