Is social networking really just a young persons game? Is MySpace the only social networking game?
Popular word of mouth marketing theories, however, purport that real influence is not universal, but solely the provenance of a few highly-connected individuals enjoying domain expertise.
Ted Smith, Research Fellow, CNET Networks (parent of ZDNet), debunked such conventional notions of influence yesterday, unveiling research at the Advertisng Research Foundation convention in New York City.
In a presentation titled “Social Networking Demystified: Why Consumers Cannot Resist Giving Advice,” Smith presented the findings from proprietary research on the structure and dynamics of social networks.
During the Q4 ’06 and Q1 ’07 timeframe, a multi-faceted study engaged consumers via fieldwork, Internet surveys, one-on-one interviews and behavioral site analysis to understand how influence works.
With the goal of answering questions about whether there are many or few who are highly influential, insights were gleaned on what is assumed to be the essential ingredient of influence, personal network size.
Study participants were asked to indicate the number of people they interact with on a monthly basis, categorized by groups. Respondents were then grouped by level of connectedness: Less Connected, Moderately Connected, Highly Connected.
Results? There is a “tremendous central tendency” about the mean. Translation: There are not two groups of people in two distinct populations, connected or not. Instead, most individuals are in a tightly defined range around the average.
The masses are “moderately connected,” with 42 connections, on average, the research found.
Implications? The true shape of influence can be best viewed as a “diamond,” rather than as a “pyramid.”
Focusing only on a small number of highly connected individuals at the top of the pyramid neglects the larger, and more real, opportunity for influence on a large scale via the bulk of the population, in the middle of the wide diamond.
Real-world, everyday influencers are motivated by a desire to help others, the research suggests:
People like to be needed and valued, and influencers derive a sense of self-worth and validation from giving good advice. They aren’t simply blasting emails to their entire address book, influencers are taking the time to seek out and customize information they believe will be relevant to specific individuals within their network. When their advice is wee received, it gives them confidence to continue and expand their efforts.
In addition to the personal rewards they get from providing good information, the typical influencer also enjoys the process of discovery, or being “The Sleuth,” the research found.What is “The Sleuth” in real-world mass social networking terms? Sleuths:
Moral of the we are all social networkers story?
aren’t experts but are savvy at finding credible information,
watch and read media with a critical eye,
rely on the Web to find and distribute critical information,
tend to send information only to individuals they know will be interested,
won’t send information unless they’re confident it’s worth sharing.
Influence is not exclusive, it is something we all share. Influence is not a function of charisma so much as it’s a function of human nature,
regardless of age!