Watts and Dodds (2007) tell us that people most easily influenced have the highest impact on the information diffusion. They recommend targeting a critical mass of influenceable people, rather than influential. Their conclusion is "Under most conditions that we consider, we ﬁnd that large cascades of inﬂuence are driven not by inﬂuentials but by a critical mass of easily inﬂuenced individuals. Although our results do not exclude the possibility that inﬂuentials can be important, they suggest that the inﬂuentials hypothesis requires more careful speciﬁcation and testing than it has received"
A forthcoming article from Hinz and his colleagues (*) revisits this question. They compare four seeding strategies through one field experiment (a social platform like Facebook) and one real-life viral marketing campaign involving more than 200,000 customers of a mobile phone service provider. They use a sociometric method for identification of opinion leaders, that is respondents are asked to name the people they turn to for advice.
What is the best seeding strategy ?
First of all, their empirical results show that the best seeding strategies is targeting central opinion leader ("hub"). It can be up to eight times more successful than other seeding strategies.
Secondly, peripherical leaders (« bridges ») are a powerful second best, because their influence is higher than random seeding.
What is the process behind this phenomenon ?
Moreover, these highly connected individuals also actively use their higher reach (ie. message diffusion on a higher number of person)
Marketers can improve the effectiveness of their viral campaigns by targeting central or peripherical opinion leaders (via sociometric method). Hinz et al. add : "Adding metrics related to social positions to customer relationship management databases is likely to improve targeting models substantially"..
And now our question is : how to identify an opinion leader in a social network, like Twitter or Facebook ? Klout or Peer Index metrics ? Self-designating method ? Sociometric method ? Results from Iyengar, Van den Bulte and Valente tend to promote sociometrics rather than self-assessment methods.
But no researcher has yet compared Klout or Peer index with traditional method...
(*) Oliver Hinz, Bernd Skiera, Christian Barrot & Jan U. Becker, Seeding Strategies for Viral Marketing: An Empirical Comparison, Forthcoming: Journal of Marketing, scheduled: January 2012.