What’s the best way to spread a viral campaign as widely as possible? Some hold to the idea of courting ‘key influencers.’ There is research that contradicts this idea before, but more evidence is out this week that confirms that the influencer matters less than the influenced.

Science News online reports on recent research by two social network theorists, Duncan J. Watts of Columbia University and Peter Sheridan Dodds of the University of Vermont in Burlington. The researchers tested the conventional wisdom, that,

experts on a subject who love to talk… can convince dozens of others of their opinions. An excellent sales strategy, then, would be to find those few critical people, persuade them of the value of your product, and leave it to them to convince others.

Sounds good, but is it true?

The researchers compared how far an idea would spread depending on whether it started with a random individual or with an influential individual who was connected to a lot of other individuals. They found that highly influential individuals usually spread ideas more widely, but not very much more widely. More important than the influencers, the researchers found, were the influenced. Once an idea spread to a critical mass of easily influenced individuals, it took hold and continued to spread to other easily influenced individuals.

Dodds compares the spread of ideas to the spread of a forest fire. When a fire turns into a conflagration, no one says that it was because the spark that began it was so potent… Instead, a fire takes off because of the properties of the larger forest environment: the dryness, the density, the wind, the temperature.

So what’s the take away? “The best way to increase the odds of person-to-person transmission of an idea is to make it a good idea… Some things are just fun to talk about.” One of my favorite quotes by Seth Godin is to simply “be remarkable – that which is worthy of remark!”

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