Scientist: Influencer Theory Is Bogus

Duncan Watts first came to the marketing world’s attention in 2003, when a New York Times article positioned the Columbia University professor as the anti-Malcolm Gladwell. While Gladwell’s 2000 book The Tipping Point laid out an entertaining theory that fads like Hush Puppy shoes and the book Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood spread because of groups of people called influencers, Watts has argued that that model is deeply flawed. Watts, now a research scientist with Yahoo, charges that influencers have been poorly defined and that scientific data show you’re just as likely to spread a message or product by targeting a random group of consumers as you would by going after so-called influencers. Mostly, Watts says marketers should be much more scientific in their approach, especially as social media grows in importance. Excerpts from Watts’ conversation with Brandweek are below: