As the discipline of social network analysis (SNA) develops and experiences wider adoption, it has become clear, at least to us here in Idiro, that there are a number of erroneous ideas circulating which undermine the integrity of SNA as it is applied to telecoms.

One idea that needs to be addressed is that alpha users or key influencers, if some vendors are to be believed, are the be all and end all of SNA. These vendors believe that all you need to do is target these key influencers with your product and you will experience massive product adoption. It’s a nice story and it may sell well but in reality, it’s just a fairytale.

Perhaps it all began with the publication of Malcolm Gladwell’s book The Tipping Point. In it he identifies certain individuals as being key to the adoption and diffusion of new products/services/ideas. While Gladwell had a point, it has since been hijacked by certain individuals and companies, and sold on to unwitting customers as being the holy grail of marketing.

The idea that there are certain individuals who everybody else follows, regardless of the topic, is very misleading. We are all influencers and we can all be influenced by anyone, depending on the context. Many SNA vendors peddle the notion that the there is a rigid hierarchy of influence amongst individuals that you can discern in your customer data simply by looking at the volume of communications traffic or links between them.

Furthermore they argue that by targeting the individuals at the top of the hierarchy, you will have an exponential lift in your marketing campaigns. Our experience shows that this notion is not grounded in reality. Eight years of research by Idiro has shown that time and again the influencer in a group regarding, for example, a new value-added service is frequently a different person to the influencer for a new phone or a change of mobile phone network.

Our argument is that everything is relative and context-sensitive. Peter may influence John when it comes to picking a restaurant but John may hold sway when it comes to fashion. We all have opinions – some held strongly some not so strongly. We influence those around us but we are also influenced by them.

So if you see a social graph of a community and there is someone at the centre, don’t automatically assume that he/she is the right person to target with your offering. They may be but you need to dive deeper into the data to find out.

For years, Idiro has been helping companies quantify the levels of influence people exert on each other and in turn get significant and measurable ROI from social network analysis. If you have any questions or want to learn more, just email me directly or check out our case studies for more information.

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