Is it worth it to pay Kim Kardashian $10,000 to tweet about your product?
Probably not. Twitter celebrities aren’t as influential as you might think.
What we found was surprising even to us: Even though the Kim Kardashians of the world were indeed more influential than average, they were so much more expensive that they did not provide the best value for the money. Rather, it was what we called ordinary influencers, meaning individuals who exhibit average or even less-than-average influence, who often proved to be the most cost-effective means to disseminate information.
How is that possible? She’s a big star!
Virality has more to do with the structure of the network and the pool of easy-to-influence people in it than the star-power any one celebrity:
What we found was that under most conditions, highly influential individuals were indeed more effective than the average person in triggering social epidemics. But their relative importance was much less than what the law of the few would suggest…The reason is simply that when influence is spread via some contagious process, the outcome depends far more on the overall structure of the network than on the properties of the individuals who trigger it. Just as forest fires require a conspiracy of wind, temperature, low humidity, and combustible fuel to rage out of control over large tracts of land, social epidemics require just the right conditions to be satisfied by the network of influence. And as it turned out, the most important condition had nothing to do with a few highly influential individuals at all. Rather, it depended on the existence of a critical mass of easily influenced people who influence other easy-to-influence people. When this critical mass existed, even an average individual was capable of triggering a large cascade— just as any spark will suffice to trigger a large forest fire when the conditions are primed for it. Conversely, when the critical mass did not exist, not even the most influential individual could trigger any more than a small cascade. The result is that unless one can see where particular individuals fit into the entire network, one cannot say much about how influential they will be— no matter what you can measure about them.
What’s a better way to spend your $10,000 marketing budget?
Take a portfolio approach. Rather than spending it all on one big celeb, target a handful of potential influencers and increase the odds of a cascade effect:
What this result suggests, in other words, is that marketing strategies that focus on targeting a few “special” individuals are bound to be unreliable. Like responsible financial managers, therefore, marketers should adopt a “portfolio” approach, targeting a large number of potential influencers and harnessing their average effect, thereby effectively reducing the individual-level randomness.