Last week, I’ve offer up some perspectives on the topic of empowerment vs. influence. But I deliberately steered clear of the discussion on whether influencers exist (if you remember, that was thelast argument in favor of empowerment over influence). From the discussions that I have found on this controversial topic, most people seem to reference the 2007 report byWatts and Dodds (W&D) as scientific proof that influencers either don’t exist or don’t matter. I believe this academic report has been popularized in the industry by a 2008 Fast Company article:Is the Tipping Point Toast?. However, to truly understand the results by W&D, I recommend reading the original publication, which can be downloadedhere for now (since this is copyrighted material, there is no guarantee how long it will be available).
If you find the paper difficult to read, don’t be too hard on yourself! It’s written by a social network theorist with a physics background (Duncan J Watts) and a mathematician (Peter Sheridan Dodds) aimed primarily at other rigorous academic researchers. If you managed to plow through the technical details, you will find that there is nothing wrong with W&D’s result. Their claims were simply misunderstood by people outside academia. In many cases, their claims were greatly exaggerated, and certainly over generalized beyond their valid regime. Let’s find out why…
W&D Use Steady State Cascade Size to Measure the Effect of Influencers
W&D’s study concludes that the cascade size initiated by influencers is not significantly larger than those initiated by an ordinary person. And guess what, they are right! This claim is perfectly valid under the conditions of their simulation. The key is in understandinghow they measure cascade size, which they’ve described in their paper:
“When all activations associated with a single cascade have occurred, its size can be determined simply as the total cumulative number of activations.”