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In modern marketing, this idea--that a tiny cadre of connected people triggers trends--is enormously seductive. It is the very premise of viral and word-of-mouth campaigns: Reach those rare, all-powerful folks, and you'll reach everyone else through them, basically for free. Loosely, this is referred to as the Influentials theory, and while it has been a marketing touchstone for 50 years, it has recently reentered the mainstream imagination via thousands of marketing studies and a host of best-selling books. (...) PR firms such as Burson-Marsteller, which claims "E-Fluentials" can "make or break a brand." (...) more than $1 billion is spent a year on word-of-mouth campaigns targeting Influentials, an amount growing at 36% a year, faster than any other part of marketing and advertising. That's on top of billions more in PR and ads leveled at the cognoscenti.
Yet, if you believe Watts, all that money and effort is being wasted. Because according to him, Influentials have no such effect. Indeed, they have no special role in trends at all.
Since there's not enough marketing money in the world to affect society in such a way, and since Watts agrees that "Influencers" force a trend deeper and wider than the average person even though they don't have any more chance of starting the trend than the average person, it still makes sense to focus marketing resources at such persons.