Will swap ten online marketers for one Duncan Watts

An article in Fast Company, “Is the Tipping Point Toast?”, looks at the work of Duncan Watts, author of Six Degrees and without a doubt one of the top experts on the matters of web networks and influence.

Aside from presenting and discussing his university research and his work at Yahoo!, Duncan Watts has a go at online marketers, the preachers who chant the gospel of the new prophets, the “e-fluentials”.

Investing in viral communication and making it a priority is a big mistake, Watts insists throughout his article. For two key reasons:

1.    “e-fluentials” do not always influence. Undoubtedly some are opinion leaders, it would be foolish to deny it. But it would be even more foolish to believe they influence everything and everywhere. Opinion leadership does not necessarily imply influence. Moreover, solutions such as panels of influentials have been proven ineffective by 50 years of marketing studies: not easy to be a leader in more than five types of products or lines of business. So is it reasonable to invest in a viral campaign that one does not fully control?

2.    the world is too complex. Duncan Watts points to the anarchy of social networks. There can be no model for viral communication and information dissemination. So is it reasonable to invest in a campaign that one is sure one cannot control at all?

So goes my poor summary of his views. I recommend taking a look at the original article and the – quite conventional – marketing mix recommended by Duncan Watts. And here are a few extra thoughts from yours truly.

•    even when one influences online, the influence does not necessarily spread offline. The on/offline articulation has not been explored by research on the issue.
•    France’s marketing professionals seem to have their eyes glued on the US. The examples I hear and read about are all American. And yet there are great cultural subtleties in these kinds of matters – take a look at food as a vehicle for socialisation, for instance. The results of transpositions from the US should be taken with a pinch of salt. French marketeers and strategists are rather short-sighted about the characteristics of their own audience: the French.

Finally, I recommend reading Fred Cavazza’s post and comments, which are very insightful. Readers might hear echoes of a tune hummed regularly in these pages by our own soloist, François Guillot.

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