Duncan Watts on influence, tipping points and marketing

January 27th, 2008

Fastcompany has a long article, Is the Tipping Point Toast?, on social-network researcher Duncan Watts, who’s on leave from his position as Professor of Sociology at Columbia and working for Yahoo Research. The article focuses on Watt’s challenges to the importance of “influentials” typified by Maclom Gladwell’s popular book, The Tipping Point.

“In the past few years, Watts–a network-theory scientist who recently took a sabbatical from Columbia University and is now working for Yahoo –has performed a series of controversial, barn-burning experiments challenging the whole Influentials thesis. He has analyzed email patterns and found that highly connected people are not, in fact, crucial social hubs. He has written computer models of rumor spreading and found that your average slob is just as likely as a well-connected person to start a huge new trend. And last year, Watts demonstrated that even the breakout success of a hot new pop band might be nearly random. Any attempt to engineer success through Influentials, he argues, is almost certainly doomed to failure.” link

According to the article, Watts work at Yahoo Research is refining the concept of big-seed marketing that he and Jonah Peretti proposed in a note in HBR, Viral Marketing for the Real World. The idea is to marry “viral-marketing tools with old-fashioned mass media in a way that yields far more predictable results than “purely” viral approaches like word-of-mouth marketing”.