The influence of influencers is overhyped. We all want to believe that there are these super-hero influencers that can make dramatic changes to organizations, countries, and societies. The idea has...
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The idea has been spread in pop-culture in books like Malcolm Gladwell’s the Tipping Point. Recent developments in Network Sciencehave shown that our understanding of influencers – the super-connected individuals in our organizations and society – is more or less wrong.
So what is the truth behind influencers? The science is still figuring it out, but here is what we have learned so far.
It’s all about Micro-Influencers
The super-connected influencer do not exist, instead there are micro-influencers – those that have slightly more influence than the rest of the population influencing those around them to spread their ideas and messages about certain topics. (I would consider my friend Andrew a micro-influencer, he got our whole group of friends drinking high-quality craft beer after he himself jumped into the cult of American craft beer drinking).
We use to think that the human social network was constructed like our airport network (also called scale-free networks), there are hubs in which most traffic can get to most places, thus have huge influence on the flow of information.
The truth is that there are no Chicago O’Hare, or London Heathrow individuals. Why? Because the human network does not work like the airport transportation network. The human capacity to manage relationships is finite. Unlike our major airports, we cannot just construct another terminal in ourselves to deal with more traffic. We have a limited number of relationships we can actively manage and the reach of our direct influence is limited by the relationships we manage.
The average number of friends people have on Facebook is around 200 – but there are some Facebook users who have 2000 friends (the max for an individual account), which is only 1 magnitude greater, not 10 or 20 times greater like we would expect if our human networks were more like airports: like the difference between Colorado Springs Airport traffic and Chicago O’Hare.