June 22, 2012, 3:27 PM — Some time in the Mad Men era of corporate communications marketers in the U.S. realized the strong, independent-minded individualistic Americans they were trying to reach mostly didn't exist.
Instead most people tended to decide the right thing for them to do was exactly what others in their peer groups were already doing.
Psychological researchers found peer groups didn't make their own decisions, either.
Even fairly large groups tend to favor one set of products or opinions because the decision of each member of the group was influenced heavily by earlier decisions someone they respect or would like to emulate.
The problem is that it's very difficult to identify which "influencers" are really making decisions for large groups of others and which aren't. (That's the problem for marketers. Existentialists and metaphysicians usually describe the problem they have with influence marketing as a horrified "GAAAaaaahhhh" at the ovinity of it all.)
Marketers and advertisers have spent millions trying to identify the influencers in their particular market segments, often simply by looking at how big someone's list of Followers is on Twitter or the readership of a magazine.
That's a rudimentary approach likely to misidentify a lot of independent decisions as the influence of people who are completely uninvolved, according to according to Sinan Aral and Dylan Walker of NYU's Stern School of Business.
The two studied the spread of a commercial movie application through 1.3 million users of Facebook in an effort to map the influence of influencers and identify characteristics of non-influencer-influenced decisions as well.
Some influencers are not only genuine, they influence other influencers, giving them the potential to become "super-spreaders" whose opinions ripple out much farther than they could reach on their own, the two wrote in the paper they published in Science magazine this week.