This is one of my favorite topics. I recently read The Influentials: One American in Ten Tells the Other Nine How to Vote, Where to Eat, and What to Buy by Jon Berry and Ed Keller -- a book I highly recommend to everyone in marketing. The main reason I started this blog was to be able to pass along ideas like those in this book to friends and colleagues working in the field.
We always talk about getting people in seats to get the word-of-mouth started. But what we don't do is think enough about identifying the right kind of people to get the word-of-mouth started. We used to think it was hairdressers, since they talk to people all day. But the missing element there is credibility...do you really care what shows or movies your hairdresser likes? Do you think your tastes and likes/dislikes are really the same as your hairdresser?
Here is an excerpt of the review/synopsis of the book from the Journal of Consumer Marketing (click here for 3 free issues):
Influentials are the catalyst for adoption and diffusion among the early majority. This book takes a concrete look at who the Influentials are and their mindset (chapters 1 and 2), how they select and spread their ideas (chapter 3), their leadership role (chapter 4), their vision of the future (chapter 5), and finally, how to develop an influential strategy, whether you work for a private business, government or a non-profit organization (chapter 6).
The influentials, that comprise about one-tenth of the American adult population (or 20 million), are the most socially and politically active members of their communities. They are thought leaders, trendsetters, and bellwethers at the leading edge of what Americans are thinking, doing, and buying. This group exercises influence across the board. RoperASW, which has been tracking them for three decades, describes them as "better connected, better read, and better informed" (p. 15); if they do not know something, they know someone who does.
The typical influential is a middle-aged, middle American, who has had the most life experiences, and is ahead of the pack politically, in the adoption of computer technology, and in financial savings. They have an activist orientation to life; they are active in their communities and active in their leisure, which spans a wide variety of interests and hobbies. But beware of creating a stereotype because they occupy a broad range of ages, income levels, and occupations. And they are everywhere: in your neighbourhood, at your PTA meeting, church, workplace, and political meetings. In fact, "[t]hey are connected to nearly twice as many groups as the average American" (p. 280). Influentials are the ones who can sift through issues, who believe in growth and change, who balance community and individual interests, and who value family and community. In essence, their orientation creates a natural "spiral of influence" (p. 125).