I’m halfway through this excellent article. I highly recommend you to read if you’re even remotely interested in social networks. Duncan Watts (prof of sociology at Columbia; now on sabbatical at Yahoo!),? whose book six degrees was instrumental in introducing me to the concept of social networks, tries to refute some of the ideas talked about by Malcolm Gladwell in his book The Tipping Point. Watts, studying email networks, seems to have concluded that there is no such thing as “influential people”. That everyone else is as influential as everyone else when it comes to propagating stuff.
The point of that verbose first paragraph was that this particular article has reminded me of the word “are”. Not “are” as in plural of “is”, but more in the IIMB context, where it refers to something really good. For example, “livejournal are” translates to “livejournal is really good” in normal english. Or sometime, when someone tells you something which you find to be really great, you can just reply saying “are”. An extremely simple but extremely powerful usage of an extremely simple and common word.
It all started on the first day of Saarang 2006. I don’t remember too well but at least all of the following people were present at the dinner at Eden (at besantnagar) that evening – samanth, vinod, tchami, kodhi, woreshtmax visnu and i. The key characters were samanth and vinod. Theyy had got pained by the IITian usage of “are there” for “is there” and were responding to every sentence with “are” (they were too lazy to say “are there” i guess), and occasionally with “are not”.? Five days later, as we were on the bus to Bangalore, “are” had come to mean what it does now. It’s antonym was “are not”.
Now, Kodhi and I, who claim credit for this particular usage of this word, were extremely active on BRacket, the IIMB internal message board. So what happened was that the probability that someone read a word written by us was much higher than someone reading a word written by the average IIMB bloke. In that sense, yes, we were influential. The next “convert”, I think was
, who is always on the lookout for new lingo, so much so that he uses more IITM lingo than the average guy from IITM.
I don’t recall it being a very conscious attempt. However, we were unwittingly using the word more often in our conversation. We used to respond to posts on BRacket with a simple “are”, indicating our appreciation to the preceding argument. Consequently, we received queries to explain our wonderful responses, and this gave the word fresh footage. Some of the people who thus asked us immediately liked the word and coopted that into their language. I remember
?being especially early adopters.
It was a matter of time before it had unofficially entered the official dictionary.
So coming back to the whole process – it was originated and propagated by a bunch of people who were more active in the community than others. However, most of us wouldn’t by any standards qualify as any kind of thought or opinion leaders. For all you care, we were just a bunch of random guys, only slightly more visible than the rest. One thing is there – all of us were much more receptive to fresh ideas (and fresh words) than the average populace. And our assimilation was quick – the word didn’t take much time in entering our normal conversations.
Now what does this mean in terms of Gladwell’s and Watts’s frameworks? On one hand, yes, we were a set of “influentials”. However, that we were influential in this matter (creating a new word) had nothing to do with us being influential in any other sense. My take on the subject based on only this particular case study – yes, influentials matter. You do need people with a higher-than-average visibility in order to propagate the concept. On the other hand, targeting influentials is harder than most people (admen, etc.) think. The same people who were influential with hush puppies shoes weren’t influential with say popularizing *insert random music genre here*. It is important for marketers to somehow identify who are the kind of people who will be more influential in the current context, and target them.