Are you “we” or are you “me” – social networking influencers, P.S. the “we” crowd is more fun

Part of what I enjoy about working on green data centers is meeting interesting people and figuring out how they fit in my social network.  There are people who are definitely and there are many who I don’t bother with.  The mistake you can make in social networking is sign up for too many networks and try to be friends with everyone.  This is not a race for quantity.

Wharton Knowledge has an article that touches on this topic.  The specific area they discuss is word-of-mouth marketing in the pharmaceutical industry, and many of the ideas apply to data center innovation and marketing.

The Buzz Starts Here: Finding the First Mouth for Word-of-Mouth Marketing

Published: March 04, 2009 in Knowledge@Wharton
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Call it viral, buzz or word-of-mouth advertising: Getting customers to spread the word about a new product through their social or professional networks is a hot strategy in the marketing world. Its proponents insist that the technique -- whether online or face-to-face -- is sure to boost a company's return on investment (ROI).

But how can companies find the right individuals to deliver the message? Marketers may wonder if they are finding the best "seeding points" -- that is, well-connected people at the hub of social networks who will latch on to a product and promote it widely among the people they know.

The traditional approach is to find the leader. The person that says look at “me.”

Who's the Leader?

The study indicates that the spread of a product by word-of-mouth -- what the authors call "contagion" -- can and does happen over social networks. The study also indicates that marketers may need to re-think whom they identify as the best seeding points in their word-of-mouth campaigns.

Traditionally, drug companies have focused their efforts on reaching notable community leaders, believing well-known experts to be the most effective emissaries of a new product. In other industries, said Iyengar, marketers and their market research companies have tried to find opinion leaders through direct surveys, asking people, in essence, "Are you an opinion leader?" and then linking those answers to observable characteristics such as age, income, education level, media habits and so on. That, however, has proved rather ineffective, leading some companies to give up on finding seeding points and go for flashy "buzz" campaigns everyone talks about, such as when British fashion retailer French Connection UK put its four-letter acronym in large letters on its bags and shopping windows.

There is another group they categorized and this is the “we.”

The researchers also asked all physicians to name up to eight other doctors with whom they felt comfortable discussing the clinical management and treatment of the disease, and up to eight doctors to whom they typically referred patients. These nominations from fellow physicians produced a second group, whom researchers called "sociometric leaders" -- the most influential and well-respected physicians in the community based on how often they were mentioned by their peers.

What did the study find as the aha moment?

"That was the biggest 'a-ha!' for the company," said Van den Bulte. Physician 184 "was not the most important in the number of connections he was getting, but he was vitally important in linking the networks."

More about Physician 184 characteristics as a “we” person.

Physician 184, for example, didn't fit the description of an individual who marketers thought would be the most effective promoter of their product -- an outgoing, high-profile doctor whose name often pops up on research papers or on conference speaker lists. "Physician 184 was self-effacing. He did not want to stand on a soap box," said Van den Bulte. "He was respected, but not in a flashy fashion. He was the opposite of a rock star."

And, they actually found that the “we” people were actually earlier adopters than the “me.”

Matching the network data with prescription records, the study showed that sociometric leaders like Physician 184 were quicker than the self-reported opinion leaders to use the new drug, and were also more likely to influence other physicians to try it. The study also found that sociometric leaders did take into account what their colleagues were doing. For marketers, this implies that word-of-mouth can affect opinion leaders as well as followers, in contrast to what is often believed and taught -- that only followers are affected by social influence.

Whenever I go to data center events I watch for the “we” vs. “me.”  I filter the me people and don’t spend that much time with them.  What I want to do is build the better connections to the “we” people as they are social network influencers.

I’ve used this method so long it feels obvious and natural, and thanks to a “we” friend I was having an IM conversation with regarding another “we” person’s behavior, the “we” vs. “me” became clear.

Are you a “we” or are you a “me”?