I’ve been watching with interest the growing debate about whether the theories behind Malcolm Gladwell’s Tipping Point hold water. Check out this post about the polemic. I’m not sure at this point whether these new questions about the clout of so-called influentials hold water (Gladwell’s premise is that a small but highly influential group of people can spark a marketing trend more quickly and effectively than traditional mass advertising techniques) but it raises some interesting questions. For one thing, what are those of us working in employee communications to do? There’s long been an attempt to identify and harness those employees who may be highly influential in driving messages or themes across the organization, but I’ve never seen a clear cut case of how we’re supposed to identify them in the first place – let alone get them on board. This latest controversy suggests our efforts may have been misplaced, since those few movers and shakers (however we define them) may not have as much pull as we thought. Furthermore, they may change depending on the issue or campaign…making idenfication and mobilizing even more challenging. One lesson I think still holds water is that influence has little to do with formal roles or seniority. Like in the online world, credibility and influence is a nebulous and fragile thing that must be earned.

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