With brands leveraging social media more than ever to reach consumers and advertise their products, there is immense value in figuring out a way to communicate a company’s offerings widely to its target market. While it may seem that a company would need lots of well-connected individuals talking about their products in order to spread their message, but new research suggests that it only takes a few influencers (very well-connected people in a social network) to give the appearance that everyone is posting about a particular brand or product.
In the article, Your Network’s Structure Matters More than Its Size, the author introduces the concept of the majority illusion, “a paradox within social networks that makes some ideas, behaviors, or attributes appear widespread even when they are not.” Because we are largely limited to the information shared in our social network, well-connected people in a social network can bias our perception of how popular a product is. The interesting thing about the majority illusion is that it can be a self-fulfilling prophecy, since ideas that seem popular are more likely to be adopted by others, and thus become popular. The image below, from the article, provides a clear visual representation of this phenomena.
In the graph on the left, the active nodes are influencers, so their message will reach nearly every individual in the social network. Conversely, had the message been spread by the active nodes in the graph on the right, fewer individuals would have been exposed to the message. From this image, we can conclude that a being well-connected is a key characteristic of an influencer. However, the article later states that the best influencers are not necessarily the ones that are connected to the most people, but the ones who are connected to the most groups of people. This idea ties into the strength of weak ties that we discussed in lecture. Since most new information reaches us through weak ties, those who have weak ties to many groups of people have a disproportionate power to spread a message, be it an opinion about a product or a political ideology.
The majority illusion has the power to cause significant changes in people’s behavior. This new insight – that it only takes a few influencers sharing the same message for the majority illusion to apply – could help researchers better understand how trends develop in the age of social media. If organizations are able to develop a social media marketing strategy that facilitates the majority illusion, they will be able to communicate their messages more widely and effectively than ever before.