Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Influentials--or lots of bloggers--affect music sales

This week's release of a study concluding that more blog mentions increase music sales has caused me to think about the work of Duncan Watts, which has garnered a lot of notice based on this Fast Company article. (Shop Talk readers were alerted to Watts' work in February and May of 2007.)

The study mentioned above, by Vasant Dhar and Elaine Chang of NYU's Stern School of Business, found that the volume of blog posts was correlated with increased sales. In other words, controlling for other factors, a record mentioned in 250 blog posts would sell more than one mentioned in 25.

Which brings me back to Watts' thinking. He taunts Gladwell about the assertion that a small number of influentials can drive product adoption. From the "Fast Company" article:

He has analyzed email patterns and found that highly connected people are not, in fact, crucial social hubs. He has written computer models of rumor spreading and found that your average slob is just as likely as a well-connected person to start a huge new trend. And last year, Watts demonstrated that even the breakout success of a hot new pop band might be nearly random. Any attempt to engineer success through Influentials, he argues, is almost certainly doomed to failure.

Yet as I look at the NYU data, I can interpret it Watts' way or Gladwell's.

Either lots of people found the music and talked about it separately, and through lots of small interactions (what Watts would attribute to marketers' "big-seeding"), people discovered and bought the music.

Or a few Gladwellian "influencers" touted the music, causing other bloggers to discover the music and tout it as well, adding up to a large volume of blog posts, and thus sales.

Who's right?

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