by: Marcia Yudkin
listening to a set of audiotapes on the history of philosophy, I
was struck by how well networked scholars and thinkers were in the
seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. When airplanes and computers, much
less FedEx and the Internet, were still science fiction, philosophers
like Rene Descartes, Thomas Reid and Immanuel Kant kept up very well with
who was who in metaphysics and epistemology, and carried on correspondences
across national borders and language barriers.
In the Information
Age, communication can occur instantly and it's
easier than ever to make personal contact with people whose opinions count.
With a judicious use of e-mail, you don't have to be a somebody yourself
to win the ear of someone with influence. Strangely, however, I don't
see very many people talking about this as a method of publicity or word-of-mouth
Not long ago the communications
consulting firm Burson-Marsteller
released a fascinating study that bears on marketing by making
one-to-one connections. The study identified "e-fluentials,"
percent, or 9 million, of today's 109 million U.S. Internet users. When
one of these e-fluentials gets impressed by a Web site or a new product,
he or she tells an average of eight others, quickly producing an avalanche
of interest through an exponential multiplier effect.
Let's look at some
of the characteristics Burson-Marsteller discovered in the e-fluential
* They're three times
as likely as the typical online user to be asked
for advice online.
* They convey their
opinions to four times as many people as the typical online user.
* They e-mail twice
as many people as others online and more often
participate in online discussion groups.
* They are more than
three times as likely to visit Web sites that do
not have an offline sponsor.
* They are almost
twice as likely as the typical online user to be
politically active, make speeches, write a letter to the editor or an
op-ed piece, or serve on a community committee.
* They frequently
make business contacts online.
We've heard a lot
about "viral marketing," but almost always with the
assumption that any Internet user has a viral effect equal to any other
Internet user. This study clearly demonstrates that that's not true.
And while a few of the e-fluentials have traditional credentials or a
recognized position, such as editor, executive or forum sysop, that's
far from universally so.
To get an idea of
the self-selected character of many e-fluentials,
browse the reader reviews at amazon.com. Occasionally you'll encounter
reader comments submitted by someone labelled a "top reviewer."
In contrast to formally appointed book critics in the newspaper or on
radio, this is someone who provides well-informed, in-depth reviews of
books just because he or she likes to do so and whose reviews are highly
rated by amazon.com shoppers. If you were publishing a book, it might
be worth your time to figure out which top reviewers gravitated to your
topic and to make sure they knew of the existence of your book.
Similarly, in your
niche a top e-fluential might not be a popular
keynote speaker, CEO or trade association official but someone who
simply knows everyone else who's active online in that niche and
communicates like crazy with them. Specialized discussion lists and Web
forums provide a convenient window on who those e-fluentials might be.
Look for frequent posters who appear to have the respect of other list
or forum members. Often they spread their enthusiasm promiscuously, so
to speak, from one venue to another.
Almost always you'll
find e-fluentials responsive to e-mail contacts, so long as you approach
them personally in a spirit of colleagueship.
Agree or disagree with something they said. Flatter them mildly and
sincerely. Ask questions about what they do. In short, schmooze them up
the way you might at a networking event. After expressing interest in
them, you'll often find them receptive to what you do. Remember, how much
does this cost? Only your time.
As for those e-fluentials
who do hold traditional offline positions of
one sort or another, many are much more approachable by e-mail than by
letter or phone. When you spot them quoted in Fast Company or some other
business magazine that provides e-mail addresses for those profiled in
articles, that's a perfect opening. You just might get the response speaker/consultant
Nikki Sweet got when she e-mailed one CEO she'd read about but couldn't
get through to by phone: "Wow, isn't this e-mail a great invention?
The answer to your question is, please feel free to call me any time,
here's my private telephone number."
Copyright 2002 Marcia
Yudkin. All rights reserved.
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