I just receieved some spam an email from the folks in the Guardian’s ads department about their research project Word of Mouth (not to be confused with the Guardian’s excellent food blog, also called Word of Mouth).
This looks at the power of what we in government comms call advocacy.
“We have been researching influence, idea propagation and word of mouth. Through an extensive, multi-discipline programme of methodologies we have established what traits and abilities make one person more influential than another and have created a framework through which to identify them.”
Well, the research isn’t exactly rock solid, comprising a few interviews and a reading list which wouldn’t pass in an undergrad dissertation.
“Weak Ties, Bridging Capital and the Status Bargain are the core of what makes a person influential. When combined these factors allow people to access and spread ideas and opinions faster and more persuasively than others…”
(Those of us with academic backgrounds in social sciences will vaguely remember this from half-forgotten lectures on Bourdieu and the like).
“Having an abundance of Weak Ties gives an individual access to new sources of information and the ability to spread that information. Bridging Capital enables them to package this information up in a way that makes it easier for other people to take it on board. And the Status Bargain helps them to make more informed and influential recommendations based on a range of opinions.
“Underpinning these three concepts is a set of measurable characteristics (known by the acronym ACTIVE) which are evident in higher incidence among influential people. They are: Ahead in Adoption, Connected, Traveller, Information Hungry, Vocal and Exposed to Media.
“Our research has proven that these qualities are prominent in individuals that others would characterise as ‘influential’ and that readers of the Guardian and Observer (both online and offline) score more highly against these characteristics than consumers of other media. They demonstrate a greater propensity to both generate and spread word of mouth.”
So what they’re saying is that Guardian readers are more influential than those of other quality dailies. They consume more media, but they also produce more, and have more conversations with more people than your Average Joe. Persuade a Guardian reader, and they’ll persuade others for you. Bingo.
The research might be a little lightweight, but on the other hand I find the conclusion absolutely believable. The Guardian is read by almost everyone at management level in the public sector and in the media. It’s the paper of choice for captains of the cultural industries, for instance, individuals who by definition are highly connected. Do a straw poll on Twitter, and I strongly suspect you’ll find the Guardian or its site are read by more than any other paper.
Advocacy is an enormously powerful communication medium, but one that communicators are struggling get to grips with (in part because, by definition, it can work against you as well as for you).
At the same time, internet advertising is fast moving away from the old sheepdipping approach to a more mature, targeted and focussed model based on customer insight. The idea of targeting your adverts with the express purpose of persuading others to advocate for you is an interesting one, but one that needs further and more robust research than what’s presented here.
Interesting start, though. What do you think?