But it is found that a person’s behavior is unlikely to change by an example set by social influencers and might be detrimental to the cause.
‘Influencing social media and gathering a bunch of followers may not be as viral as we think. A recent study shows that to bring a dynamic shift in thinking, targeting a small network of people in the “outer edge” or fringe of a network helps.’
Reach the Millions
“When social influencers present ideas that are dissonant with their followers’ worldviews — say, for example, that vaccination is safe and effective — they can unintentionally antagonize the people they are seeking to persuade because people typically only follow influencers whose ideas confirm their beliefs about the world,” says Damon Centola, Elihu Katz Professor of Communication, Sociology, and Engineering at Penn, and senior author on the paper.
The influence on millions depends upon the type of information being shared. So what is the jackpot to be hit that would help foster the growth of online or real-world neighborhood networks for ‘planting’ a new idea?
To find out, the team studied over 400 public health networks to discover which people could spread new ideas and behaviors most effectively. Every possible person in every network was tested to determine the most efficient one for spreading almost everything from celebrity gossip to vaccine acceptance.
The Right Target
It was found that the answer lies among the people you’d least expect to have any pull. Yes, a dynamic shift in thinking can be stimulated when one targets a small group of people in the “outer edge” or fringe of a network.
Hence to transmit new ways of thinking that would challenge an existing set of beliefs, it is best to seek out hidden locations in the periphery and plant the seed there. That’s how the transformation may occur.
“Our big discovery is that every network has a hidden social cluster in the outer edges that is perfectly poised to increase the spread of a new idea by several hundred percent. These social clusters are ground zero for triggering tipping points in society,” Centola. He is the author of the new book, Change: How to Make Big Things Happen (Little Brown, 2021).
The study thereby brings a modification in conventional thinking about social influence for marketing, sales, and social movements upside down. This may further help in discovering our targeted network strategies for effecting positive social change.