As social media matures, we find not only mom bloggers, but also moms who are heavy hitters on micro blogging sites, have lots of Facebook fans or play a prominent role on Flickr, YouTube, Foursquare or other social media sites and can wield a lot of influence. These content creators, as opposed to the vast majority of social media participants who lurk, are what I've termed "alpha consumers." Alpha consumers have vast reach -- much greater than their blog uniques or Twitter follow numbers might indicate.
To understand their true reach, it helps to think about the small world experiment popularized by the game "Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon." (A fun party game but, more importantly, a truly important concept for marketers.) In his book The Tipping Point, Malcolm Gladwell describes this phenomenon, that any two people in the world can be connected by fewer than six people.
The small world experiment was originally conducted more than 40 years ago by giving a letter to random people in the Midwest and asking them to get it to someone in Boston by passing it onto a personal acquaintance, who would then pass it on to a personal acquaintance and so on until it reached the target. What was most striking about the results was not that it took, on average, only six steps to reach the target, but that over 60% of the letters delivered were given to the target by just one person. Gladwell calls these people, with a vast web of social connections, "connectors."
In many ways, moms on social media exemplify these connectors. They are less journalists (though many write extremely well and provide both information and support) than they are highly influential consumers. But, it's that journalistic component that often trips us up. Marketers are used to reaching out to consumers with samples, coupons and offers in a highly targeted demographic/psychographic but, really -- in terms of reaching the most influential consumers -- willy-nilly way. Social media changes that.
For the first time, marketers can accurately gauge the influence of consumers to whom they direct offers by targeting these "connectors" who are suddenly easy to find using social media. Direct marketing sample sizes can shrink to include those consumers that are most likely to pass the word along. Response rates and, more importantly, buzz generated can vault to heights not seen before. Budgets can shrink ... or can they?
If only these highly influential consumers, were just that -- consumers. But they are not. These alpha consumers know their worth (or are starting to) and are building businesses, small and large, of their own. So, marketers who are well aware that nothing is really free will start to respond and treat these alpha consumers as a whole new category. It's already happening.