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Identifying “Poli-fluentials”: A Digital Tool Marketing Strategy

Equally important to the creation of a new digital tool is its effective distribution. The efficacy of a distribution method largely depends on the accuracy of picking the right point-persons in the community who will facilitate and secure widespread use. A recent line of political research by Carol Darr and others at the Institute for Politics, Democracy and the Internet identifies these people as “poli-fluentials” and sets forth a strategic survey method that can identify them.

Darr’s work is based on what started as marketing research by Ed Keller and Jon Berry, veterans of RoperASW. In their search for the trend-setters that influence the success or failure of new products, Keller and Berry developed a set of survey questions that asked consumers about seemingly mundane actions such as how often they contact their friends, if they participate in any community activities, and if they read daily papers. What they found, as the subtitle of their book “The Influentials” says, is that “one American in ten tells the other nine how to vote, where to eat, what to buy.” These handful of point-persons, aptly called “influentials,” basically dictate the actions of the majority through spreading their opinions and knowledge via word of mouth.

“Influentials” are identifiable by some unique characteristics. Compared to “non-influentials,” these people are the most active members in their communities, the most communicative with their family and friends, and most knowledgeable about current affairs via avid consumption of daily news – be it of politics, the new Apple product on the shelf, or the next door neighbor.

In the context of Internet and democracy, however, we want to narrow down one more step from “influentials” – we want to find the “influentials” within the political context. Darr’s recent work, “Poli-fluentials: The New Political Kingmakers,” hits exactly that point.

By taking Keller and Berry’s original survey and tweaking the questions to pertain to political activity and knowledge, Darr is able to identify a niche group of people that she terms “poli-fluentials.” For instance, instead of questions on participation in community activities, Darr’s survey asks questions on participation in political activities. Instead of asking about communication with friends in general, Darr’s survey asks about communication with friends about political news.

Her research and survey methodology are critically relevant to Internet and democracy since, like any new product must be marketed to consumers, new digital tools must also be effectively marketed to political activists.

Once identified, “poli-fluentials” will be the best point-persons to 1) let you know if that tool is an effective match for the community or not, and 2) if it is, most effectively spread the tool throughout the community through word-of-mouth viral marketing. Micro-targeting these people not only minimizes the cost of marketing a new digital tool, but more importantly, assures its smooth reception into a community.

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