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Math Trek

The Power of Being Influenced

Network theory reveals the best way to spread ideas

By
4:59pm, December 30, 2007

Sometimes an idea spreads through society like a newly-mutated cold virus zooming through a class of first-graders. Other times, a good idea never seems to take hold. What makes the difference? Scientists want to know, and marketers want to know even more, since they make their living spreading ideas about their products.

A key reason some ideas are so successful, conventional wisdom has held, is that a few highly influential people espouse them. In his book The Tipping Point, Malcolm Gladwell wrote that what he calls "social epidemics" are "driven by the efforts of a handful of exceptional people." Those exceptional people tend to be experts on a subject who love to talk. Such people can convince dozens of others of their opinions. An excellent sales strategy, then, would be to find those few critical people, persuade them of the value of your product, and leave it to them to convince others.

It's a compelling idea, but does it really work? Social network theo

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