The study of network structures (or topologies) has exploded over the last decade, covering everything from computers to power stations, neurons and genes. However, the scrutiny of human social networks will have the biggest impact on public relations.
Malcolm Gladwell's book The Tipping Point, first published in 2000, was an attempt to understand how (and why) certain messages and behaviours spread successfully through an audience. He introduced notions such as connectors, mavens and salespeople to the lexicon of influence. He also outlined his “Law Of The Few” – the idea that “the success of any kind of social epidemic is heavily dependent on the involvement of people with a particular and rare set of social gifts”.265
In other words, a small number of influential people (relative to the overall size of the audience concerned) were the gatekeepers to the success or failure for a message or product. This view appeared to be supported with the publication in 2003 of Edward Keller and Jonathan Berry's book The Influentials.266
However, the idea of “opinion leaders” who influence a wider audience is hardly new.
The two-step theory of communication popularized by Elihu Katz and Paul Lazarsfeld267 back in the 1940s and 50s posited that mass media information is channelled to the “masses” through opinion leadership. The people with most access to media, and having a more literate understanding of media content, explain and diffuse the ...