How to achieve influence: From hype to hope through science

Sinan Aral
NYU Stern School of Business

Social influence marketing needs to adopt a more rigorous approach to strategy and execution if it is to deliver a measurable return on investment.

There's a lot of hype around social influence marketing today. The pitch is typically wrapped in the sweetest jargon: 'earned media', 'bottom-up branding', 'inbound marketing', and 'organic referrals', that are provided by enthusiastic 'influencers', who already love your brand. All we need to do is find them, target them and motivate them to spread the gospel.

It sounds great. We want to believe it because if it is true, it promises to usher in a new era of marketing strategy in which messages are delivered by authentic users to new customers who hear about products and services from peers whose opinions they respect and trust. But, the sceptic in us wonders whether it is too good to be true. It seems plausible, but there must be challenges. What will this new industry need to do to produce a viable product that creates measurable return? At least five major challenges must be overcome before social influence marketing can solve real problems reliably for brands.

1 Understanding 'viral'