STAMFORD: A fifth of social network users can be described as influencers, with the ability to shape the preferences and behaviour of others, a report covering ten major markets has argued.

A report from Gartner, utilising data from 4,000 netizens around the world, revealed that approximately 20% of this panel could be defined as “salesmen”, “connectors” and “mavens”.

“These are three roles that are key influencers in the purchasing activities of 74% of the population,” said Nick Ingelbrecht, research director at Gartner.

“Salesmen and connectors are the most effective social network influencers and the most important groups for targeted marketing based on social network analysis.”

Connectors generally draw together a diverse range of contacts which they enjoy introducing to one another, and are perceived to be authoritative source of guidance on a variety of subjects.

Salesmen have a huge number of followers and fans, and possess the capacity to “persuade people to do things, buy certain products and act in certain ways.”

This does not apply solely to commercial activity, but is a feature of their interactions more broadly, making them a highly appealing demographic.

In contrast, mavens were depicted as “knowledge exchangers or opinion brokers” boasting a considerable cachet in particular areas, and are regularly asked for advice by those with less expertise.

Among the further traits discernable among this cohort is a desire to gain an insight into the latest trends primarily for their personal benefit.

“Organisations that reach out to mavens could come unstuck, because mavens are just as happy spreading negative commentary about a product or company as a positive message,” Gartner warned.

Elsewhere, the “self-sufficients” ignore the recommendations of their peers and conduct research in their own time before coming to a decision.

“This group of people can be a tough market to target because they are relatively impermeable to viral influences and bandwagon effects,” the study said.

Overall, two-thirds of shoppers were seen as falling outside any of these typologies, typically as habits tended to cut across various segments.

“Companies attempting to use social networks should develop relationships with key customers over a period of time and progressively refine the social network profiles of those individuals,” said Ingelbrecht.

“In this way, the most suitable individuals can be targeted with the right information, products and promotions in the most cost-effective way.”

More specifically, it was suggested that awarding an audience of advocates and enthusiasts an elevated position, such as “insider” status, could deliver meaningful results.

“Retailers who run small shops have instinctively done this with their best customers for years, with the intention that these ‘VIP' customers will not only buy the new products but recommend them to their friends,” Ingelbrecht argued.

Data sourced from Gartner; additional content by Warc staff