What Content Marketers Can Learn From 'Typhoid Mary'

How to Find and Make the Most of Key Influencers

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Just in time for the cold and flu season, scientists are working to understand the role of "superspreaders" in the transmission of infectious diseases. "Superspreaders," who represent about 20% of the population, are responsible for transmitting 80% of all infectious diseases, researchers have found.

"Superspreaders" like "Typhoid Mary" have the ability (although not fully understood) to infect others without falling ill themselves. Come in contact with one of them or live in a densely populated area, and you've got the recipe for a massive outbreak.

Information can be spread in similar ways. The importance of "links per node" in social network influence has been studied for years. Research has shown that it's not the number of links, but rather how "strategically placed" people are in the core of the network that leads to dissemination, whether of information or disease, through a large fraction of the population.

"Typhoid Mary," for example, was a cook in New York City and had an opportunity to infect large groups of patrons with typhoid fever during breakfast, lunch and dinner. Readers of Dan Brown's "Inferno" and other books will also be familiar with the concept of geometric progression's role in the spreading of disease.

In a less life-or-death context, applying these same principals to the distribution of information yields some important insights for content marketers. Given the nuclear arms race going on in content creation and distribution, finding a way to get your message to (and consumed by) targeted audiences is becoming mission critical.

Superspreaders of information are a perfect route, and represent an opportunity to narrow down your message. Think about it this way instead of trying to engage 80% to 100% of your target audience by being everything to everyone. That is a sure-fire way to get lost in the noise. You really need only appeal to the right 20%.

How do you find them? It begins with the mindshift of moving from the quantity of contacts to the quality of those contacts -- including their place in the network. If your organization is set on measuring social media by the number of fans, followers, etc., you've got your work cut out for you.

First, find and profile the key influencers in your industry and/or on a particular subject matter. Don't rely solely on social media because you'll end up with "false gods." Ask the sales force, monitor speakers at industry events, search for authors on the topic and scan the academic horizon. Once you've created your list of influencers, study their language.

Now, use your P.R. and social monitoring tools (as well as other sources) to understand how and what they communicate. Narrow in on those influencers who are in the right position to distribute your content to the right audience, and not those who may have the most followers or may be the most active. "Right position" may be related to your position to the audience, but it may also include adding validity to your information.

In the digital world, the credibility of the content source is as important -- if not more important -- as the actual author or content producer. In the past, companies aimed thought leadership campaigns directly at their audience on topics they wanted to communicate. Success with content marketing depends on targeting key influencers with topics that resonate with them in their language so they will pass the information on to their followers.

As a result, you may want to score superspreaders based on their influence (position and credibility). Set a goal for the year to get their attention through a mention or a share, just as you might do with targeted media. Tell your story by designing a content strategy based on the topic areas, language, and the interests of your super-spreaders. Then let your "Typhoid Mary or Larry" spread your information. It's called viral marketing for a reason.