I remember when David Armano first started talking about the circles of influence and how that spread and developed quickly into follow-on posts, presentations and so on. It was a fascinating demonstration of HOW influence actually does work. But equally interesting was the manner in which the comments came back from David's original post and how those, in turn, influenced the evolution of his thinking.
Karl Long had left a comment explaining that the problem he had with ripples was that they disappeared. The fact that I am writing this now shows that blog ripples can last quite some time. I remember thinking at the time that there must be a more chaotic element at work and that the best of plans could easily be disrupted.
Enter Scott Monty. He has a great post on "accidental influentials" where he discusses new research by Duncan Watkins at Columbia University (check out the links to the audio -- episode 29). This research is interesting because it does, in part, challenge the way that Malcolm Gladwell's Tipping Points occur. Rather than social networks being activated by influential individuals, the research suggests that the activation can start anywhere and with anyone. Such a random/chaotic potential certainly appeals to me.
For brands and marketers working in social media, this has interesting implications. While the influencers will have an impact on the VELOCITY with which an idea/communication will spread, the idea does not have to be seeded or start with a particular person. So rather than seeking out the influencers, we should focus our times on ENABLING execution -- providing the tools and content in an easy-to-use format that puts the brand back in the hands of consumers. In this instance, I would go so far as to suggest that Digg and its ilk are also influencers.
So then, coming back to David's ripple diagram ... influencers become more like acceleration touch points. If the message/idea is a stone skimming across the surface of the blogosphere, then it doesn't matter where the stone comes from ... but how fast it moves across the network depends on the influencers.