Understanding the "Long-Tail" Influencer Curve

To understand the value of long-tail influencers, you first must understand what a “long-tail” is.  On its simplest level, a long-tail refers to a number distribution in which a large number of data points sit far from the most common result.  That common result is usually referred to as the “norm”.  See the graph below.  The thick central stalk represents the norm, and the long tail progressing from it represents the data that differentiates from the norm.

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The term first appeared in Wired Magazine in 2004, in an article by Chris Anderson.  In the article, later expanded into a book, he posited that today’s consumers are shifting away from the norm of mainstream products, markets, and services, and increasingly moving towards “niche” markets -- more specialized products and services exemplified by the data in the tail.

As modern consumers enjoy higher incomes, and as better technology comes to the market, products become compatible with this demand.  Products can be highly individualized and tailored to specific consumers.  While it might seem at first glance that this kind of market would inevitably lead to fewer products, it actually leads to a large variety of products, as manufacturers attempt to meet the specific demands of a vast number of consumers.

One of the industries already applying this principle is the Internet.  In the past Internet users gravitated towards a small number of large website; now, users increasingly rely on spaces and sites catering to more individual tastes and interests.  This has led to the rise of podcasters and bloggers who fill very specific niches and fill the demand for sites catering to very individualized tastes.

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Which leads us to the long-tail influencer.  These are the bloggers and podcasters who have smaller, but very loyal followings.  From veganism to hot yoga to plus-sized fashion to Whole 30 to anime to vintage motorcycles, long-tail influencers have gained followings through passion, perseverance, informed analysis, or knowledge of specific and arcane interests.

These influencers are able to connect with audiences who share their very specific interests or viewpoints.  It is a culture ruled by both knowledge and personality, and loyalties run deep.  Audiences recognize and relate to the influencers passion or expertise in a niche that already interests them.  That leads to trust and increases the influencer’s authority.

Savvy marketers will recognize it, too.