Businesses looking to generate value from social networks need to identify which types of users have the most influence, says Gartner.
The analyst firm identified three main groups of social network users - "connectors", "maven" and "salesmen" - who influence 74% of the population's purchasing activities.
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Gartner's findings are based on a study of 3,969 consumers across 10 markets, including the US, UK, France, Germany and China
Connectors "perform a bridging function between disparate groups of people", mavens are "knowledge exchangers or information brokers", and salesmen have "propensity to persuade people to do things, buy certain products and act in certain ways", according to Gartner.
Gartner research director Nick Ingelbrecht, said, "Our survey results showed that one-fifth of the consumer population is composed of salesmen, connectors and mavens. These are three roles that are key influencers in the purchasing activities of 74% of the population.
"Salesmen and connectors are the most effective social network influencers and the most important groups for targeted marketing based on social network analysis."
Gartner believes these groups can play a vital role for technology and service providers in influencing brand awareness, market research and viral marketing campaigns.
"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. In this way, the most suitable individuals can be targeted with the right information, products and promotions in the most cost-effective way," Ingelbrecht said.
Gartner is now developing a methodology to enable technology and service providers to classify key social network roles in their own survey research.