Friday, 22 May 2015

You can now test whether someone is a "Maven"

Malcolm Gladwell’s influential book The Tipping Point popularised the notion that ideas, products and movements owe popular success to opinion leaders: people who are highly connected via weak ties to others, persuasive in character, and an expert or "Maven" in the field in question. The Maven is the friend you go to when you want to buy a new laptop, but don’t know where to start, or consult when you’ve been feeling sluggish and wondering if your diet has something to do with it.

Identifying Mavens is a holy grail for people interested in influence, leading researchers Franklin Boster and Michael Kotowski to develop a "Maven scale". They’ve now published a paper that presents validation studies suggesting people can accurately self-identify as Mavens, and that the scale operates over different fields of expertise.

The first study used a political version of the scale, asking questions such as “When I know something about political issues, I feel it is important to share that information with others” (see footnote* for more examples).

One hundred and thirty-one students completed the scale, together with a measure of their political activities such as voting, volunteering and donating, and a test of political knowledge. High scorers on the Mavens scale were more politically active and more knowledgeable about politics: they walked the walk, as well as talking the talk.

However, another key aspect of mavenhood is that others see them as knowledgeable, and seek their advice. Is this true? A second study using a health expertise version of the scale surveyed the professional staff of a high school. In addition, each participant had to evaluate the other 33 participants on two items: a Yes or No to “this person comes to me for information on health and healthy lifestyle issues” and a rating of the degree to which “This person is a good source of information on health and healthy lifestyle issues.”

If self-identified health Mavens are what they claim, they should have more petitioners and those petitioners should have faith in them. Again, the data confirmed this: health Mavens provide trusted advice to their network.

A well-developed scale of mavenhood will benefit corporations looking to get their new, superior product in front of the right people to create a runaway success. But identifying and targeting Mavens is equally relevant for institutions looking to get bold new political ideas the attention they deserve, or to disseminate new and important health behaviours amongst the population. In their conclusion, the authors say that people “wishing to promote behavior change…may find these scales effective” so if that describes you, get in touch with them.


Boster, F., Carpenter, C., & Kotowksi, M. (2015). Validation studies of the maven scale Social Influence, 10 (2), 85-96 DOI: 10.1080/15534510.2014.939224

*The scale is presented in full – in the political variant – in the Appendix of the paper. It includes "connector" items, "persuader items", and subject specific items. If you're a Maven you'd be expected to strongly agree with the following example items as well as other items not shown here:

  • The people I know often know each other because of me (connector item)
  • More often than not, I am able to convince others of my position during an argument (persuader item)
  • If someone asked me about a political issue that I was unsure of, I would know how to help them find the answer (political maven item)
  • People often seek me out for answers when they have questions about a political issue (political maven item)

Post written by Alex Fradera (@alexfradera) for the BPS Research Digest.

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