The Tipping Point & Social Media
As you have probably guessed by now, I love reading business books! I have just finished a fascinating best-seller called “The Tipping Point” by Malcolm Gladwell. Although it was written in 2000, it’s amazing how a lot of the concepts he discusses in his book can be linked to social media.
Nowadays every business owner is in the marketing business because competition is fierce and suppliers are easier to find / research via the Internet (accessing a global market). Therefore, an understanding of the types of people involved in the spread of ideas, information and trends is extremely important and Gladwell relates his research to an epidemic of contagious disease. So, here’s a brief overview of how to engineer a social epidemic…
One of the key factors in any effective PR campaign is to reach ‘key influencers’, in most cases these are journalists and presenters who can influence the attitude of readers / listeners / watchers. However, there are now bloggers and social media networkers to add to the mix. Looking at how people are connected isn’t a new idea – in the 1960s the psychologist Stanley Milgram conducted a chain letter experiment, which led to the concept of the ‘six degrees of separation’ (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Small_world_experiment). Basically, a few number of people are linked to everyone else in a few steps and the rest of us are linked to the world through those special few.
Gladwell calls these people Connectors - they know lots of other people and have a special gift for bringing the world together. This handful of people have a knack of making friends and acquaintances.
Connectors are powerful people and the closer someone is to this type of person, the more opportunties they get (as well as more power and wealth). The same is the case for an idea or product – the closer it is to a Connector, the more power and opportunity it has.
This concept can be seen in action via programmes such as X-Factor when people get close to a Connector like Simon Cowell. Likewise, if a Dragon on Dragon’s Den invests in a company, it has more of a chance of success because of the contacts that Dragon has. Closer to home, look at your LinkedIn connections…who has the most number of contacts? Are they a connector within your industry?
Connectors learn about new information on a random basis – they know so many people that they get access to new things when they pop up. However, if you want to create a social epidemic you also need ‘information specialists’ or Mavens. They collect information and want to share it with you. They enjoy solving other people’s problems and have the knowledge and social skills to start word-of-mouth epidemics. They are not persuaders, they are teachers.
Mavens are data banks and provide the message. Connectors are social glue – they spread the message. The last group for people needed to reach a tipping point are Salesmen. They have the skills to persuade us when we are unconvinced about what we are hearing. What makes a good salesmen? Energy, enthusiasm, charm and likeability. Good salesmen are charismatic and can infect other people in a room with his / her emotions.
However, the messager also matters – they make something spread. The content also matters…it needs to be memorable. This idea of being memorable or ‘sticky’ is often used in marketing campaigns – there is a maxim in the advertising industry that an advert has to been seen as least six times before it’s remembered (which is why adverts are repeated so often on the radio / on TV). Sometimes just a small change can tip something in the right direction, it’s a question of finding it…which is why testing different campaigns on a smaller basis is a good idea.
The Power of Context
Our environment plays a part in an idea / epidemics tipping point. Gladwell gives the following example – in the 1980s New York City’s crime problem reached epidemic proportions, the City averages well over 2,000 murders and 600,000 serious felonies a year. The subways were terrible – dimly lit platforms, dark, damp and graffiti-covered walls and trains were usually late because there was a fire somewhere ont he system every day and a derailment every other week. However, after a crime high in 1990 it went into decline; murders dropped by two-thirds and by the end of the decade there were 75% fewer felonies. In 1996 New York had became the safest big city in the country. How did this tipping point happen? There are a number of theories and one of the most interesting ones is the ‘Broken Windows theory’ (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Broken_windows_theory). Basically, this is based ont he idea that if a window is broken and left unrepaired, people walking passed will conclude that no one cares cares and no one is in charge. Therefore, more windows wil be brocken and this sense of anarchy will spread from the building to the street, sending a signal that anything goes. Therefore, minor problems such as graffiti, public disorder, etc are invitations to more serious crimes. Interestingly, there was a large-scale graffti cleanup of the subway trains from 1984 to 1990 and there was also a serious crack down on fare-beaters between 1990 and 1994 (the ‘broken windows of the subway). This suggests that an epidemic and be tipped by changing the smallest details of the immediate environment.
This idea of ‘small things can make a big difference’ is extremely interesting – I was discussing this concept with someone the other day in terms of dressing more casually at work. There is a perception that people can be more creative if they dress less formally but on the other hand studies suggest that productivity can suffer because a more relaxed way of dressing leads to a more relaxed approach to work.
Also, does the ‘broken windows’ theory help explain the behaviour of some of the people during the recent street riots?
150: The Magic Number
Groups play a critical role in social epdiemics. Once we’re part of a group we’re susceptible to peer pressure and social norms. Small close-knit groups have the power to magnifty the epidemic potential of a message or idea. How do you know if a group has little power or real social power? Use the rule of 150.
According to research, 150 represents the maximum number of individuals with whom we can have a genuine social relastionship with (i.e. knowing who they are and how they relate to us). A lot of other research brings up the magic 150 number – it seems that once a company or group goes over 150 people the community can become divided and alienated. It seems that in order to create one contagious movement you often have to create many small movements first.
Creating your Own Epidemic
So, how will you go about putting this into practice? I aim to use this information to:
- Find and contact relevant Connectors, Mavens and Salesmen
- Make sure my message is memorable
- Think about the context of the campaign (the environment, i.e. what else is happening around the time of the campaign…will it stop my message from being spread because it’s bigger / more important?)
- Create movements in many smaller groups / target 150 key people
Finally, a really good example of a ‘tipping point’ was the Facebook campaign to make sure the X-Factor winner Jo McElderry didn’t get to number one in the music charts over Christmas in 2009 but for Rage Against the Machine to get the number one spot. See: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/tvandradio/x-factor/6852502/Rage-Against-The-Machine-Christmas-Number-One-the-man-behind-the-campaign.html
How are you going to get your message/ product / service to reach ‘tipping point’?
Tanya Arturi........ To change this standard text, you have to enter some information about your self in the Dashboard -> Users -> Your Profile box.
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