In my last post I talked about the Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell. The point of view it offers is certainly intriguing, but at the same time I formulated several reservations. I’ll try and list my questions here.
Law of the Few
Three specific type of people, Mavens, Connectors and Salesmen, are the ones to target for creating your own epidemic. These types of people are proposed to be scarce, yet “everybody knows one” in their own circle. I’m not bothered with the classification, and I do know several people who would fit the profiles, but what about all the other people. The poor saps that aren’t one of those three, what’s left for them? The role of sheep following the lead of their herdsman?
It’s not so much that I believe everybody should have a ‘special’ role, but it’s the sheer absence of a place in it all for ordinary people and the total passivity that that seems to imply that I find odd. It reminds me of the mindless consumer mass marketing wants to target. In the end it is all the John and Jane Does that make your little epidemic a success, isn’t it?
As to finding out who the Mavens, Connectors, and Salesmen are that you need to target, could Social Network Analysis help you find them?
The Connectors would be the easiest to spot with SNA I think. They’re the community straddlers, the ones linking different circles. Mavens might be found by asking specific questions when collecting data for your SNA. Questions like “Who in your community would you go to with questions about…….” And the same goes for salesmen, I think, if you ask who you think has authority on certain issues in your community.
But SNA probably would only work within a small and well defined setting, such as a SME, or a neigbourhood community. It’s not the route to spot all connectors that could matter to you within the EU. How to find them then? Mavens probably could be found through forums, mailinglists etc. Salesmen? Connectors? I don’t know.
Stickiness
This is an interesting part. Stickiness in the book is an elusive concept. The cases it describes summon a picture of rigorous testing until you find the right packaging of your message that sticks with your target audience (again, leaving out looking at the message itself).
But that is precisely what you cannot afford to do if you’re the one without extensive means that wants to create big change with little to go on, the one that this book says to provide hope for.
Testing your message until it sticks brings to mind testing panels, going into communities and groups and see what doesn’t work. And then going back again after each adjustment to do it all again until it works.
I am very curious what Lilia Efimova comes up with regarding the stickiness of blogs. (And would she also be able to say something of who blogs? Mavens, connectors and salesmen alike, or in different proportions?)
All in all I think in order to say something more about stickiness, the cases in the book provide too little substance. But I bet in communication sciences and even marketing as well as pihlosophical aspects of language clues can be found as to what might be sticky and what not.
Power of Context
Two aspects are mentioned in the book. One, the effect our living space can have on us and our emotions. Two, the size of our social network we are able to handle. These are both factors Malcolm Gladwell says can be used. Other contextualities, such as broader cultural traits, and individual history are not mentioned. Because they can’t be influenced, at least not by the small changes sought for? Nevertheless they will probably influence acceptance of the idea you want to spread.
The sizes of network we can handle, with the magic number of 150 as a limit, based on our channel capacity is interesting if you compare it with what amongst others Ross Mayfield has been blogging about types of blogs and their audiences. Maybe I did not read the text closely enough but Malcolm Gladwell seems to say this 150 is a definite maximum. I think it is more like not being able to handle more than that in a given situation, but very possible to handle multiple networks of that size, just not at the same time. Otherwise Connectors would be in dire straits wouldn’t they?
The challenge: starting an epidemic
What I really would like to see, and I wrote that yesterday as well, is a predictive application of these epidemical concepts. Can we, a group of let’s say twenty bloggers, think up a message or idea we want to spread, and then purposefully start or own little epidemic? I would love to experiment with that. Maybe Blogtalk in Vienna is a great place to get together and discuss this more vigorously. In the mean time we could start by proposing what message to spread and whom to spread it to. Any takers?

One reaction on “Tipping Point Questions

  1. ???
    I admit that I am not wont to speak up. But I am humble. I love life as much as I am overwhelmed by it. The contradictory nature of humanity inspires me, yet confounds me beyond solace. I write to make sense of it all. That is my ballast. I have written two books. The last book, GOOSE MUSIC, received lots of awards. It was a Book Sense 76 top ten selection. Larry McMurtry gave it a rave review. And yet…I have not made a dime. The obscurity into which my words are fading thicken which each passing day. I am wounded to see uninspired works being lauded and proliferated. How do I help myself? How do I take charge of my own right to an audience?
    Best,
    Richard Horan

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