How do social epidemics – fads, crime waves and revolutions – get started?
Are there factors that marketers and politicians can exploit for explosive results?
In The Tipping Point, Malcolm Gladwell tries to answer these questions.
According to Gladwell, we can look at how disease viruses spread for clues on how social epidemics work.
Gladwell explores three agents of change: 1) the Law of the Few, 2) the Stickiness Factor, and 3) the Power of Context.
The Law of the Few is that certain exceptional people can incite change. These people are exceptional in their social skills and social contacts. Gladwell calls these people connectors, mavens and salesmen.
Connectors are individuals who know lots of people and establish big social networks. Connectors collect people/acquaintances like other people collect stamps. Most of us evaluate whether an acquaintance should be a close friend and let them go if they shouldn’t. Connectors maintain "weak ties."
Connectors usually get the information that they spread among their acquaintances from Mavens. Mavens are individuals who collect information. For example, if a store says it has merchandise on sale but doesn’t reduce its prices, Mavens will find out and spread the information. Some mavens specialize in market information and are called market mavens. What sets mavens apart is they not only enjoy collecting information, but also enjoy sharing what they have found.
Another group of individuals critical to spreading messages are salesmen. Connectors are social glue. Mavens are data banks. Salesmen have the skills to persuade us to take action based on what we are hearing. Salesmen not only know the words for dealing with questions and objections, but have charm, enthusiasm and likablility – emotional personality elements to win others to their way of thinking. Many times, salesmen send very subtle persuasive signals that neither they nor their listeners may be aware of, but still have influential power.
The stickiness factor relates to the content of the message. The message has to be so memorable that it can incite change. Sometimes a message can be made more memorable using involvement devices, like "lumpy mail", a puzzle or a quiz. Repetition can be critical in helping make a message memorable and moving us into action.
Context is the environment surrounding the communication. Epidemics are sensitive to the conditions and circumstances of the times and places in which they occur. For example, some sociologists believe that New York City turned around a high crime rate problem by cleaning up graffiti, repairing broken windows and being intolerant of cheating on subway fares and aggressive panhandlers. By paying attention to the "little things", "big things" took care of themselves and New York became a much safer city.
An interesting phenomenon of context is the magic number 150 for workgroups. There appears to be a channel capacity for effectively operating organizations. Once a workgroup or organization exceeds 150, the relationships break down. Traditionally, tribes used to split off when they grew beyond 150. Modern organizations like Gore Associates have also found their people work most effectively by not housing more than 150 in a building. By keeping the organization small, the R & D people know the sales people and the production people, so the organization can work together to delight the customer.
Gladwell has chosen some excellent examples to help create involvement for the reader. Did you know that Paul Revere became tremendously influential during the American Revolution because he had all three social skills – he was a connector, a maven and a salesman? Did you know the creators of Sesame Street used a device called a Distractor to test whether sketches would hold a child’s interest? Did you know there is a personality that is susceptible to smoking, and that some people can smoke for years but not become heavy smokers?
The Tipping Point is a bridge between Influence and The True Believer. (You can find reviews for Influence and The True Believer.) Spreading a marketing message, promoting political change and solving social ills all require a deep understanding of human behavior. Readers will find they get more human behavior insight by studying The Tipping Point.
Buy it on Amazon: The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference.
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