I’ve just finished reading Malcolm Gladwell’s The Tipping Point. It’s a book I’ve been meaning to read for some time, having picked it up and handled it more than once in airport terminal bookstores. It was originally released in 2000 – long before the proliferation of “social” – which to me places it in the category of early innovator of concepts in social marketing. The timing or impetus for me to finally read it was my current interest in how to create greater impact more efficiently in my social media marketing efforts.
The book focuses on three central concepts that aid in tipping epidemics, the point when slow growth changes to fast escalation. These concepts he names as: the law of the few, stickiness and context. How do we to translate the concepts into useful insights for social marketing today?
The Law of the Few
Epidemics are spread by people, and as Gladwell points out usually there are a few key people that help tip something from being mildly contagious to widespread adoption. The law of the few is the application of the 80 / 20 rule, where a small number of active participants have the largest impact. Gladwell identifies 3 types of people who aid in tipping 1) connectors, people who know a wide range of people and like to introduce and bring them together 2) mavens, experts who enjoy sharing and disseminating their expertise 3) salesmen, natural promoters.
These are the people who will help you extend your network, promote your products, and introduce you to the world. We need to identify them in our own circles and industry, and then connect with them, look at their networks as a source of prospects, or minimally follow them. A more recent term for these people and what they do is that they are influencers and they help with influence marketing. Social Bro is an example of a tool that can help you with identifying influencers in your twitter network and allows you to get information on other twitter users accounts.
The stickiness factor occurs when the messaging becomes memorable to people. A great example he uses in the book is the way children are engaged by such shows as Sesame Street and Blue’s Clues.
Translated this is producing quality content that is relevant to your market in a way that they will absorg and retain it. It is being aware of what is trending. You do this by listening to your market and then providing engaging content that is useful for them.
The Power of Context
The power of context is that people are greatly influenced by our environments. Gladwell says, “Epidemics are sensitive to the conditions and circumstances of the times and places in which they occur”. People are social and are impacted by the world around them.
Translated this means finding the right social medium for your message. This will be different for every industry and purpose. It may mean developing a content marketing campaign that cuts across multiple sources such as a blog, facebook, google+, pinterest, Slideshare. And then which of these sources are giving you the best responses, so you can focus your efforts. It also means timing, as with stickiness this means understanding what is trending in your markets, and using this information in your content schedule.
A current example – Gangnam Style
One thing I loved about the book was Malcolm’s use of real world examples to demonstrate his ideas. In the same vein, let’s look at a recent example of something that went viral socially last year, Psy’s Gangnam Style, to see if it contained these three elements.
The phenomenon was not a random home video going viral, but a thought out campaign by Korean pop record label YG Entertainment who were positioning themselves to launch into the American music market. The pop song, video and simple dance is definitely full of stickiness. The context was social. YG Entertainment launched the video from a YouTube channel with, at the time had around 2.5 million subscribers and had successfully been using twitter to promote its artists. The law of the few was exercised when they involve celebrities in the video and engaged the American media at the right times in the campaign to further spread the attraction to the song.
Focus, Test and Believe
What was encouraging for me in the book is the tagline – how little things can make a big difference. Gladwell sums up the book with a final chapter that advocates using the world as a testing ground, and aptly gives that chapter the subtitle Focus, Test and Believe. Make little adjustments to your campaigns, measure and move forward with what works.