Posted by: kevinliebl | June 12, 2009

Social Media Impact: The Acceleration of the “Tipping Point”

The Tipping PointIn his groundbreaking book “The Tipping Point”, Malcolm Gladwell introduced the concept that market trends advance in similar ways to epidemics.  The same rules applied to epidemics can be applied to the market adoption of products and services, the growth of brand equity and other market trends.

One of the most important characteristics of a medical epidemic is that the disease spreads to a few key people who infect a very large number within a community causing “tipping point” effect.  In other words, the disease moves from being an isolated instance to an outright epidemic due to a few influential individuals who had a tremendous impact.  For example, a flight attendant could infect a large number of people who would quickly spread the disease across the country.  Malcolm Gladwell refers to this phenomenon as the “Law of the Few”.

Social and market epidemics work the same way.  A new fashion trend or the market adoption of a product often requires the “law of the few” to reach a tipping point where it moves from a local trend to a worldwide phenomenon.  As an example, Ashton Kutcher began wearing trucker hats several years ago and turned Von Dutch clothing from a niche player into a household word.  Ashton’s brand equity and market reach created a quirky fashion trend that came and went quickly, but is a great example of a tipping point.

Malcolm Gladwell identifies a group of people that he calls “connectors” who are key to the Law of the Few.  Connectors are people who have large numbers of people in their inner circle of friends.  Connectors may simply be charismatic individuals who have a large number of friends and acquaintances, or they may be people of power or fame that have large networks due to their status.  Up until recently, it was fairly difficult to become a “connector” by Malcolm Gladwell’s definition.  You needed to either have spent a good portion of your adult life actively building your personal network or be in a position of power or fame that provided a broad network.

This has all changed with social media.  Today, a housewife in Oklahoma who blogs on scrap booking, could have a following of 100,000 people.  A teenage girl in New Mexico could have 50,000 followers on Twitter.  Connectors can build followings quickly and efficiently and they do not require power, status or fame to do it.  The effect has been a tremendous growth in the overall number of connectors and very sophisticated linkages between connectors.

The outcome of all of this is that the tipping point arrives exponentially quicker than it did 5 of 10 years ago.  The sophisticated networks created by social media provide extremely efficient communication.  If a product is good, people find out about it in real-time rather than in weeks or months.  If a fashion trend catches on, people learn about it faster than ever before.  The downside is that poor products are exposed quicker and trends tend to end quicker.

Action Item: Recognize the effects of social media on the “tipping point”.  There are both positives and negatives to this new dynamic.  Make sure you are leveraging the tools available to recognize and create market shifts to meet your business objectives.


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  1. Yes it is, that is why companies need to be alert, need to be receptive and responsive. Once the acceleration is set in motion, be it negative or positive, it can’t be stopped (only steered up to some point).

    Best regards,
    Gianluigi Cuccureddu

    • Gianluigi,

      Excellent point. The issue is that many (most?) companies are not participating in social media yet. Most companies are sitting on the sidelines watching and trying to figure out where to invest. On the other hand prospects, customers/clients ARE participating. Conversations are taking place. Prospects are asking users about their experiences. Customers are sharing tips, problems, and experiences. Companies need to engage by simply listening.

      I have seen plenty of examples of where companies have listened, learned that customers had concerns and then responded and turned the market viewpoint around.

      People forget that this is not rocket-science. This is marketing 101. Listen to your customers and respond. The only difference is that the market is using new technologies to communicate.

      Thanks for the comment.

      – Kevin

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