OMG, No Tipping Point?

In the early days of online social networking, the key idea driving the pioneering companies (SelectMinds, Friendster, Tribe, Ryze, LinkedIn) was the FoaF(Friend of a Friend)-driven virality of the model.  We realized that a company could reach geometric growth , since we’d all read Malcolm Gladwell’s "The Tipping Point".  The quest was getting your service in the hands of Gladwell’s connectors, mavens and salesmen.

We were also pretty excited about Duncan Watts’s work on his then-in-progress book, "Six Degrees".  Watts was expanding on the "six degrees of separation" work of  Stanley Milgram.  The academic work around social networks made us more confident in our belief that our undertakings were part of a dramatic paradigm shift in marketing.

Fast forward to 2007 and you have Facebook, the most viral of the FoaF applications, taking over (at least my part of) the world, and achieving a $15b valuation, validated at least by Microsoft.  Our predictions of the paradigm shift are validated and many social networking services have reached their tipping points.  Gladwell was right!

O, was he?  Apparently Duncan Watts has been doing more work on the subject and he thinks not.  He disagrees with the ideas Gladwell has put forth, and claims that the popular word of mouth marketing models based on the spreading power of influentials are, for the most part, bogus:

…if you believe Watts, all that money and effort is being wasted.
Because according to him, Influentials have no such effect. Indeed,
they have no special role in trends at all.

"It just doesn’t work," Watts says. "A rare bunch of cool people just
don’t have that power. And when you test the way marketers say the
world works, it falls apart. There’s no there there."

Yet, it all sounded so good!..  This is a good example of how there are some stories that sound so cool, that you really want to buy them.  And, "The Tipping Point" provides such a nice explanation for Facebook, too. Such a shame…

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