Duncan Watts of Yahoo! takes Malcom Gladwell’s Tipping Point thesis to task in Clive Thompson’s FastCompany.com article today. In particular, he goes after the notion that a small number of people carry extra weight in igniting trends that spread exponentially… influentials. Rather, its society’s readiness for a trend that matters most…
“If society is ready to embrace a trend, almost anyone can start one–and if it isn’t, then almost no one can,” Watts concludes. To succeed with a new product, it’s less a matter of finding the perfect hipster to infect and more a matter of gauging the public’s mood. Sure, there’ll always be a first mover in a trend. But since she generally stumbles into that role by chance, she is, in Watts’s terminology, an “accidental Influential.”
Perhaps the problem with viral marketing is that the disease metaphor is misleading. Watts thinks trends are more like forest fires: There are thousands a year, but only a few become roaring monsters. That’s because in those rare situations, the landscape was ripe: sparse rain, dry woods, badly equipped fire departments. If these conditions exist, any old match will do. “And nobody,” Watts says wryly, “will go around talking about the exceptional properties of the spark that started the fire.”
I was talking to a group of community workers today, getting their views on the use of community centres and ways of getting people through the door. Most of the way through a 12 month funded programme, they told of an influx of new people coming in. This is in an area of low expectations and high needs.
The explanation is that ‘word-of-mouth takes 8-9 months…’
‘It’s about people having the courage to act on what they’re hearing. It can take you a year to get confidence in the community, that there’s something new for them to try and to trust it. It takes time for the confidence to work through.’
Reaching people is hard work. About 30% of our pilot city subscribes to Front Porch Forum and I’d guess that almost that many are familiar with the service and are open to signing up… just haven’t gotten around to it or don’t quite understand or trust it yet.