Monday, 4 August 2008

The creation of social tipping points: Rethinking influence (Part 5) – from the second edition of Viral Change™ (2008)

These blog entries over the next weeks are featuring some added pages to Viral Change – Second edition which will be in the market towards mid August. This is part 5 of these series

The initial Big Splash model. Recently it has become fashionable to criticise the influencing models, particular the one represented by model 1. And all because of ... Duncan Watts, who’s quoted in this book several times. He maintains that influencers are less influent that they think, because social media, social networks and any other forms of vehicle for an initial big splash (which he calls ‘big seed’) make the chain of influence work even if the conversion rate (influencer à enthused) is modest[1]. This apparent revelation made him appear in the Harvard Business Review (HBR) top 10 breakthrough ideas of 2007 (which tells us more about the HBR than anything else). My respect for Duncan Watts is not affected by the media hype created around the apparent war between him and Malcolm Gladwell, author of The Tipping Point and proponent of the power of many kinds of influencers. I take the airtime consumed by this in the media since the May 2007 HBR article with

a pinch of salt. The death of viral marketing and the death of the influencer - as many headlines read - have been grossly exaggerated. But I can understand the excitement: two big names, the pulpit of The New York Times and the blessing of’s simply too much to resist. Watt’s equation could be described as:

Initial Critical Mass (Big Splash) x Smaller Critical Mass x bigger or smaller Critical Mass = Change
[1] Watts, Duncan J., Peretti, Jonah, 2007, Viral Marketing for the real world, Harvard Business Review, Boston.
Watts, Duncan J., Sheridan Dodds, Peter, 2007, Influentials, networks and public opinion formation, Journal of Consumer Research

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