Does Social Leverage Create Tipping Points?

by Jay Deragon on 02/10/2008

In sociology, a tipping point is the event of a previously rare phenomenon becoming rapidly and dramatically more common. Malcolm Gladwell writes Tipping points are “the levels at which the momentum for change becomes unstoppable”. Gladwell defines a tipping point as a sociological term, “the moment of critical mass, the threshold, the boiling point.”Gladwell describes the “three rules of epidemics” (or “agents of change”) in the tipping points of epidemics.

1) The Law of the Few: “The success of any kind of social epidemic is heavily dependent on the involvement of people with a particular and rare set of social skills.” Gladwell describes these people in the following ways:

  • Connectors are the people who “link us up with the world … people with a special gift for bringing the world together.
  • Mavens are “information specialists”, or “people we rely upon to connect us with new information. They accumulate knowledge,
  • especially about the marketplace, and know how to share it with others
  • Salesmen are “persuaders”, charismatic people with powerful negotiation skills. They tend to have an indefinable trait that goes beyond what they say, that makes others want to agree with them.

2) The Stickiness Factor: the specific content of a message that makes it memorable and have impact. .

3) The Power of Context: Human behavior is sensitive to and strongly influenced by its environment. As Gladwell says, “Epidemics are sensitive to the conditions and circumstances of the times and places in which they occur.”

In the past social leverage was created by leaders of social movements, i.e. Martin Luther King on American Civil Rights, Susan B. Anthony on Women’s Rights etc etc. These leaders obtained leverage through the mediums of communications; newspapers, television and other media outlets. Their messages of change resounded with the masses and the wave of influence created change in social issues of importance. The masses who supported the issues became the tipping points of change because of the united influence on specific issues.

What are the Levers and Tipping Points Today?

Consider the influence of the social web over a short period of time. Millions of people are discovering the power of connecting with others and the power of self expression (social media) centric to issues of importance to “communities of influence“, one to one to millions. The social web has created a movement but unlike other social movements this one is not filtered or controlled by institutional media, any one organization or government. Rather this movement is self organized and self governed and it has force, incredible force and significant influence.

Unlike other movements centric to one particular issue or cause led by one person this movement as the reach to address multiple issues on a global basis and is led by the “collective influence of individuals” with common interest. Whether the interest be discussing foolish corporate behavior, deceptive advertising practices, specific industry best practices, how to blog etc etc. Everything and anything is being discussed within conversational rivers that flow without constraint and pick up momentum by “connecting” with a global audience of listeners and participants.

Technology provides the leverage of influence these collective conversations have created. The influence, both collectively and individually, is aimed at numerous existing and self forming markets, topics and social concerns of the masses. The technology, even with its current constraints, enables organization and facilitation of conversational rivers of influence that have reach and richness which has never before been enabled. With the next phase of improvements to the social web the conversational rivers will turn into waves that create accelerated changes in markets, transactions and relationships.

The walls of “controlled influence” have come down and the human network is feeling the “freedom of expression and connectivity“. These two dynamics have a long tail of influence unpredictable and unknowable. The only certainty is that things will change rapidly and the tipping points are self discovered and self evident to the relationships, one to one to millions.

Are you, your business, your industry, your market the tipping point or will you be surprised when the point tips?

What say you?

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rhesa.j. May 31, 2009 at 6:53 pm

a really nice summary of concepts @JDeragon think i been channeling u. @kanter, @p2173 @Kevindoylejones

rhesa.j. May 31, 2009 at 5:48 pm

i admire your persistence @singlepayer, consider this in ur work to push this tipping pt to ur advantage

Karan February 29, 2008 at 11:53 am

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