Twitter and the law of the few

The Law of the Few, popularized by Malcolm Gladwell in The Tipping Point relates to the spreading of ideas & viruses in populations:

The attainment of the tipping point that transforms a phenomenon into an influential trend usually requires the intervention of a number of influential types of people. In the disease epidemic model Gladwell introduced in Chapter 1, he demonstrated that many outbreaks could be traced back to a small group of infectors. Likewise, on the path toward the tipping point, many trends are ushered into popularity by small groups of individuals that can be classified as Connectors, Mavens, and Salesmen.

Connectors are individuals who have ties in many different realms and act as conduits between them, helping to engender connections, relationships, and “cross-fertilization” that otherwise might not have ever occurred. Mavens are people who have a strong compulsion to help other consumers by helping them make informed decisions. Salesmen are people whose unusual charisma allows them to be extremely persuasive in inducing others’ buying decisions and behaviors.

Charlene Croft tipped me to the fact that Twitter is an amplifier for Mavens, Connectors & Salespeople:

Twitter is a social networking site predominantly used by individuals who are high-level communicators and organizations/businesses who want to reach those communicators.   Malcolm Gladwell’s The Tipping Point is a good lens through which to view Twitter users.  He talks about the Connectors, the Mavens and the Salesmen as being the three types of individuals which start and spread what he calls “social epidemics.”

Let’s look at some specific behaviours on Twitter.

Mavens: If you are already a writer or blogger, twitter amplifies your work to a wider audience. Posting your latest work, or having others tweet it, gets out your ideas. When someone as famous as Tim Berners-Lee signs up on Twitter, he automatically gets many followers and a new channel for communication, just as Margaret Atwood has done.

Twitter is becoming a great place to connect online, extending the reach of many bloggers. I’ve noticed that while my blog comments have decreased in the past year, links from Twitter have significantly increased.

People who tweet original ideas and comments tend to have a larger group of followers. This extends their influence and can lead to more speaking and writing opportunities. With more people following you, serendipitous moments have a greater chance of happening. For instance, I once tweeted that I was looking for new projects.  This was picked up by someone who followed me but I did not know previously. It led to paid work.

Connectors: These valuable people to know can make introductions across disciplines. They often follow many people and post lots of “retweets” [RT]. The more they give, the more influential they become in the network. Connectors are well-suited to be online community managers, a vocation that is in demand today.

Salespeople: Direct selling on Twitter usually doesn’t work, as most people will not follow a pure sales pitch. However, Twitter is an excellent resource for salespeople to find out what people are looking for or if they’re unhappy with a competitor. I think Twitter is one of the best free competitive intelligence tools on the web.

I remember when web pundits thought that some day everybody would have a blog. Today, many people have an online website, Facebook or LinkedIn profile, but relatively few blog regularly. It takes discipline to write year after year, especially if it’s more than a personal journal. Twitter, or micro-blogging in general, may be the current web darling but this too will fade. While Twitter, like blogging, is not for everyone, it can be quite useful for a certain segment of the population. This aspect of Twitter should be seriously examined by leaders and managers who want their organizations to work smarter.

4 Responses to “Twitter and the law of the few”

  1. Kare Anderson

    As Scott Page in Diversity points out innovation is more likely to happen when the group is collaborative and diverse so knowing what labels we tend to have (and according to Multiplicity they change by circumstance) gives one guide to discuss w/collaborators how diverse we are. This is especially vital in a U.S. culture where people with similar world views are increasingly likely to hang out together and thus become more extreme in those views – according to The Big Sort and Going to Extremes… sorry re the run-on… even as an ENTJ I must not be a “completer” 🙂

  2. Kris Schaeffer

    Leaders and managers could use social networking to have their people work smarter. Self-organized teams could communicate with their members to meet, decide, and act. These teams can infuse innovation and entrepeurial spirit into companies.
    Mavens can answer Just-In-Time questions and gain recognition and rewards for the value of their contribution of their expertise. Social networking continues the learning process by ensuring that there’s support when learners try to apply new ideas on the job.


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