Monday, September 10, 2007

That whole viral thing

Anyone who has read the Tipping Point will recall how there's a frightening permissive viral effect to suicide.

There are many recorded cases of suicides coming in batches - and in particular areas. Several in one school, endemic in some polynesian societies etc, surges after the widely publcised suicide of a famous person.

Staggering to think that the most important of all decisions in our lives (or deaths) are so easily 'tipped' by the choices of others around us.

My parents once told me they got married, because all their friends seemed to be getting married too (how romantic...)

I'm pretty convinced divorce may be viral, too. If one of your circle of friends succumbs, the chances increase for others in that group.

Essentially the same is true in each of these examples:
Permission has been granted for this to be an acceptable course of action/conduct/behaviour in your particular community (or shared interest group).

And if such permission-based influence can act so virally in such very important parts of our lives it follows (surely) that this must have real power in driving our behaviour in other community contexts. Imagine the potential marketing power, for example.

Take facebook (again!?) if one of your friends leaves a group do you stop to consider whether or not you should? Do you think, hmm maybe I'm in too many groups and I should have a bit of a cull?
The reverse is true of course. See a friend join a group and if it meets your interests you are in like flyn!

In this context some people hold more viral sway than others. People who have lots of friends and do lots of things on facebook have more influence.

And I'd contend the same is true in real life. It's not necessarily the most dominant person (ie, most looked up to, the leader, the coolest) in a community who has the most power to effect change. It's more likely to be that active person with multiple light social touches. These people need persuading - then the rest will feel they have permission to change.

This is a lesson learned by the likes of Xtract in Finland and captured in their concept of the alpha user.

It's a lesson anyone considering social media has to learn, too.

The rate of change is so rapid it's difficult for one person to keep up to speed. Let's pool our thoughts, share our reactions and, who knows, even reach some shared conclusions worth arriving at?