I have always been fascinated by the impact of viral networks on social events and marketing word of mouth....
One of my favorite books is the Tipping Point by Malcom Gladwell, which studies epidemics and applies the learning to explain such social phenomenon as the crime drop in NYC or Sesame Street.
One of my main interests in joining the blogosphere was to better understand the emergence of viral blogging networks and other social effects of Web 2.0. I was very disappointed when I launched my blog 3 months ago and did not see any real marketing blogging community that I could connect into. The marketing community was a fragmented ecosphere with a few thought leaders such as Seth Godin or Ben McConnell.
And suddenly, a few players emerged that substantially changed the marketing social blogging network. I have been trying to think about their role in terms of the first law of an epidemic, the "law of the few."
The "Connector" -- Ann Handley, MarketingProfs Daily Fix
In Malcom Gladwell's words, "Connectors know a lot of people. They have an instinctive and natural gift for making social connections. They are also critical because of whom they know and they are able to draw on their connections to provide amplification and power to an idea or a network." They see potential.
Ann is such a person and her blog emerged 3 months ago. She has been actively connecting with the key marketing players in the blogosphere, convincing them to write for the MarketingProfs Daily Fix. We also rely on connectors to give us access to opportunities and worlds to which we don't belong, but that, once introduced, we function and thrive quite well. Ann was able to draw on her connections from the Marketing Profs newsletter (as well as her past connections as a founder of ClickZ.com) to establish her blog as a connecting platform.
The "Maven" -- Mack Collier, The Viral Garden
"Connectors are not the only people that matter in a social epidemic. While connectors are the people specialists, mavens are the information specialists. Mavens are great collectors of information but also want to share their knowledge." Then, they thrive on seeing others take that knowledge and run with it.
Such a Maven appeared 3 months ago when Mack set up his weekly Viral Garden top 25 marketing blog ranking. By publishing his weekly ranking, he shared a simple and very effective knowledge that had not been made visible before and that was furthered in its visibility by connectors like Ann. This is not the only way Mack seeks to share the wealth of information in his community; other initiatives include his "100 CDs for 100 bloggers," which challenges music companies to commune with audiences directly through the blogosphere.
In Malcom Gladwell's words, "Mavens are data banks. They provide the message. Connectors are social glue: they spread it. But there is also a select group of people .... - salesmen .... - with the skills to persuade us when we are unconvinced of what we are hearing and they are as critical to the tipping point of word of mouth epidemics as the other two groups." They do not need to "hard sell" their ideas, their passion is contagious.
Salesman #1 -- David Armano, Logic + Emotion
David "sells" his readers on the idea that creativity, innovation and design are valuable marketing tools and that they need them in order to become relevant to the empowered consumer class. He tries to persuade people to look at creativity differently. His style is to present information in a compelling fashion and let his readers decide for themselves, which is typical from a "salesman."
Salesman #2 .... - Toby Bloomberg, Diva Marketing
Toby is a true sales diva. She believes in the concept and that enthusiasm and excitement seems to energize other people. Her "light" style helps engage and build trust with the audience. That trust has in turn helped her open her readers to new ideas. One recent case in point is the viral impact of Toby's post on the Jupiter Research corporate blog study and the snowball effect in the blogosphere.
Salesman #3 -- Eric Mattson, Marketing Monger
Eric "sells" the future of online marketing, social media and podcasting. In many ways, he is just "selling" himself by doing something that other people (his listeners) value. By doing his interviews and sharing them with the world, he builds "social capital" which he can tap into in the future.
The marketing blogging social network is growing exponentially as experienced by the Alexa ranking threshold that you now need to achieve to be on the Viral Marketing ranking list. However, bloggers have a distorted view of their importance. We forget that being big in the blogosphere still doesn't mean anything to 99% of the country. The risk for vibrant blogging communities is to be "trapped" in the blogosphere, which can quickly limit their epidemic effectiveness. So what will it take to transform this emerging community into a viral marketing network beyond the blogosphere?
Who are the right mavens, connectors and salesmen to make this happen? One opportunity is to identify the "few" that are able to bridge the gap between mainstream and blogosphere. It would require, for example, for Mack to build a reliable information source on blogs linked to corporate platforms such as Boeing's Randy's Journal, Forrester's Marketing Blog or this blog. He could also build a top 25 marketing "salesmen" list based on influence, not ranking.
Another example would be to build more crossovers between the MarketingProfs traditional Web site/newsletter and its blog, or potentially find other connectors. ANA's Marketing Maestros could be one of them if they opened their blog to postings from members. (By the way, I just noticed that Will promoted Mack's list on June 1–.).
So what do you think? What will it take to spread the "epidemic" to the other 99% marketers?
Eric Kintz is VP Global Marketing Strategy & Excellence for Hewlett-Packard. Read his blog here.
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