Has the Tipping Point Jumped the Shark?

Full disclosure, I am not a fan of The Tipping Point and Malcolm Gladwell. Its not that I don't believe there are certain points in the life of a company/brand where they hit a vein and go very well (or very badly) - spreading like crazy. Its that a former employer of mine, Airwalk, is in the book, and Gladwell gets their story completely wrong. Let's just say the bias in his sources on the story call into question the overall veracity of his"influencer" model.

Which is why Is the Tipping Point Toast? in this month's Fast Company is so interesting. Duncan Watts, Columbia professor and now viral model builder for Yahoo!, believes that influentials have no such effect on trends whatsoever.

Take aways:
  1. Success in a networked society is quite random, and Influencials can't tip a trend into existence.
  2. The problem with the influentials model is that it is too vague. There is lots of talk about Influencers' power, but never specifics about how an Influencer actually influences. No one actually analyzes the influence in action.
  3. The success of a trend doesn't simply depend on the person who starts it, but on how susceptible the society is overall to accept it. The disease metaphor of viral marketing is misleading. They are more like a forest fires: thousands break out a year but only a few become monsters. They become monsters because the landscape was ripe (drought, dry woods, unequipped fire departments, etc.) - nobody talks about the spark that started the fire.
One has to ask, if it were as simple as reaching the influentials to trigger WOM and viral marketing, why haven't more companies been successful at it? Could it be that keeping a vague but popular notion keeps Gladwell and all the other intelligentsia in business?

So what are we to do? Have no fear, Watts is developing his own model at Yahoo! called Big Seed marketing. Another "silver bullet?" We'll have to see.

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