By Oleg K. Temple, April 2011.
Part I of III - The snowflake that brought down a mountain
Marketing your company is a vital necessity in any business – the basic marketing principles apply in the same way for hotels in California, as they do for travel agents in Illinois and financial consultants in London or Brussels. Rules of engagement are: identify your target group and figure out how to pique their interest in regard to your product or service. The internet is a wonderful tool and the recent ascension of social media to the forefront of marketing has empowered many SMEs, allowing them to promote their products effectively and at low monetary cost. Still, the challenge remains – how to make your idea stick in everyone’s mind and stand out above the buzz? Why should tourists lodge at your hotel or buy specifically from your business? You will be able to answer all these questions yourself once you understand how to engineer and orchestrate the social mechanics behind the Tipping Point.
Tiny details: the furtive puppeteers of societal norms
Consider the following case: you hire a company to build a house, but are too stingy to see to the territory around the property. As a result, the construction works leave it as an unattractive, muddy patch devoid of any flora, cloaked in a vacuum of aesthetic appeal. An unfinished territory would make the house at best difficult and at worst hazardous to access, both factors would naturally inhibit sales. Ok, so having understood this, you invest to bring your lawn, fence and yard up to standard, but what if your neighbour is lax and unwilling to maintain his property? In other words, if the epicentre of your property value is the actual building, you may conclude that the pillars holding that value up, radiate in concentric circles from the your property through the surrounding neighbourhood.
Realtors from California to New York, from Belgium to Germany and beyond unanimously hold that the value of a property is the sum of more than its constituent parts. Real estate pundits maintain that the state of the surrounding properties and the proximity to various public amenities such as schools, hubs of transportation, parks, etc. also directly reflect on the value and appeal of a given property or estate. Still, why does one person’s unwillingness to maw his lawn, repair a broken window, fix his fence or paint his flaky front door directly impact the real estate value of properties within the entire neighbourhood? As the saying goes “misery loves company”, if one discarded beer can is ignored in your yard for a week, passersby assume that the owner does not care and soon the yard becomes a dumping ground. Innocuous-seeming mischief if left unchecked, runs rampant and serves as a gate-way, attracting more malicious acts such as defacement of the walls with graffiti, vandalism and eventually hardcore crime.
Milgram’s “small world” experiments comprised the distribution of 160 letters to students in Omaha, Nebraska and Wichita, Kansas as the starting points. The letters were designated to be delivered to a target in Sharon, Massachusetts whom the students did not personally know, by passing the letters to anyone that they perceived was socially closer to the stockbroker. The study confirmed that on average six links were sufficient to deliver each letter. However, Gladwell picked up on the fact that primarily three specific friends of the target provided the final link for over half of the letters that arrived successfully. Thus he deduced that certain types of people are key catalysts to the dissemination of information.
Largely thanks to the shrewd exploration of the tipping point phenomenon by the author, restaurant and hotel owners worldwide know that eradicating small problems at the origin stems the propensity of larger problems evolving, taking root and thriving. If guests are allowed to ignore parking rules and dress codes, they will soon disobey non-smoking signs or no pet signs and the establishment’s value and positive repute will go out the window.
The hoax that rocked the world
To put these ideas into perspective in the brave new world of social media, here is a case in point:
In early April 2011 one of the top trending topics on Twitter became #ripjackiechan. A contemporary search on Google would back up the news – articles mushroomed claiming that after nearly half a century in the film industry spawning over 100 pictures, the intrepid “Mr. Miyagi” right before his 57th birthday, had bought a one-way ticket to heaven in the wake of a violent heart attack. The internet blazoned with the hot topic – blog articles, comments and retweets all tossed dynamite sticks onto the raging bonfire that was: RIP JACKIE CHAN.
Let’s breakdown how the maelstrom began to fully appreciate the phrase “snowball effect”. Twitter user @forumn00b consolidated credibility for the hoax by creating a dummy webpage, akin to Yahoo7 news with content, but no traceable host by manipulating HTML code “smoke and mirrors” to generate the illusion.
On the eve of Mar. 29th @forumn00b tweeted "Jackie Chan dies following heart attack, new details http://bit.ly/h67UWD #RIPjackieChan." A couple of hours later twitter user @tweetmeme was the fourth or fifth user to re-tweet @forumn00b’s hoax.
|However, @tweetmeme is an account that reviews Twitter trends and hence commands a throng of close to 63,000 followers. Thus, the #ripjackiechan hoax went ballistic. Thousands of berserk Tweeties frothing at the mouth snowballed the message in a rabid tweeting frenzy. The bogus claim grew in strength and dominated the world’s interest, quickly overshadowing even the tragedies besetting Japan.|
According to the author, the tipping point is "the moment of critical mass, the threshold, the boiling point." The book undertakes to review the ebb and flow of intricate and esoteric sociological phenomena ensconced in mystery that nonetheless shape our decisions and everyday life. What makes social media such a hot topic today? Why do some marketing campaigns fall through the floor and others spread like wildfire? Why is one hotel or resort more popular than another situated in practically the same location? The author explains that "Ideas and products and messages and behaviours spread like viruses do." Specific vectors or enablers, working in unison are key to the dissemination process and one of the land-mark features of the book is the author’s isolation of the "three rules or agents of change" in the tipping points of “epidemics”: Triggermen, Beefy Content and Staying Power. In the follow-up article we will dissect each of these individually and show how they can influence the effectiveness of marketing campaigns run by any business – from hotels to banks.
End of Part I of III