Gladwell identifies several factors that make all the difference in whether an idea goes viral – spreads like an epidemic – or not: small changes in the people involved; the (way the) message (is) communicated; and the context. Early on in the book, he writes about three rare kinds of people – connectors, mavens, and salesmen.
Most people have a certain circle of friends, usually people with whom we share a common activity (e.g. we are at college together). Beyond that, we have a certain number of acquaintances; but we tend to see acquaintances as superficial relationships. Connectors, on the other hand, genuinely love these ‘weak-tie’ relationships. They collect people, not primarily for what they might get out of it but because they love meeting people. The advantage of connecting with a connector is that they connect you to other people you wouldn’t otherwise come across, people outside of your own social network, people with experience or ideas different to the ones you already have or know.
This is the premise behind social networking. Genuine connectors may make up a small percentage of the population, but Facebook makes us all a little bit more widely connected, by maximising our weak-ties. There are certain groups of people with whom I have a high degree of experience, and friend, overlap – The Order of Mission, or
While connectors specialise in people, mavens specialise in collecting information. But not information for the sake of knowing more than anyone else: information for the love of passing it on. Mavens make it their business to find out what is going on, what is new, what is worthy of praising…and to let you know too.
So when a maven passes information to a connector, the word does not get out by addition but by explosion.
I keep a blog, and a few people, mostly people who know me quite well, drop by from time to time. But I’m not a maven – certainly not in relation to virtual communication – so my virtual presences are minimal: the blog, flickr, facebook. My friend Ben Askew is a maven, in this world (though he would probably use the word ‘geek’). And I’m not a connector (in fact, about a year ago I chose to pull out of deliberate actions that can be taken to connect a blog to more people; to take time out of the blogging game), so what I discover doesn’t take off. That’s no reason to stop looking out and passing on; I just need to be realistic about the impact.
Connectors and mavens can work hand-in-hand. They can also coincide in one person.
But even if a maven has got hold of useful information and passed it on to hundreds of people via a connector, there is no automatic reason why those people would act on that advice.
The third type of person Gladwell identifies is the salesman. While a maven will tell you stuff for the love of sharing information that might be beneficial to you, they tend not to be interested in persuading you to act on that information. Ben’s moved on from blogging to digital scrap-booking; I love the look of it, of how he’s using that, but I’m ‘virtually-cautious’ (and I suspect that most of the people who visit here are even more so); not only is it unlikely that I will take up scrap-booking, Ben is more interested that I check out his space than that I attempt to replicate it.
When people communicate, their body movements and vocal rhythms start to harmonise, in tiny, subtle ways. Salesmen have a natural ability to draw the other person to their rhythms, and the effect is powerfully persuasive. It isn’t about deliberate manipulation – though it can certainly be used that way. It is simply a gift that some people have – and it can be used constructively.