Wednesday, 21 October 2009

Word of mouth goes global

There has been much comment and complaint in the electronic world as a result of Jan Moir's unpleasant Daily Mail article about the death of Stephen Gately.

What I found most fascinating was how out of touch Moir was in her response to the wave of complaint that surged around the internet like a tsunami. She described this as a 'heavily orchestrated internet campaign.' This shows a magnificent lack of understanding of how word spreads around vehicles like Twitter and Facebook.

A 'campaign' like this doesn't need to be orchestrated - if it strikes the right nerve, it will grow and grow. The only difference between this and old, literally word-of-mouth responses is that Twitter, with its high speed and greater connectivity, ensures that any such reaction will take place in hours rather than weeks.

Twitter's role in the Moir affair also underlines the wisdom of something Malcolm Gladwell once wrote. I think it was in The Tipping Point that he suggests that there are some super-connected people, who push a trend out to a much larger network than the average person. On Twitter, such super-connected people are much more obvious and with an even bigger network. An obvious example is Stephen Fry, who claims he was very much a Johnny-come-lately to the Moir effect, but would still have provided a ramping up of the Twitter response. People like Fry act like amplifiers in a circuit, suddenly hugely boosting a signal.

It's fascinating, and though there are many people who over-emphasize the power of Twitter and Facebook, I still do think that they are changing the way we communicate, and so far (unless you are Jan Moir) the effect has largely been positive.

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