One of those indicators of how far-along we are in the era of social-anything (social networks, social media, etc.) is that we’re just a few months away from the 15th anniversary of the March, 2000 publishing date of Malcom Gladwell’s The Tipping Point. (It was first a New Yorker article in the June 3, 1996 issue.) The book wasn’t actually an “internet book,” or a “business book,” or even a “marketing book,” but soon after it was published, it became a must-quote book for all internet marketers.


A re-read of the book makes it sound a bit dated, but the underlying principles still ring true.

The Law of the Few

In a nutshell, the book describes what makes ideas spread or “go viral” — which is pretty impressive, because it was published before we all started using the term “go viral.” If you can recall anything about the “tipping point” concept, it will likely be about “the law of the few,” the three types of people necessary to make ideas and fads and trends and diseases spread. When these three types of people come together, the magic happens:

Mavens: Those who are obsessed with knowing and sharing everything about a very narrow topic.

Connectors: The Kevin Bacon-types who know everyone and serve as our hub to the few-degrees-of-separation that enable you to know someone who knows someone who knows…

Salesmen, or Persuaders: The people who have a knack for turning everything they start doing into a cause. They start running, therefore everyone should. They discover a new restaurant, now everyone should try it out. They think the iPhone is cool, therefore everyone they know must be convinced it’s cool.

We’ve just changed the labels, ideas still spread the same old way

Also, while re-reading the book, you’ll begin to recognize “old wine in new skins.” After 15 years of all sorts of internet gurus coming and going, you’ll recognize that the Tipping Point’s decade-old labels have been replaced with new labels.

Connectors are now Super Connectors: It’s not enough anymore to have lots of followers on Twitter. Now, you must be the person who serves as the super connector who actually knows the 500,000 people who follow him or her. Super Connectors are the hub of the tribe to which you belong. Often, they don’t know why so many people follow them as they’ve never once knowingly done anything that encouraged it.

Mavens are now Thought Leaders: To those who wish to package up ideas into easy to sell books, conferences or consulting gigs, this is the most vexing part how things work today. Knowing how it works matters little. Thought leadership requires actual “thought” — not just re-tweeting others or, worse, having someone ghostwrite blog posts for you. The people who actually become thought leaders have to be obsessed with the topic, not theories or processes.

Persuaders are now Influencers: These people still want to convince you that every app they like is one you need to download. PR people used to pitch stories to newspapers. Now they pitch persuaders. Ironically (and in my humble opinion, only), while PR people used to be good at persuading reporters to write stories, they don’t seem to be as good at persuading influencers.

Note: There are many who believe the Tipping Point was a sick kind of virus. Here is one of many contrarian views of the book.

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(Featured photo: Hannaneh via )