Social epidemic and networks: How to achieve a change in a public reputation?

Malcolm Gladwell argues that ideas, as well as products or behaviors, are disseminated initiated by minimal actions that become like “social epidemics” until reaching the “tipping point,” a point of no return, where they are impossible to stop.

In CLC Communications and Public Affairs, we have been developing different theoretical and logical frameworks to systematize our experiences advising our clients on how to manage their corporate communication towards their stakeholders.

On a day-to-day basis, we have to explain to our clients how communication flows differently depending on the different leaderships and their influence capacities. That’s why it was handy to meet many years ago with an exciting proposal by Malcolm Gladwell in his book “The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference” (2000). For those of my readers who want to find it in Spanish, the book was translated as “El Punto Clave” or “La Clave del Éxito.”

Gladwell (2000) develops three basic tipping point rules to generate changes to achieve impact and obtain results. The first rule is the Law of the Few, which is where we will focus on this first contribution (p. 30). Some people have a superior ability to initiate change. The point here is a bit countercultural because usually the message is emphasized, and well, it turns out that it is necessary to understand that the messenger is still relevant. That is why we focus on protecting the reputation of our clients and always keeping them close to their values coherently and credibly.

The second rule is “ stickiness.” So now we return to the message that has to be memorable. “Social epidemics” arise from messages that are composed of pieces of sticky and remarkable information well said (Gladwell, 2000, p. 24–25). In our third installment, we will approach the exciting storytelling, to explain how CLC has recommended the construction of stories that are accompanied by actions in the framework of our clients’ values ​​(story doing).

Finally, the third rule is related to the context that will be our third installment trying to apply Gladwell´s tipping point to strategic communication (2000, p. 139). Both the messenger and the message must adapt to the circumstances and conditions of the moment. Our formidable research team generates value-added tailormade reports that we share week by week with our clients, which scientifically analyze the context and are based on a series of verified methodological instruments, which determine the lines of action in any circumstance.

Many times, the companies we advise must share their messages effectively and efficiently and have neither the time nor the expertise to study the context and design the message. In these situations, having the ability to generate small “social epidemics” is crucial. We have managed to accompany our clients in this type of complex cases, because the actors, the circumstances, and the opportunities are dynamic. To maximize resources, our team establishes, based on the company’s objective, the appropriate course of action in terms of the message and public relationship with the different stakeholders.

Recently, we were in charge of relations with the government and with the community in the development of a critical shopping center, which at that time would be the largest of all the countries in the region, with an investment of US$150 million. In that project, we had to deal with deputies, environmental NGOs, and communal groups of all kinds that opposed the construction of the work, mainly by myths and some misconceptions probably spread by the competition.

In those cases, it was urgent to generate a “social epidemic,” so we decided to use our application to communication and stakeholder management of the Gladwell thesis again. In those cases, in the meetings with the community, we understood how it was critical to distinguish between the community leaders involved and in what way they could spread our messages more effectively and quickly. This approach is concretized through a set of social network analysis tools (stakeholders) focused on characteristics such as density, reciprocity, transitivity, grouping, and group-external and group-internal ties (Hanneman and Riddle, 2005).

As I mentioned earlier, Gladwell (2000) divides influential people into three categories: connectors, those whose network of contacts is much higher than the average and includes people who come from different “spaces”; mavens, they are the ones who collect information about specific topics and share it with their contact groups; and salespeople, they are those with high power of persuasion and negotiation, which are usually very vocal from their points of view.

We understood that we need all three groups. Each influencer has its position, its mission, and a specific and valuable social network. Mavens generate credibility, not only in their family but also with the salesperson, who would be more insistent and verbal. Without the connectors, we would not get access to all levels of our audience, which is diverse and dispersed in a multiplicity of social contexts. Because of this, our group develops three standards of meetings: meetings with the community, meetings with each of the levels, and finally, meetings with the three levels of influencers.

Each group meeting allowed us to identify the agents of change to whom we address with specific messages, which are carefully constructed according to the social context, perceptions, and individual interests. This methodology allows a quality message to be obtained in the short term based on the mapping of the social networks of the stakeholders, the decision-making process, and the existing regulations.

Originally published at https://www.beyondthelikes.org on March 26, 2018.