Of Ants and Elephants

It’s safe to say that since the dawn of the personal computer industry, tech marketing has been modeled after the theories of generalized technology adoption. The advice: one should market to the early adopters and grow into the early majority of the bell curve of adoption over time being ever cognizant of the chasm between the two.

More recently folks like Malcolm Gladwell and others have gotten us to focus on the long tail, outliers and the edges of markets to find the connectors, tipping points and influencers. Much of this work has celebrated social media and networks as proof these trends theories are correct and sound.

I’m beginning to believe we may have missed something in our rush to anoint the latest round of social scientists and their approach to using new media for marketing: ants. Or should I say more specifically the immense size of small numbers. So here’s a tangent. Some time ago I read that ants make up the largest cumulative biomass of species that walks the earth. The problem with looking for the connectors makes us elephant hunters when maybe we should consider what would happen if we leveraged the strength of the ants.

Could it be that 1,000 complete nobodies impact a market more than one somebody in the age of new media? Have we devolved to the rule of the mob? Let’s assume I have 150 friends on Facebook and 50 followers on Twitter and I decide to compose a glowing post about a movie I just saw. Judging by what I’ve seen on these networks 3-4 people will comment on or like my post and then if flows out of sight in the stream of news for my friends. What’s interesting is the 3-4 people’s comments will show up on their newsfeed which means their 150 of so friends will have access to my post. In the end I can see that from my one post there’s the potential of nearly 500 people hearing my voice.

So what? Newspapers land on millions of doorsteps each morning. Get to an editor, the elephant, and you’re home free. Or maybe not. If I go back to my previous story and use the 500 viewers of my comment and multiply that by the other 999 complete nobodies that made a similar comment we can see that 500,000 viewers have seen a similar post. Yes, the paper gets delivered and you can use the old school “impressions” metric but in the end we all know a small percentage of those who get the paper will ever see a particular story.

I haven’t been able to mathematically prove it but I’m beginning to think all the latest thinking on new media hasn’t deeply internalized how it actually works in the wild. How many people are influenced by one person’s comment on a social networking site? I don’t think the math is simple; rather I think it’s quite nuanced.

In my day job I’m going to test the idea of marketing to the middle. We are going to test the strength of ants. I’ll keep you posted on the outcomes.