Spreading the word about your brand traditionally has been the purview of your marketing and sales teams. The advent of user generated content and social media is slowly turning this upside down, or at the least giving you another avenue to worry about.
Intuitively we understand that if we activate a consumer with 1,000 connections that is a good thing, right? Yes, and no. Let’s look at graph theory to discuss why first degree influence is not the be all and end all of advocacy. And then let’s talk about the spread of disease and how we can all learn to emulate bacteria and viruses.
Graph theory is the mathematical representation of the interactions between objects or nodes in a network, and their interrelationship. If you have been around social media long enough, you are familiar with the six degrees theory. The representation of that research can be expressed using a graph.
Graphs are very useful for many areas of study, including biochemistry, electrical engineering, computer science and for you readers, social networks. The reason why Facebook calls it the Graph Search is because it owes its theoretical underpinnings to graph theory. The most famous problem in graph theory, and what started the whole field of study, is the Seven Bridges of Konigsberg. Konigsberg, in Prussia sits on both sides of the Priegel River and includes two large islands connected to each other and to the mainland by a network of seven bridges. The problem was posed to find a walk through the city that would cross each bridge only once. Euler proved the negative, but the mathematical rigor to prove this was the beginning of graph theory.
We have all played a game that is based on graph theory’s application to sociology. And this game segues nicely into virology. The game I am talking about is “Six Degrees of Bacon,” which came into being around 1994, around the same time that Kevin Bacon, during an interview with Premiere magazine, commented that he had worked with everybody in Hollywood or someone who’s worked with them. I’m a fan of most of Mr. Bacon’s work, but I don’t think anyone would argue with me that he is the most prolific actor in Hollywood, nor the most acclaimed. But his varied body of work has made him a super-node in Hollywood. Drop a note in the comments as to what your Bacon number is. If you allow me a connection based on a convention autograph signing, my Bacon number is 3.
Now, virology. If my virus infects a super-node, it’s ability to replicate and infect is enhanced. In graph representation, like this (from this Mashable article):
I want to get to the center of the graph with my virus as quickly as possible. While the nodes on the edge may have multiple connections, their second degree connections are not as numerous as those in the center. My virus will spread, but not as quickly as if the center gets infected. I have heard, through articles, books and movies, that highly deadly viruses tend to burn out before they are spread widely. In graph theory, my edge nodes get infected and pass away before they are able to spread the disease quickly enough. This is a good thing for our species, by the way. If the virus was smarter and could insert itself in our represented social graph in the center, the spread becomes a different situation.
Okay, we have gone over a mathematical area of study, Hollywood and the spread of disease so let’s bring it back to what you do or want to do, activated customer advocates. But if we look at their graphs, such as through Facebook’s Graph Search, you can improve the efficacy of your campaigns. Much like the virus wants to get to the center to maximize not only the first degree connections, you want to get to the more important second degree connections. For instance, if I have 100 1st degree connections, and each of those have on average 100 1st degree connections, I have 10,100 nodes I am connected to through the second degree, right. However, if I only have 50 1st degree connections, but those have on average 250, I am now connected to 12,550. Which person is more valuable to you?
If your customer advocacy campaigns aren’t seeing the numbers you want, maybe you aren’t targeting the center of the graph, maybe you are only hitting the edge. You are smarter than the virus, go for the center. And if you’re Bacon number is 1, please tell Kevin that I am really enjoying “The Following.”