‘Weak’ links create buzz, ‘strong’ links generate advocacy

Some really interesting thinking from my colleague PC which I’ve put a bit of a spin on.

What’s the difference between an idea that creates buzz  then dies off quickly and an idea that builds momentum and  goes viral, creating real influence within a tribe? The answer could be how your idea travels through social networks via  ‘weak links’ or ‘strong links’.  In terms of our social networking platforms like Twitter, Myspace, Bebo, Twitter – many people have ‘weak’ links which are the  200-300 friends they have added who they may share ideas or thoughts with. When someone shares something they like it may create a flurry of buzz as the idea spreads through the weak links as people comment, but the buzz is short lived as the conversations move on to other more interesting social objects. In terms of these weak links,  it’s about sharing information with this broader social network but the expectation of dialogue around that idea is low and rarely happens eg: 1 or two people may say ‘Dan likes this’ and give the idea a thumbs up.

However, to create real advocacy and influence around an idea, turning people into message carriers, you’ve got to influence the the ‘strong’ links people have within their social networks.  The strong links are those 10-15 close friends or members of their tribe who are the ones they go to for advice when recommending a brand. Their tight knit group if you will.  These strong links are the friends whose opinion they really value within their tribe and seek approval from. They also are the ones who share common interests around certain social objects eg: they may all be into heli skiing.  The strong links between these people  has the power to spark group decision making and get people swarming around a brand.  If one member of a strong link loves a heli skiing resort and talks positively about it, more than likely the strong links between members of the tribe will mean they’ll interact with the idea.

So what does this all mean for brands?

Well, to infiltrate ‘strong’ social network links, there has to be shared  value and conversational currency coming out of the social object that is being discussed.

Ideas that help people connect the tribe around a passion point will always get heat within social networks. People want to connect around interesting cultural objects, you’ve just to create an idea that organises them and gets to the strong links quickly.

In todays media environment where cultural trends travel at hyper speed, youth brands should be focusing much more on the speed or VELOCITY of an idea, how quickly it can spread through weak links and then on to strong links. Speed is the new big. Small gestures in marketing can be equally as powerful as big scale marketing initiatives, if these gestures spread through influential strong links.eg: just because I post a piece of content I like that I found on youtube to my 600 friends on Facebook, doesn’t necessarily mean there will be an engagement with that idea, unless I have strong links as well.

To create brand influence, social ideas have to be culturally relevant, people become fans of culture, not ads or widgets. If it’s just a piece of funny content, it won’t go further than the weak links (and 90% of your friends will ignore it), it will be disposable and the idea/content will be forgotten quickly.

In my mind, in terms of seeding strategies for youth campaigns, it’s far less about getting to so called ‘opinion leaders’ who have loads of friends, but the vast majority are ‘weak links’. Rather, it’s about finding the right people (true believers) to spread your message who have highly influential ‘strong’ links and are motivated to spread your message for you and become carriers. It comes down to people wanting to be seen as influential within their tribe, we all want to contribute something positive within our strong links, it helps us belong – which as I’ve spoken about before is the fundamental youth need that’s been turbo charged by social media.  That’s the difference between generating buzz that comes and goes, and creating real advocacy and conversational currency that leads to influence. Food for thought?

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Strong links vs weak links in social networks

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