Platt Perspective on Business and Technology

Social networking and community, and the emergence of fads

Posted in social networking and business, Web 2.0 marketing by Timothy Platt on January 26, 2010

This past Sunday I attended a birthday party, and while there found myself talking with a new acquaintance. As often happens in a situation like that I asked her what she does for a living and she in turn asked me what I do professionally too. We exchanged our elevator pitches and she followed through by asking me a very basic question. “What is social networking?”

I was thinking about communities and both online and as people come together to organize in more face to face context, and I answered accordingly with something along the following lines.

“Think of the issues and priorities that are most important to you, both in general and in the here and now of your life. There are a lot of other people who share those same interests, values and concerns too. Together you and these other like minded individuals constitute at least a potential community. Social networking is the process whereby people find each other and come together to share ideas and create value – and to create active communities from that potential.”

I found myself thinking of a pair of postings on Twitter that I had added to this blog last October as I said that:

Problems and opportunities in up to 140 characters – Twitter and business networking (written long).
Haiku marketing – tweeting and re-tweeting for viral marketing reach and impact.

There, a central issue that I had in mind was how some Twitter campaigns take off and even have the potential for creating history, where most are self-limiting and easily forgotten.

• The key to this distinction seems to me at least, to reside in the capacity of some core ideas for creating a widely marketable call to action.
• That, of course, requires there be the fertile ground of a potential community that this idea could develop in and spread through.
• That in turn would require that this core idea or concept be able to readily convey a defining sense of worth and distinctiveness to make it stand out as special for this community.
• Here, the core idea might be morally compelling and it may tap into tremendous societal need, but the same basic processes I write of here would apply to fads too.

What in this sense is a fad? How does an idea become a trend, become a widely encompassing fad? What makes some fads outlive that word and it limiting connotations to become more of a basic element in society, and for perhaps many otherwise disparate communities and not just their founder community where they first emerged as a fad?

If I had an easy to follow, algorithmic formula for identifying embryonic trends and fads in advance of their emergence I would probably be the most sought-after marketing guru on the planet, and if I knew how to create this type of compelling momentum I would be the richest. I admit that I am not actually interested in being either, but I do find myself thinking about some of the basic parameters that would go into ideas emerging as trends and fads.

One place to start for that is consideration of who starts a fad, and I come back to basic social network taxonomy for that and to hub networkers and their widely connected peers. If I wanted to launch a new fashion trend for teenage girls, I would need something new to offer, but to make it a trend, and perhaps even a fad I would need to get the most popular girls, who others would look to as role models in fashion to wear it first. I would want to try to prompt them to do so and with marketing to them that focused on exclusivity and on this new idea and garment being really cool, though I would not go near as out of date a term as that in any of my marketing.

• I would start by identifying the hub networkers for the potential community I wanted to reach.
• I would market to them to catch their attention and involvement.
• I would encourage them to share the word and to build wider momentum through viral marketing.
• I would start by trying to get them to just wear the garment I was trying to market and sell.
• I would listen and learn what the people they influence were hearing as the buzz developed, and I would listen to what they in turn were saying as word spread.
• I would pick up on that to market in synch with it, and with the right wording – once again not by saying “cool.”

This sounds a bit like Community Manipulation 101 and in a sense it is. I add that the processes I write of here happen all the time and every time a fad emerges, and they die just as quickly as the exclusiveness motivator runs out of energy – unless a longer term sustaining value can come in to replace it. That would be where the hula-hoop stays a fad, even if a periodically recurring one but the bikini becomes basic summer swimwear.

Yes, the world is safe from my attempting to influence teenage clothing fashion. No, that is by no means the only place where the points I raise here apply and I am thinking politics now. There are definitely circumstances where we need to find ways to develop and promote that sustaining momentum if we are to achieve the societal follow-through that is needed for us to collectively address our more pressing and long term problems.

So this applies to fads but it applies to a wider context of issues and ideas too and much if not all of this is going on all the time and with or without any planning or contrivance on anyone’s part.

I leave this with a basic question. Does the emergence of online social networking with our increased capacity to network and connect into communities increase the likelihood of fads succeeding and spreading or would this be expected to tamp them down and filter them out through rapid or even immediate loss of novelty? I suspect that is the wrong question and will probably delve a bit into why in an upcoming posting.

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  1. […] social networking and business by Timothy Platt on February 3, 2010 When I wrote and posted Social Networking and Community, and the Emergence of Fads, I did so with a focus on fads, and with an awareness that fads have come and gone for a long, long […]


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