Is the Tipping Point Real?

There has been a meme circulating the blogosphere about a Fast Company article in which Duncan Watts, a Columbia professor, attempts to debunk the Tipping Point theory. Watts set up simulations to test who the initiators of viral epidemics are. He found that influencers are not necessarily the starting point of viral epidemics. Instead the initiator of an epidemic was left up to chance.

Watts states that Tipping Point supporters “start with an existing trend, like Hush Puppies, and they go backward until they’ve identified the people who did it first, and then they go, ‘Okay, these are the Influentials!” Malcom Gladwell suggests that “articles by academics can ever do is uncover a little piece of the bigger picture.” So at the end of all this research you are telling me that we can’t come to a conclusion on whether the theory is correct? What a letdown!

I think that the Tipping Point is a great model to use when marketing a product or an idea. Without the Tipping Point marketing and PR would be simply left to chance. Perhaps that’s the reality but humans can control a number of factors that help them increase the odds of spreading virally. Scott Karp has a great article about the role that influentials play on the web. Trust me that on the web the Tipping Point theory is real.

I have a couple of contacts that I can reach out to and they can essentially assure me that my article will end up on the homepage of Digg. There are others that if they place a link to my site, will instantly generate thousands of visitors to my site and an increase in my subscribers. Without those influentials, my self-promotion would be left to grassroots marketing where I target people on an individual basis. Eventually word of mouth helps things spread but influentials can provide a significant boost.

As Scott Karp points out, “Influence on the web is all about connectivity — the larger the network, the more powerful the links.” This all relates back to the question of whether or not the Tipping Point is real. On the web it definitely is and it is limited to a set of influencers who also happen to be highly active linkers. Anybody can become an influencer though by becoming active and linking to other things that interest them.

On the web, we read things from people that have shared interests. If you pick a space that enough people are interested in, you too can build your influence. Eventually, you could become the reason for a tipping point. Do you think the Tipping Point is real? Is there a select group of influentials or is that part of the theory non-sense?