Skip to main content

Contagiousness in Networks: The Tipping Point and Strength in Weak Ties

Link to Malcolm Gladwell’s book website:

A tipping point is the critical moment at which an idea, product, trend or behavior crosses a threshold and leads to irreversible development. Malcolm Gladwell’s book, The Tipping Point, reveals the importance of networks in everyday life, especially in epidemics. Trends come and go, but what does it take for one of those to stick and moreover, to grow to epidemic proportions? One of the important factors that contribute to the tipping point of a trend or event is the role of the Connector.

According to Gladwell, the Law of the Few (along with the Stickiness Factor and the Power of Context) deals with a few key types of people: Connectors, Mavens, and Salesmen. Once an idea, a trend, or a product is linked to these three kinds of people, its likelihood of becoming an epidemic rises. The person Connectors (there may be more than one) are the type of people who “know everyone” and have a knack for making friends. They are defined as having many acquaintances and usually a social circle that is four or five times the size of others’, thus they have great social power. They are the weak ties and local bridges that bring the world together.

Through the Connector, small scale interaction translates into large scale patterns that in turn feed back into small groups. We know by Strong Triadic Closure that if two friends A and B are best friends or have a strong tie, and A and C are also best friends with a strong tie, then at least a weak tie exists between B and C, and that they have probably met before. However, if no triad exists, a “bridge,” or a line in a network exists which is the only path between these two points, A and C. The significance of weak ties then is that those which are local bridges create more and shorter paths. Therefore, whatever needs to be diffused, shared or spread, will reach more people (travel a greater social distance) through weak ties than through strong ties.

For example, for a while in the 90s, Hush Puppies was a dying and unknown brand, sold only to “unfashionable” customers. Then at one point, the Tipping Point was reached and Hush Puppies became the cool shoes to wear. A group of trendy and hip kids, the Connectors or Early Adapters, had been wearing the shoes. These people were “marginal” or “central,” but because of their many weak ties, they were in the best social position to diffuse this product. From the Early Adopters, Hush Puppies reached the next more integrated part of the local social system, the Innovators, and later spread to the masses, entering more social networks and spreading at an increasing rate.

All Hush Puppies needed was one of those Connectors, those exceptional people, to hear of the trend, and by means of personality, enthusiasm, and social connections, it spread. All it takes is one person to start an epidemic.


Leave a Reply

Blogging Calendar

September 2011