Wednesday, November 23, 2011

It's a Small World After All

I consider myself to be a fairly typical Facebook user. I visit the site daily, follow my friends, and occasionally, when I find something interesting, share it. And having now taken IMC classes for three years and held related positions for various internships and student groups, I also think that I’ve developed a solid understanding of general marketing principles, especially in the social realm. So the fascinating recent study on Facebook friendships conducted by researchers from the University of Milan certainly caught my attention, and with the increasingly vital role of social media in the marketing campaigns of most brands, hopefully it catches their attention, too. 

Amid a host of interesting findings, the most notable (and the one which has been picked up by a number of media outlets) pertains to the number 4.74. That is the average number of connections between any two Facebook users in the world.  A full 92% of people are connected to everybody by 5 connections, and 99.6% by 6. This is truly incredible. Assuming you’re on Facebook--and if you’re reading this, chances are you are--the only thing between you and anyone else is at most 5 people.

The “six degrees of separation” theory was first posited in the 1920s, but wasn’t tested until the 60s, when psychologist Stanley Milgram conducted an experiment in which participants were all instructed to send a letter to a specific individual living in Boston. The stipulation was that they could only mail it to a personal friend or acquaintance--ideally, one who had a better chance of knowing the intended recipient. Milgram found that it took, on average, 5 intermediaries (6 connections) to successfully deliver the letter. 

Now, real world friendships and connections don’t entirely map onto social networks. For one, many people simply aren’t on Facebook. And for those that are, it’s highly unlikely that they are friends with everyone they know in the real world and, conversely, actually know all of their Facebook ‘friends’. Despite these factors, however, the results are clear--people are unbelievably connected. Although the number of connections may not have decreased as much as one might have expected given advent of the internet, the fact is that we are indeed becoming more and more connected with each passing day.

For marketers, the implications of this growing connectivity are huge. Despite the fact that the world is expanding at an exponential rate, it is simultaneously shrinking. The global population just surpassed 7 billion, but it is more possible to reach all of these individuals now than it ever has been--and it is crucial to take advantage of this. Just because a message can reach more people, however, doesn’t mean it will. People will continue to share at increasing rates, and messages will spread faster and faster. But altogether, this results in a significant amount of white noise. This means that, now more than ever, marketers need to create truly meaningful and relevant messages for their consumers. Because if you don’t give people a reason to care, they won’t.

Thanks for reading, friend of my friend’s friend’s friend. 

Dal Ackerman
Northwestern IMC 2012
Follow me @Dal_Ackerman

1 comment:

  1. We are a much more connected world thanks to social communities. Many companies are acknowledging this fact and building community sites to create more focused, personal [and profitable] relationships. Its a trend that will continue to grow.