The Two Key Roles in Social Media Activism *Update*

Have you ever studied human networks? I’m not talking about online social networks alone, but any kind of human network.

They’re amazing.


Networks tend to determine who we date, who we marry, and where we work. Our lives are more influenced by networks than we can imagine.

A network community can be defined as a group of people who are much more connected to one another than they are to other groups of connected people found in other parts of the network. The communities are defined by structural connections, not necessarily by any particular shared traits.

Christakis, Nicholas A.; Fowler, James H. (2009-09-09). Connected: The Surprising Power of Our Social Networks and How They Shape Our Lives (p. 12). Little, Brown and Company. Kindle Edition.

Most importantly, though, networks determine who wins elections.

A large body of evidence suggests that a single decision to vote in fact increases the likelihood that others will vote. It is well known that when you decide to vote it also increases the chance that your friends, family, and coworkers will vote.10 This happens in part because they imitate you (as discussed in previous chapters) and in part because you might make direct appeals to them. And we know that direct appeals work. If I knock on your door and ask you to head to the polls, there is an increased chance that you will. This simple, old-fashioned, person-to-person technique is still the primary tool used by the sprawling political machines in modern-day elections. Thus, we already have a lot of evidence to indicate that social connections may be the key to solving the voting puzzle.

Christakis, Nicholas A.; Fowler, James H. (2009-09-09). Connected: The Surprising Power of Our Social Networks and How They Shape Our Lives (p. 181). Little, Brown and Company. Kindle Edition.

Old fashioned, retail politics—knocking on doors, canvassing—creates human social networks.  By looking someone in the eye, you connect with them.

As Nicholas Christakis pointed out, Obama didn’t win because he connected with voters; he won because he connected voters to each other.

The After Party is how we’re beginning to build that network. One person acting alone is necessary but limited. One person acting in concert with one hundred others is powerful. Two or three 100-node networks quickly become invincible.

Above is my LinkedIn network. On the right is work. The orange is Tea Party. (Yes, I’m pulled in many directions.)

Seeing one’s network graphically helps you understand just large and important your networks are to getting anything done.  To give you some perspective, my Facebook network is at least 3 times the size and complexity of this one.

A recent study on social media confirmed and elaborated Christakis’s work. It found that two key social media roles can launch revolutions:  recruiters and spreaders.

Recruiters are highly influential starters, originators, movers.  They are not necessarily tightly connected to many people.  They are, however, connected and influential among very important types of people: spreaders.

Spreaders are connected to people with lots of connections.  They know lots of people. They have lots of Twitter followers or facebook friends. More importantly, their followers listen to them and respond. These are the people Malcolm Gladwell called “Connectors” in his fabulous book The Tipping Point.

From the research:

Researchers followed the posting behaviour of 87,569 users and tracked a total of 581,750 protest messages over a 30-day period. They found that the growth of the movement was driven by two parallel processes: the recruitment of users, started by early participants who provided what the study calls 'random seeding'; and the diffusion of information, which made the movement grow from those roots by means of the 'spreaders'. The latter were more central in the network not necessarily because they had a higher number of connections but because they were connected to others with equally good connections

Revolutions and movements start when a recruiter calls for a new action. Then the spreaders spread the call. People (nodes) in the network repeat the call. People start showing up—on the Arch steps on a cold February Friday.

Then the signal jumps to other networks. Recruiters in these other networks relay the signal to their own spreaders who pass along the call to action.

The Tea Party failed in 2010.  No doubt about it.

The reason The After Party is so crucial right now, is that networks, not heroic individuals, will win the 2012 primaries, caucuses, and election.  If you’re not in a network, your influence is diminished. If you’re part of a network, your power is magnified.

Sign up here for the exclusive After Party mailing list.  You’ll connect to all the right people.

UPDATE  I forgot to make a key point.  Each of us must be either a recruiter or a spreader. Lurkers—those who simply observe—make up the vast majority of people on the internet.  So, if you see something important on Twitter, retweet it.  If you see an important blog post, tweet it or like it on Facebook.  Post comments on blogs and Facebook posts.  Get involved.