For the last several years, the concepts laid out in the best selling book "The Tipping Point" have driven marketing campaigns in general and music marketing in particular. But new studies raise serious questions about the validity of the book's core theories.
The Tipping Point particularly touted the importance of Influentials - well-connected individuals who amplify trends by sharing their opinions with their social networks. Just get these trend-setters on board and the rest will follow. It's a seductive concept particularly in the viral interconnected world of social MySapce, Facebook, Twitter, imeem and the entire social networking universe.
WHAT IF THE TIPPING POINT GOT IT WRONG?
Merely arguing that influence spreads like a disease isn't enough, marketing researcher Duncan Watts told Fast Company. Diseases spread in many different ways...
Some require multiple exposures and others don't. Some reward 'superspreaders' and others don't. For example the SARS virus hit Hong Kong not because the first victim was a superspreader, but because a doctor mistakenly hooked him up to an aspirator-ventilating SARS-infected breath into the hospital air.
Duncan Watts believes that in the viral world what's a hit and what isn't is far more random than the Tipping Point would lead us to believe. "If society is ready to embrace a trend, almost anyone can start one--and if it isn't, then almost no one can," Watts concludes. To have a hit product or band is less about finding the Influentials and more about of gauging the public's mood. There will always be a "first mover" with any trend. But according to Watts, they generally stumble into that role by chance - in Watts's terminology, they become an "accidental Influential."
WHAT DOES THIS MEAN FOR MUSIC?
This is sobering stuff for music promotion and marketing. The industry has known for years that no amount of money can create a real hit or a career that lasts. Perhaps the future of the music industry is less about telling consumers what's hot and more about listening to what fans are telling us they want to hear.