Thesis 1: Air was the original social medium


Note: This post is part of the 35 Social Media Theses series, providing amplification and an opportunity for discussion of one of the theses originally posted on Reformation Day 2009.


In one sense, as I will argue in Thesis 4, the social media revolution is historic. But the fundamental issue to understand about social media is that, in their essence, they have been around from the beginning of human civilization. Or, as I put it in the first of my 35 Social Media Theses posted 492 years after Luther’s 95:

Social media are as old as human speech, with air being the medium through which sound waves propagated.

I have boiled that down further into the title of this post and in my presentation slides, in keeping with Seth Godin’s advice. I don’t completely agree with his arbitrary limit (never more than six words on a slide), but it’s good general guidance, so I try to comply when I can. And it’s nice to see that he relaxed the hard-and-fast limit with these helpful presentation tips.

For several millennia, “spreading the word” happened mainly by the propagation of sound waves through the mix of Nitrogen, Oxygen, Argon, water vapor, Carbon Dioxide (which is not a pollutant, by the way) and other chemicals that make up our atmosphere.

So whether it was news about a miraculous healer in the countryside of Judea or which merchant in the marketplace had the freshest produce, the way it was disseminated was almost entirely verbal, from one person to another (or a small group at a time), via the medium of air.

In other words, through a social medium.

I work at Mayo Clinic as manager of syndication and social media, but social media have been at work at Mayo long before I was even born. For more than a century, and even after the advent of mass media like TV and radio, word of mouth has been the most important source of information influencing preference for Mayo Clinic. It’s been all about people sharing their experiences as patients (or accompanying family members visiting Mayo) in a social context. In the equation above, S! stands for satisfaction, and as it is multiplied via sound waves through air, it leads to word-of-mouth. Putting it in a formula like that creates the illusion of scientific rigor, but it’s really pretty simple.

In considering the tools (as we will see in Thesis 2) social media are new, but in another sense they are just the way we as humans have always communicated.

YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and blogs are new.

Social media aren’t.

Community 2.0: Energizing Word of Mouth through Social Media

This afternoon I’m presenting at the Community 2.0 conference in San Francisco. I’ve embedded the slides below.


View more presentations from Lee Aase.

Here are a few of the links to posts mentioned:

The Mayo Clinic Music Fun post on Sharing Mayo Clinic.

The story of Sharon Turner and her daughter, Jodi Hume, who shot that video.

The story of Anne de Bari and her husband Tony.

Andy Knows Word of Mouth

Andy Sernovitz from the Blog Council understands word of mouth better than almost anyone in business today.

He recently sent a gift to say thanks for participating in BlogWell. He knows that if you send someone a pound of candy, they’re likely to appreciate it. If you send two pounds, they’ll tell their office mates and share the candy.

But if you send a three-pound bag of M&M’s they’ll do a blog post with a photo.

Or at least I will.

Upscale Word of Mouth Learning at a Discount

Our friend and WOM guru Andy Sernovitz is hosting a small-group word of mouth marketing seminar in Chicago July 30 and Sept. 4. Usually he only does private training for companies at a very large price, so this is a rare chance for 50 people to get the best introduction to word of mouth that there is.

Use the code “welovemayoclinic” when you register and you’ll get a $250 discount.

This is a very practical, hands-on course. In one intense day, you will:

  • Master the five steps of word of mouth marketing
  • Construct an action plan that your company can start using the very next day
  • Get the same training that big corporations (Microsoft, TiVo, eBay) have received — for a fraction of what they paid
  • Know how to translate word of mouth marketing into real ROI
  • Participate in an active, intense day of practical brainstorming (not boring theory)
  • Learn from Andy Sernovitz, the guy who literally wrote the book on word of mouth marketing

Andy promises you will learn a repeatable, proven marketing framework that is easy to execute, affordable, and provides measurable results within 60 days.

Book Review: The Tipping Point

Yesterday I finished reading Malcolm Gladwell’s The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference.

I enthusiastically recommend this interesting look at how epidemics reach epidemic proportions, and how it sometimes just takes a little nudge at the right point to immensely change the results. The book is full of real-life case studies that illustrate what Gladwell calls the three rules of epidemics: the Law of the Few, the Stickiness Factor and the Power of Context.

The Tipping Point

The Law of the Few: Certain kinds of people — Connectors, Mavens and Salesmen — play an immensely disproportionate role in spreading a social “virus.” Mavens identify what’s hot or cool, and are the ones who are “in the know.” As Gladwell puts it, they’re not just the kind of people read Consumer Reports; they’re the ones who write to Consumer Reports to correct what they see as errors in product evaluation. Connectors just know more people than the rest of us, often several times more than average, and so when they adopt an idea they will communicate it much more rapidly than others. Salesmen “persuade us when we are unconvinced of what we are hearing, and they are as critical to the tipping of word-of-mouth epidemics as the other two groups.”

The Stickiness Factor: Is the message memorable? Does it engage people? The classic example is the Gold Box in Columbia Record Club’s print advertising, which enabled new members to get any record of their choice free. This simple addition to the membership form in Parade and TV Guide increased sales by four times as much as a simultaneous test that used traditional prime time “awareness” advertising. The Gold Box team won in a rout, even though they spent a quarter of the amount on broadcast ad time as the team using traditional methods.

The Power of Context: The classic example of this is the precipitous decline in crime rates in New York City, which was far more rapid than could be attributed to demographics, crime rates or any other trends that would have pointed to a gradual decline. The key that “tipped” the positive epidemic, and ended the negative one, was zero-tolerance of fare beating or graffiti in the subway system.

The Tipping Point is, in essence, an epidemic that has already tipped; it’s been a #1 national bestseller. I know I’m not an early adopter, but if this post helps to play a Salesman role for you, encouraging you to check it out, I will consider it “mission accomplished.” You also may want to check out and subscribe to his blog.

The book gives a thought-provoking framework for people interested in starting word-of-mouth epidemics or attacking harmful epidemics. It’s interesting, though, that Gladwell doesn’t seem to think the context creation approach used in making subways safe is applicable to drug abuse or teen smoking. For instance, he notes a Baltimore needle exchange program for heroin addicts and apparently doesn’t see that as creating a more permissive/lawless environment similar to the fare-beating or graffiti. Likewise, smoking bans in restaurants and bars create contexts in which smoking is not socially acceptable, and the research on that seems to indicate it significantly reduces smoking. But maybe Gladwell sees drug addictions as just too “sticky” for context to matter as much.

For more on this book, you can check out Gladwell’s overview. I know that because of The Tipping Point, I’m going to be checking out his other book, Blink.