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“Tell Three” Campaign: Social Network Tipping Points

Written by: Bill Sherman on Friday, 12 June 2009, 11:25 AM

How do a community’s opinions change over time? Well, if we believe Malcolm Gladwell’s thesis of the Tipping Point, ideas slowly propagate through a network until they reach a moment where change seems to happen quite suddenly.

Today, Andrew Gellman at fivethirtyeight.com takes a deep longitudinal look how perspectives on gay marriage have changed over the past twenty years. His article: “Gay Marriage, State by State: A Tipping Point?”

It’s a fascinating read, and it makes some impressive insights about the ideas changing within social networks.

  • Support for gay marriage has increased everywhere (by varying degrees) compared to the 1990s.
  • However, support for gay marriage has increased faster in states where gay rights was already relatively popular in the 1990s.
Gellman provides a fascinating fifty-state graph that shows the transformation, and he suggests an interesting social network theory.
  • If the average American knows approximately 700 people, then 35 will be gay (a 5% GLBT presence).
  • In states where gay rights are relatively popular, more people will talk about their identity, and so people will associate gay-rights issues with their family, friends, and neighbors
  • In states where gay rights issues are relatively unpopular, these people will stay in the closet longer–because strong social conservative pressure.
Look at that graph. It’s one of the best representations that I’ve seen how opinions change in a social network. However, while it’s very relevant to gay rights, it goes straight to the issue of change.
You need to understand this graph:
  • If you’re trying to effect change within your community or your company (as its leader or an HR/Org Development Person);
  • If you’re trying to change conventional wisdom on an issue within your community; or
  • If you want to understand the arc of social change.
This graph shows how ideas move from the periphery to the mainstream.
Dr Susan Blackmore’s (University of Plymouth) work on the meme (an idea) virally replicates themselves and form the basis of culture. Here, the gay-marriage meme replicates better in environments that already (relatively) adopted the gay-rights meme.
If you want to effect long-term viral change to a culture, you have to personalize it within the network. That’s why the tell-three campaign works on a grass-roots social networking level. It encourages GLBT individuals to “come out” to at least three loved ones and say what it’s like to be GLBT. This campaign has been co-sponsored many groups–the ACLU, the Human Rights Campaign, Lambda Legal, and others.

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