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Sixteen degrees of separation and a man named Dave

A social network

Sometime around February 10th 2019, Dave L Clements decided he’d change my world forever. 

I don’t know Dave. You might, but I have never met him. I probably never will.

That said, I *can* tell you a few things that I have found out about him:

First, that he’s “an astrophysicist by profession, working in extragalactic astronomy and observational cosmology, and an SF writer by inclination”. His words but my kinda guy.

Second, I can tell you that he’s got around as many followers on Twitter as I do. Okay, so he has 10% more followers than I do – but near enough. But he tweets a lot more than me. In almost ten years on Twitter (3,605 days, actually) he has tweeted an amazing 64,400 times. That’s an average of 17.9 tweets a day (compared to my paltry 6,406 tweets in 2,661 days at 2.4 tweets a day).

Third, that four people that I follow on Twitter also follow Dave, three of them called Steve. This overlap represents 0.3% of my followers and 0.28% of his). 99.72% of his followers don’t know me and don’t follow me on Twitter.

Which brings me to my final thing I know about Dave: he has connected me to potentially everyone else on Twitter recently.

On  February 10th, Dave’s Twitter connection Simon Bradshaw wrote this tweet:

The book covers game

You’ve seen this kind of thing, right? The game is simple enough: over 7 consecutive days, post seven book covers and tag in a new person each day inviting them to join the challenge.

Well, Simon asked Tim. And Tim asked Clive Chamberlain. Clive asked Welsh Girl Abroad, who asked Rhys, who asked Kathryn, who asked Samantha, who asked Nigel. Nigel asked Dave E, who asked Carol who asked the APPG on Legal Aid Reform, who asked Catherine, who asked Dana, who asked Helen, who asked Christie, who asked me.

16 degrees of separation between me and Dave covered in just 57 days.

What can we learn from the game?

Looking up the chain got me thinking a few things:

Firstly, that the law is a bit siloed – everyone on the list going backwards works in the legal sector until you get to Dave. Sure, some of us are not lawyers, but that’s quite an amazing chain in one industry.

Second that people on Twitter are quite well connected. No-one seemed to struggle to find seven people to ask.

Third, that you get a lot of mentions if you use the standard text and all your people complete the challenge (you’d get mentioned a minimum 50 times if they all did it as structured).

Fourth, the sheer power of our networks.

The power of our networks

Perhaps only half the people involved engaged with it and only did half the task. An average of 3.5 people did 3.5 tweets. This is a pure guesstimate (something that would probably upset Dave given his profession); based on nothing more than eyesight and a gut feeling.

But let’s play that out, over 16 generations of the game. If 3.5 people ask 3.5 people who each ask 3.5 people… then that’s the same as saying

3.5 + 3.5^2 + 3.5^3 + 3.5^4 + 3.5^5 +… 3.5^16 = 709 million people.

As of Feb 2019, Twitter has an active user base of 326 million.

Clearly, we haven’t allowed for duplications, but it’s a stunning reach given all Dave was doing was sharing some book covers.

Looking down the line

I then asked Julian, Nikki, Tasha, Rich, John, Margaret and Scott to play the game. Some of them have taken up the mantel and the game goes. I have seen some of the people they have nominated nominate others, who have then nominated others. This will continue to reverberate, I assume, for a few more weeks until it peters out.

So what does it mean for us in terms of marketing?

First, I wanted to show the sheer breadth of our social networks. Hopefully, professionals no longer say that they don’t need social media (I will do a separate blog on the day that that conversation died with one specific event). But I didn’t want to examine the total number of users of a social medium, but rather by looking at how quickly we can get into the tens of thousands in our second- and third-degree networks.

In the case of this chain, it’s tens of millions (or more) of book lovers connected by a single social media thread. In my own LinkedIn third-degree network, there are tens of millions contacts, which means that for over ten million contacts, I could be introduced to them by someone that knows me who knows one of their contacts.

Applying the Ben Franklin effect (i.e. that someone will do you a favour if you ask them first (it’s a form of cognitive dissonance)) that means straight that off the bat, we can ask our network to introduce us to millions of people. Think of the power of that. It’s something I talk about a lot with my clients.

And, as you’re an expert at something, I don’t think that asking someone to introduce you to someone that they know is going to be too hard. Maybe not all your followers value your expertise, but enough will do that mean that you are a second degree connection of enough of the right people to never have to cold call anyone ever again.

Final thoughts

Firstly, thanks Christie for asking me to play the game. I’ve loved it.

Second, come on Dave, close the circle and follow me and retweet this blog post, yeah?

Finally, since you’re all dying to know, here are my books:

P.S. The photo image at the top of this article was taken by Joanna Kosinska, a freelance photographer. You can see more of her work here.