In “The Tipping Point” by Malcolm Gladwell, there’s a chapter called “The Law of the Few: Connectors, Mavens, and Salesmen.” Gladwell introduces us to the concept of a Connector, “people with a particular and rare set of social gifts,” and he describes the most famous Connector in U.S. history: Paul Revere.
On the evening of Paul Revere’s famous ride (“The British are coming!”), a fellow revolutionary named William Dawes set out on a similar ride, but along a different path. Dawes’ ride, however, didn’t alert the community in the way that Revere’s did.
Local militia leaders were not awoken and compelled into action. It was a Connector like Revere who stirred people from sleep and rallied them to action.
10 Characteristics of Connectors
In the rest of the chapter, Gladwell tells the stories of modern day Connectors. By way of these stories, we come to learn common characteristics of Connectors:
- “An instinctive and natural gift for making social connections.”
- “More of an observer, with the dry, knowing manner of someone who likes to remain a bit on the outside.”
- “Simply likes people, in a genuine and powerful way, and he finds the patterns of acquaintanceship and interaction in which people arrange themselves to be endlessly fascinating.”
- “Connectors are important for more than simply the number of people they know. Their importance is also a function of the kinds of people they know.”
- “People whom all of us can reach in only a few steps because, for one reason or another, they manage to occupy many different worlds and subcultures and niches.”
- “Finds everyone interesting … have some instinct that helps them relate to the people they meet.”
- “We rely on them [Connectors] to give us access to opportunities and worlds to which we don’t belong.”
- “Gregarious and intensely social.”
- “An uncanny genius for being at the center of events.” [in reference to Paul Revere]
- “They see possibility … while most of us are busily choosing whom we would like to know and rejecting the people who don’t look right…”
The Social Web’s Paul Revere: Jenise Fryatt
Chances are you know this person. Her name is Jenise and she’s a Connector. I “met” Jenise via Twitter – she’s quite active there (@JeniseFryatt), but also connects with people on Facebook, Google+, Pinterest and elsewhere.
If the “British are coming,” I’d want Jenise to be the one on that horse, shouting from the rooftops (and of course, she’d probably go on Twitter first, where she’d immediately receive 100 retweets).
When I got to “The Law of the Few” chapter while reading “The Tipping Point,” I said to myself, “Connector? You’ve just described Jenise.” Coincidentally, Jenise recently wrote a piece on the Cvent blog about ways to think like a connector.
I had the pleasure of meeting Jenise (“in real life”) at PCMA’s Convening Leaders conference earlier this year. Prior to that, I had developed a friendship with Jenise entirely online. All ten of the Connector descriptions (above) apply to Jenise. Here are examples of how Jenise connected me to others (people, opportunities, etc.):
- Received mentions on Twitter (by Jenise) for #EIR. At first, I didn’t know what “EIR” stood for. Jenise was interviewed on Liz King’s blog and provides the background behind “Engage, Inform, Retweet.”
- Was asked by Jenise if she could re-publish some of my blog postings on Engage365.org (at the time, Jenise was that site’s Community Manager).
- Connected me with other users on Twitter, whom I otherwise would not have met. One example: Michael Eliopoulos (@TheReelMJE), with whom I exchange thoughts on the world of sports.
- Invited me into a “tribe” of event professionals on Triberr (a neat service that allows our “tribe” to share and promote each other’s blog postings).
- Jenise has an active and widely read blog called “Sound n’ Sight” and she often publishes guest posts from industry professionals. Jenise recently published a Q&A with me about blogging.
The Role of Connectors in Social Networks
For me, Twitter would be a far different (and less enjoyable) experience without Connectors. It’s through Jenise that I’ve met so many people on Twitter, both in our industry and outside it. In fact, when I met Jenise at Convening Leaders, I decided to join her group for dinner one evening, as I knew I’d have the chance to meet a bunch of other interesting conference-goers.
Let’s consider the role that Jenise (and other Connectors) play in social networks.
Makes the social fabric stronger.
Connectors are the ties that bind our social fabric. Like the ligaments in our body (that connect bone to bone), Connectors introduce people to one another – and from there, it’s up to those people to further build and nurture that connection.
Keeps participants engaged (and coming back).
If Twitter was just about sharing links (and, sharing what you had for lunch), it wouldn’t be as enjoyable. It’s the interactions and the connections to new people that make it exciting for me. When I first access Twitter, it’s the “Interactions” that I check first, not the tweets. And that’s what keeps me coming back, more than anything else. Without Connectors, we’d all have less Interactions.
Recruits future Connectors.
For those who are inclined to be Connectors themselves, it’s existing Connectors that serve as role models. For instance, Jenise’s #EIR (on Twitter) helps to acknowledge people who are actively interacting with others. This, in turn, causes some to share their own #EIR lists (much in the same way that #FF / #FollowFriday took off). And those who compile their own #EIR lists may become full fledged Connectors some day. And the more Connectors there are, the stronger the social fabric bonds.
Recruits from outside the network.
Social network Connectors help evangelize the service (e.g. Twitter) and encourage people to join (I bet Jenise has done this). They explain the benefits of having a Twitter account (for example), but it doesn’t stop there. They’ll provide guidance and mentoring on how to get started, along with a hearty amount of encouragement. Later, they’ll connect these new users to others. And once again, the social fabric bonds tighter.
Connectors play a critical role in social networks. If Gladwell were to re-write his chapter several years from now, perhaps he’d analyze the Arab Spring, rather than the American Revolution. With the Arab Spring, I’m sure that Connectors played a central role in rallying their peers to overthrow governments. Ironically, Gladwell would write that the revolution will not be tweeted. But I disagree.
Note: I invite you to connect with me on Google+.