Seth Godin had a very good take on the Dunbar Number recently in the context of connections made on Twitter and Facebook. (Wikipedia: Dunbar’s Number is a theoretical cognitive limit to the number of people with whom one can maintain stable social relationships. No precise value has been proposed for Dunbar’s number, but a commonly cited approximation is 150) Godin was of the opinion that “You might be able to stretch to 200 or 400, but no, you can’t effectively engage at a tribal level with a thousand people.”
A few months back, I’d written a post wondering whether smaller organisations were better placed to use social media effectively. This was based on a post by Chris Brogan. Smaller organisations with a flatter structure, and a culture more open to ideas. In that post, I’d questioned whether ideas becoming products/services and then further on brands, meant that the large audiences developed by brands would dictate the kind of communication used, and if mass media one way messaging became easier then. Also, I’d wondered whether larger organisations could handle the empowerment required to work in a social media environment.
When I read the post by Godin, I wondered if there was a Dunbar number for brands, dictated by the number of people the brand can connect with- internally as well as externally? There are two things I read recently which added to the thought. One was the idea of the Intention Economy (via Surekha) which “grows around buyers” and is “about markets, not marketing”, and which is builts beyond transactions alone – conversations, reputation, authority, respect all of which are earned by the sellers and buyers. This is a provisional idea, the other is a report from 360i (via Mashable) which states that “that a majority of social media search listings that appear for brand-related queries are created by individuals not affiliated with the brand”, an increasing trend.
Meanwhile, another interesting thought occured to me when I read Jeremiah’s post on #OperationBlueWater – where he proposes sharing one’s personal goal plan with online and offline social networks to help people achieve it. I wondered if organisations could ever approach this scenario- not so much as an objective, but the openness and the willingness to share and collaborate along the journey.
With or without Dunbar’s number, brands would have to involve either consumers or employees (ideally both) to thrive in a ‘social’ world. If its employees, it means hiring people who are passionate about the stuff they’re working with. Yes, the communication has always been that way, maybe the virtual and social forces will make it happen in reality. As for consumers, in most mass advertising, we have been seeing for sometime now, what Godin describes as “politician’s glassy-eyed gaze or the celebrity’s empty stare”
until next time, social goal setting