We often talk about the search for evangelists, the 1 in the 1-9-90 formula, and how hard it is to find them, maintain them, reward them, and keep them motivated, as if they were a single, uniform, type: the evangelist. The truth of the matter is, there are many different types of evangelist.
And this was brought home to me a few days ago when I was re-reading The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell, a book I find more quoted than read, (perhaps that’s the fate of all books, but I digress) and pondering his three social types of people: connectors, mavens, and salesmen, “who play a critical role in word-of-mouth epidemics that dictate our tastes and trends and fashions.”
Connectors: Connectors know lots of people. They are the people who given 100 names chosen at random from the Manhattan phone directory will know 90+ people with the same surname. They are the “handful of people with a truly extraordinary knack of making friends and acquaintances.” They are also important for not only the numbers they know but the importance of people they know. They manage to occupy many different worlds and subcultures and niches” whether it’s work, church, athletics, schools, PTAs, neighborhood groups, societies, professional associations, and so on. The ties do not have to be strong. Gladwell quotes Mark Granovetter’s law of weak ties for job searchers, where he found that people getting jobs most easily were the ones with the weakest but most extensive ties. You get more jobs through acquaintances, not so much through your close friends.
Mavens: Unlike Connectors who are people specialists, mavens are information specialists. The word means “one who accumulates knowledge” These are people who monitor store prices, “market mavens” and complain loudly and bitterly when 2 cents off really means 2 cents off a price that was artificially inflated to 4 cents the week before. Also, it’s not just the fact that mavens accumulate a lot of information, they also want to tell you about it – they take you shopping, they “distribute about 4 times as many coupons as other people”, and so on. Gladwell quotes Linda Price, marketing professor at Nebraska University, when she says “well over half of Americans know a maven, or somebody close to a maven’s description.” They are important because they know about things that most of us do not know. And they pass it on “because they want to help and they like to help.”
Salesmen: Salesmen have the skills “to persuade us when we are unconvinced of what we’re hearing.” These are the people who can sell snow in the winter in Switzerland and ship coals to Newcastle. What makes a successful sales person successful is hard to define. It is often very subtle, it is often more non-verbal than verbal (which might indicate a lesser impact in online communities) relying greatly on body movement and facial expressions. It can also involve subtleties of dress, demeanor, and attitude.
In summary, mavens are the data banks; connectors are social glue, salesmen are the persuaders. If you think that this might be too theoretical, see the latest Groundswell blog from Forrester where they indicate who state that a minority of people generate 80% of what they call “influence impressions” or influence posts which are “blog posts, blog comments, discussion forum posts, and ratings and reviews. We estimate that people in the US create 1.64 billion influence posts every year. If around 150 people view each of these posts (a conservative estimate…), that’s another 250 billion-plus impressions.”
The point is that as community specialists, in our search for evangelists and in their nurture and care, we should not assume that we are dealing with a single type. For example, professionals, who don’t want anything to do with all that FaceBook stuff live in different communities, primarily communities of practice, defined as “groups of people who share a concern, a set of problems, or a passion about a topic, and who deepen their knowledge and expertise in this area by interacting on an ongoing basis” (Etienne Wenger, Cultivating Communities of Practice). In a community of practice, an evangelist might be someone of a very different type. The evangelist in a community of practice is often the guru, the super-user, the expert, someone who by nature paradoxically, is often anything but social. They might not “know” a lot of people, but have something of the maven in them in that they seek out and gather information and like to help, but they are definitely not trying to sell you anything. As a community specialist, you should consider that there might be several personas that you should be seeking out that would be appropriate to help fulfill the goals of your specific community, and treat them uniquely. Do others spring to mind?