Chapter 9 in Clay Shirky’s book, Here Comes Everybody: Revolution Doesn’t Happen When Society Adopts New Technology, it Happens When Society Adopts New Behaviors, discusses the phenomenon of six-degrees of separation and how this can really help target one’s message for advocacy purposes. Many times we all think, “WOW, what a coincidence that I’m talking to someone on a train that knows someone else I know” is a huge deal. In reality, this happens all the time by virtue of the pairing down of the world’s population. By that, I mean, there are only so many people who would use trains, so many people who know so many others within a particular demographic, and so on. Soon, you realize you can take the 6 billion people in this world and get down to very few. Then that group talks to each other, which then connect with other demographics through a series of connections.
But why is this important for advocacy? Well, consider my last blog post talking about Facebook advertising. Pretend you’re an organization that wants to target a certain demographic for advocacy outreach. Via Facebook, you start to use city, state, age ranges, education levels and whathaveyou until get to the right target audience and click send. Then let’s say that some people see that ad (as let’s be honest, not everyone sees every ad that comes across their Facebook page) and they see something they like. Maybe they click on it and take action. More importantly, maybe that ad links to that organization’s Facebook page and that person “likes” that page, the information showing up in their feed. Then, here’s the connection. One of that person’s friends who don’t necessarily fit that demographic — therefore don’t get the original ad — but see that friend “liking” that page. They go to that organization’s Facebook page, see they, too, may be interested, and “like” it as well. Then it shows up in their feeds. I think from here on out it’s pretty obvious where this is going.
As Shirky says, “Small Worlds networks mean that people don’t simply connect at random. They connect in clusters, ensuring that they interact with the same people frequently, even in large networks.” By utilizing these clusters, advocacy groups can grow their level of participation well beyond one audience.