Theory behind the Social Media explosion

I mentioned in the last post some of the history behind why Social Media is in an absolute boom at present. Mostly this is to do with human interaction and the our social nature which leads us to find ways to communicate and collaborate over long distances. There has also been a business cultural shift towards embracing these social tools to open up a dialog with customers which is perhaps due to the changing generational mix in the workforce as Andreas Kaplin & Michael Haenlein point out:

“The growth is not limited to teenagers, either; members of Generation X, now 35-44 years old, increasingly populate the ranks of joiners, spectators and critics.” – Kapaln & Haenlein, Users of the world unite! The challenges and opportunities of Social Media.

I suspect this push will go even further as more and more Generation Y enter the workforce and expect these tools and computing experiences.

However, I would like to explore a more empirical approach and theory as to why there has been this explosion of Social Media adoption. I would like to bring up an interesting theory that I read about in an excellent book by Juliette Powell called “33 Million People in the Room”.

I was also lucky enough to meet Juliette at a creative media conference and workshop a few years ago see her video from X:Media:Lab.

In her book, Juliette brings up Reed’s Law which essentially mathematically models the exponential growth in value of a network based on the number of participants in the network. This goes a long way to explaining the huge growth Social Networking sites such as Facebook have had recently.

No doubt you joined Facebook because your friends or family were on Facebook which made it valuable to you; just as your friends and family then also joined because you are on Facebook which had value to them and so on…Ad infinitum.

It is suggested in Reed’s Law that every new addition to the network doubles its value and taking the example from the Juliette’s book, it is easy to see this in action.

“…you have a network of 25 individuals. According to Reed’s Law, the amount of possible connections and subgroups within your group of 25 individuals is an astonishing 33 million” – Juliette Powell, 33 Million People in the Room.

And if we apply the maths…

  • Lets say N is the number of people in the network… in this case N = 25 people in the network.
  • The number of possible sub-groups available is modelled as 2^N (2 to the power of the number of people in the network).
  • So, 2^25 =  33,554,432 possible connections and sub-groupings within that network!
  • The growth in value is exponential, as mentioned each new member doubles the value of the network for example: 2^N+1 in this case is 2^26 = 67,108,864 connections and sub-groupings!!
Now apply that theory and logic to the vast number of users on Facebook, the mind boggles!
Looking at the infographic below by Ben Foster (@benphoster on twitter) it does indeed show a very exponential style growth of users on Facebook, perhaps there is some truth in this model of growth?


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3 thoughts on “Theory behind the Social Media explosion

  1. It’s amazing how fast Facebook is growing, and looking at the graph I cannot help to wonder if it will ever reach its ‘peak’ and start to move in a downward direction? And what will be the cause if it did?

  2. Nice post Cam, enjoyed the video. Couldn’t help but note that very early into it she used the ‘Authentic’ word – that seems to the be recurring theme in Social Media. If a brand isn’t authentic it will be slammed hard by the online community.
    Reeds law seems equally interesting.. I flicked across to my Linked In profile as they have a box about the number of potential connections – my 188 connections gives me 2,444,012+ links apparently, a heck of a lot less that the law would suggest, is there an upper limit on the laws reach I wonder?

    • camfindlay says:

      Yes, there seems to be a few other researchers that propose an upper limit due to the fact that our brains can online handle so many “connections” which is referred to as the “Law of 150” or Dunbar’s number which is worth Googling (both Seth Godin and Malcolm Gladwell reference this is some of their books). As for your LinkedIn it would be interesting to see how they are calculating that number… Reed’s Law includes all sub-groups (out of the 25 mentioned all the possible groups of 2, 3, 4, 5 and so on) of connections as well as direct connections. I am wondering if LinkedIn are not counting groupings but rather your connections times your connections, connections or something along those lines?

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