If Sylvia makes the math team, there are two ways for the school to find out.
One method is that she alerts people she has a relationship with. Call this a hard network, a direct connection.
The other method is that people tell other people, that the word spreads in unpredictable, uncontrollable ways, from person to person. Call this a soft network.
My thesis is that it's not really hard vs. soft. It's both. The hard network of permission starts and amplifies the soft network of horizontal, unpredictable connection–if the story is worth spreading.
Industrialists, and the marketers who work for them, used to start with spam. Use money and effort to yell at everyone.
Over time, that has radically evolved into a new way to go to market. To talk to people who want to be talked to. Engaged marketers prefer this direct approach. It’s measurable, repeatable, predictable. It can be owned. Permission marketing lives in this sphere, the privilege of delivering anticipated, personal and relevant messages to people who want to get them.
Permission is an asset, and it is the heart of what can be built online in the connection economy. But permission is notoriously unresilient. If the message doesn’t get through, nothing happens. If networks shift or systems change, nothing happens. As email gets more crowded, as follower numbers explode, we see again and again that hard networks don't carry enough data.
The soft network, on the other hand, begins with permission but then fills in the cracks. In a soft network, people tell other people, horizontally, relentlessly, as the word spreads.
When people asked Timothy Leary what they ought to do next, he said, "find the others."
Tribes form horizontally. Change happens from person to person, rarely from the top down. Organizations establish a culture, the way we do things around here, as much from the craftsmen on the shop floor as from what the CEO does in her office.
I'm seeing the power of this firsthand with the launch of my new book.
I asked some of the people who are already reading it to post on Twitter with the hashtag #YourTurn along with the name of their city. Feel free to add yourself…
Anyone searching on the term will get an instant snapshot of not just where interesting work is being done (and where the status quo is being challenged) but who is doing it as well. New people to follow and learn from. Connections, made. A critical step on the road to making change happen.
The unpredictable, organic nature of soft networks mean that they'll never be assets an organization can bring to the bank. But as we go mobile and immerse ourselves ever deeper in data, this is how ideas move. PS via Ivan, another way to think about this.