I am currently reading an interesting book called ‘The Tipping Point’, ‘How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference‘, by Malcolm Gladwell and he cites a couple of case studies that demonstrate his thesis of what makes an idea contagious and/or ‘sticky’. An idea that spreads from one person to lots of others is said to be ‘contagious’, whereas to be ‘sticky’ the idea that is passed on stays with that person within their thinking or habits – the classic goals of social media and marketing in general.
One of Gladwell’s examples involves a study on teenage smoking and why health programs are so ineffective at stopping teenagers from smoking. The other key case study, and somewhat more disturbing, is a study of suicide rates amongst teenage boys on the islands of Micronesia. What was so disturbing about the study was that it revealed a pattern (replicated elsewhere), that showed how the publicity over one incidence of a teenage boy committing suicide led to a spate of others. Quoting a study by Sociologist, David Phillips, of University of California, San Diego, of newspaper stories about suicides between 1940 and 1960, he clearly demonstrated a pattern where “immediately after stories about suicides appeared, suicides in the area served by the newspaper jumped.” Somewhere, and with certain individuals, a sense of suicide ‘ideation’ was engendered, and to the point where that ideation passed from isolated incident into a full-blown epidemic. It passed the ‘tipping point’. As these rituals became embedded in the local culture, much as with teenage smoking in the West, “the idea fed upon itself, infecting younger and younger boys.” Ultimately, the case studies successfully show how even a fairly extreme idea like suicide can spread and influence significant numbers of the population.
My thought was how much easier should it be, then, for a simple idea like reading or watching stories with a ‘good’ theme, positive, inspiring stories, leading to a different way of how we perceive and consume ‘news’, and even how we act towards other people in our daily lives? There’s a long held view in the news business that ‘bad news sells’. Certainly the suicide study is an extreme example of the influence bad news can have. But a constant diet of bad news cannot be good for our sense of well being and happiness – it cannot be ‘good for the soul’. I certainly see signs everyday that suggest that more and more people are fed up with the constant bombardment of bad news [Here's one example from Helium.com - 'The importance of seeking a balance in positive news to combat the negative']. There are plenty of other examples out there, many in local news outlets. Maybe the time is right to spark an epidemic of good news. Maybe all it will take to do so is for a few people to tell their stories about little things that made a big difference. Told in a way that is both contagious and sticky – in a way that will reach a tipping point. If it can work for stories about suicides how much easier should it be for stories about the good people can do? And just maybe such a story will be told by Storytellers For Good.
We know there are lots of social enterprises and nonprofits out there with a great story to tell. We can help you get the most out of telling that story, and we are always happy to be asked about how we do so, so feel free to contact us.