Not Going Viral: How Might Networks Inhibit Online Sharing and Collaboration? 4


For years I have casually chatted with colleagues about why the Singapore market seems to continue lagging behind in terms of having examples of highly successful social media campaigns?  As I raise this question (again), please don't misunderstand my intent.  I am aware of the successful "flash your tat" effort around the 2009 SG Tattoo show, Intel's blogathon (which until recently I actually thought was for Lenovo), food blogs with strong followings, and that Little Nonya quickly developed a strong Facebook following.  But on the whole, and for a technology loving country such as Singapore, the successful examples we have seem more isolated than representing a trend.  Simply put, where is SG's KFC Cayenne Grille campaign like we saw last year in Australia?

Why is this?

I had an "ah-ha" experience this week which may add another piece to the puzzle. I am thinking about network density in Singapore as a contextual factor impacting online campaigns, and the power of weak ties. 

Previous Conversations about Singapore's Digital Media

To briefly revisit my previous personal and professional discussions, there have been many assertions about why online campaigns in Singapore remain modest.  Some will argue culture.  Singaporean's do not like to display themselves online (publicly) and are relatively passive Internet consumers (spectators).  Others have discussed corporate Singapore and the need to have one or two big companies blaze a trail forward and show the success that is possible (which really has not happened yet).  Some others have taken a more practical view and asked what problem does social media solve in this island nation of 4.9 million people?  Traditional face-to-face social networks continue to work just fine so we don't much need social media.  Still, some ask if the communication industries more generally really understand social media and how to use it (communicators remain too conservative?).  Unquestionably, mainstream media continues to be a key player in this market.  These ideas are nothing more than my brief recap of the many conversations I have participated in over the last few years.

So what is new?

Network Density and Messages that Spread

Recently I had an "ah-ha" experience which opened up a new possibility.  Let me emphasize that this is just a hypothesis.  I have been using a personal network assessment exercise with executives for several months, and I am struck by the early observation I am making from what is completely a convenience sample.  Network density in my experience has been exceptionally high.  On a scale ranging from 0.00 (lowest) to 1.00 (highest), the bottom limit has generally been .45 with huge numbers of people showing a network density of .8, .9 and even significant numbers at 1.00 (a completely dense network where everyone knows everyone). 

On the one hand, this should not be surprising.  We know how important social groups are in Singapore and Asia more generally.  I should also reiterate I am working off a convenience sample of executives.  But also, based on what we know about the power of weak ties, this observation could hold an important piece of a larger social media puzzle many of us have been trying to figure out.

Weak Ties and What the Research Says

Without going into painful detail, I will attempt to summarize what we know about the power of weak ties.  Weak ties (acquaintances; not our close friends and family) offer resources and perspectives we do not tend to get from our closest friends.  Weak ties tend to add diversity to our life while networks of strong ties ate classically homogeneous.  From this diversity, tapping into weak ties often has the following consequences.

  • Weak ties are great for spreading ideas quickly (especially bridging weak ties which help ideas move from one network to the next)
  • Weak ties are great for helping ideas reach distant targets (far outside our network of strong ties)
  • Weak ties are great for episodic information flows
  • Weak ties support innovation by helping ideas flow from one discipline or network to an entirely different one.

The problem is, when we reduce or even eliminate weak ties, these advantages diminish and eventually go away.  Again, without going into all the academic research, without weak ties our network becomes homogeneous, disconnected, and the group tends to fall behind the pace of social progress.  Without weak ties we segregate ourselves, and from a communication perspective this makes it very hard for ideas to flow in and out of our network. Conversely, "going viral" should be easier in places where we see a greater quantity of weak ties.

Next Step in the Research

So to what extent, if at all, is my observation generalizable to greater Singapore?  Intuitively, there is much to suggest that our networks in this country are full of strong ties.  All of the survey research I am gathering shows that huge numbers of Singapore netizens are online spectators and not openly communicating about what they see and read online.  One way to read this, possibly, is that we are remaining firmly embedded within a network of largely strong ties.  And of course we have to remember that such general social statements may or may not hold true at an individual level (I am sure we can all think of the example to disprove such a hypothesis). 

So the key issue here is data.  We need a random sample of data, as exploratory research, to get an extremely preliminary sense whether or not this line of inquiry might be of value.   But based on the network measurement exercise I have been using with Singapoream executives, I do think there is value in at least asking the question.

What would your experiences here in Singapore suggest?  Do we live in a nation with many dense (relatively closed) networks?


  1. Very interesting observations. Maybe comparisons with China, Malaysia, and Indonesia could be made considering a larger part of Singaporeans are ethnic Chinese and Malay. I would expect the results to be quite correlated as the types of networks we have are not too dissimilar.

  2. Precisely what I have been thinking. Many things to consider, and I could be dead wrong about this, but certainly the avenue looks exciting as a research opportunity and who knows what we might uncover.

  3. Interesting…tho i’m thinking it could be because Singaporeans generally are more reserved. So really there are more observers than participants. For a viral effect to take place, i guess u need more participants for it to be truly effective and to see the exponential growth in spread.

  4. From a network perspective, the key issue is weak ties which bridge from one community (that is, network) to the next. Public displays of self are probably an issue, as well. My thinking right now is that if our networks lack weak times, then we need to: a) recognize lower potential for content to be shared and spread, and 2) adjust our overall strategy to reflect a larger number of relatively closed groups rather than simply seeking those classic Tipping Point influencers who can spread ideas. The Tipping Point assumes the presence of weak ties, and thus the ability for an idea to spread. To Royston’s point, being more reserved might be an issue in that we gather in walled gardens or will generally be less likely to share something if it means putting ourselves out there (that public display of self).

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