Best Way to Spread Ideas Through Social Media – Use Malcolm Gladwell’s Theory

There are many theories as to how ideas spread, such as Jonah Berger’s message characteristics, Seth Godin’s people characteristics and Malcolm Gladwell’s network characteristics. All three of these theories makes perfect sense as to how it can be correlated to one another to make idea spreads.

The Perfect Three

From the above image, you can see how when a brand wants the idea to spread. Based on Seth Goldin’s theory, we must first know who is the audiences that are interested in listening to the brand.

Next is to craft a message or idea that will appeal to catch the attention of the readers using the different characteristics listed in Jonah Berger’s theory.

Lastly, it is to utilise the network based on Malcolm Gladwell’s network characteristics to encourage people to spread the idea and message for the brand.

Which Theory Is the Best to Spread Ideas on Social Media?

Gif from Giphy

My take on the best way to spread ideas through social media is using Malcolm Gladwell’s network characteristics which talks about the “three rules of epidemics” (or the three “agents of change”).

According to Gladwell, economists call this the “80/20 Principle, which is the idea that in any situation roughly 80 percent of the ‘work’ will be done by 20 percent of the participants“. The participants are categorised into three – Connectors, Mavens and Salesmen.

Here are two explanation as to why I said so.

You Can Have Great Message But What If There’s Minimal ‘Reach’?

Photo from iStock

A brand can create great contents and post it on social media, but if they have low followers or engagement, the idea/content will not go viral.

However, using Malcolm Gladwell’s framework, with the use of connectors, they would spread the message for the brand. With the theory of six degrees of separation and using Facebook as an example, we can see how having connectors enable the idea to spread and potentially go viral due to their connection of knowing a large group of people.

You Know Your Target Audience But What If There is Minimal ‘Influence’?

Image from Raw Pixel

A brand can identify their target audience, but they might not necessarily have the characteristic to spread the idea or content to create sufficient influence on people.

However, using Malcolm Gladwell’s framework, with the use of maven and salesman, it encourages word-of-mouth for idea and content to influence a larger scale of the audience as they serve as a reliable source of information for the target audience.

The Classic Example – Glossier

Image from Glossier

This is a screenshot of how Glossier uses social media to get anyone and everyone to talk about the brand with the three categories of people in Malcolm Gladwell’s framework.

In conclusion, my debate is that Malcolm Gladwell’s framework is the best applicable theory to spread the idea through social media. Do you agree or disagree with me? Share your thoughts with me as I would like to know too!

Signing off,


21 thoughts on “Best Way to Spread Ideas Through Social Media – Use Malcolm Gladwell’s Theory

Add yours

  1. Hi Vivian! Great summary of the Malcolm’s theory and I found it useful that you mentioned all the theories at first! I find word-of-mouth an extremely powerful way of influencing someone to buying a product, maybe even the best way. Don’t you think?

    Anyways, thanks for commenting on my blog post, much appreciated!


    1. Hey Darwiis! Thanks for the kind compliment. I agree that word-of-mouth is an extremely powerful way too! But, I don’t think it is the best way. A marketing message wouldn’t have high engagement if the message is targetted at the wrong audience or if the message is not prominent enough to make an impact on the consumers. I personally feel that planning is very important before we deliver a message to even get someone talking about it. Did this convince you? Haha.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Great blog Vivian! I like how you use the photo to show how useful it is for 3 of the theories to combine together! I definitely believe that if we can only choose one framework to spread ideas, Malcolm Gladwell framework would be the best theory to explain that.

    Can I ask what your second choice of theory would be in terms of importance and why?


    1. Hey Stan, thanks for your kind words. If I were to choose a second theory would be Seth Goldin’s where the brand should communicate the message only to those audiences who are interested to hear the message. Before even understanding what message characteristic to use, we first need to know who is this message meant for 😉 What about you – which one would you choose?


      1. I would actually choose Malcolm Gladwell’s theory on network characteristics as it resonates with me better

        You can read on my thoughts on that over here at:

        But you are right in the sense where we must understand what message we communicate and what is important to the audience, but let’s have a discussion on my blog on why network characteristics would be even more important! I will see you there


  3. Hello Vivian,

    Your blog title caught my attention and indeed, it is a informative and detailed content drafted by you! Having to understand these theories are indeed important as these serves as important steps to craft a creative and boom marketing campaign to our target audience as well as public.

    Your given example on Glossier was great, even though the brand and their products does not retail in Singapore, but i got to know about Glossier through my friends on Instagram, raving on how good their products is and the wonders their users achieve from the product. I agree the Malcolm Gladwell theory which you have elaborated and chosen fits and suits digital marketing! Looking towards your next post ~


    1. Hi Hwee Lee, thank you for your kind words. Yes, glossier is indeed a very good brand that we can all take reference to because of how they use everyday people to help them spread the name of the brand. It is just like what your friend did 😉 By any chance, do you have a brand example which I can learn from too?


  4. Hey Vivian, I prefer to differ on your take. I feel that for different industries, the most appropriate applicable theory will vary. Take Seth Godin (SG) for example. An online user is neutral towards SG but through word-of-mouth advertising from his friend, he went to research on SG and feel that his works are interesting hence becoming a loyal fan.


    1. Hi Andrew, thanks for sharing with me on your thoughts. In my humble opinion, I feel that through word-of-mouth, it’s actually falls Malcolm Gladwell theory under connectors. These connectors are classified to spread the brand’s message through word-of-mouth.

      If we are talking about the different industries, I personally feel that if we were to spread a certain marketing message using social media, Malcolm Gladwell’s theory would still be applicable.

      Did my opinion changed your thought or triggered a further discussion point? Feel free to let me know, I will be more than happy to address them 😉 Thank you.


  5. Hey Vivian,
    In my opinion, I think that without first finding out your target market, it would not be cost-effective as you will be spending more money to target gain more reach. But, having reach doesn’t mean that they will spread the message for you.

    I believe that Jonah Berger’s Message Characteristics is more suitable to spread the message as users are more willing to enjoy and share personalized message which is for that specific group of target segments. So what are your thoughts?


    1. Hey MC, in my opinion, all these three theories are interlinked. However, if we are talking about “spreading the message” on social media, I feel that the brand can identify their target market but they might not have the ability to increase the brand awareness. A brand might have a fantastic message, but if you’re not using the right people to spread it for you, the impact wouldn’t be there.

      Does this explanation assisted you to understand what I meant? 🙂


    1. Hi Hanyi,

      Yes, I think the other theories are relevant too. As such, understanding your target market and how to craft a message is important. However, if we are talking about spreading the message, I strongly believe that the best way is to get “PEOPLE” to help out, which was implied in Malcolm Gladwell’s theory.


  6. I think Berger’s STEPPS model seems better because that classifies six factors instead of three. What do you think of this opinion Vivi?


    1. Hi Naren, it really depends on what’s the objective that the brand is trying to put in place. In my case, since I’m talking about spreading the message to a larger group of audience through social media. I would suggest using the Malcom Gladwell’s theory because it comprises of three segment groups of people such as connector, mavens and salesperson.

      It should also take note of the target audience that the brand is trying to reach when selecting these representative. What do you think?

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Mei Ting, the other theories shared by Jonah Berger and Seth Godin’s are very important to note too. However, if we are talking about using social media to spread the message, Malcolm Gladwell’s one would be the best in my opinion 😉 Do you agree?


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