Thursday, December 15, 2011

social influence and hurricane bawbag

What a delight to comment on a textbook classic case of the spread of a 'viral' idea principally via social learning/influence, shared cultural context and the fact that the carrier of the idea was the 'product' itself, if you like.

That it originates from Scotland makes it a double bonus.

I'm talking, naturellement, about Hurricane Bawbag.

Bawbag, is the label afforded to the particularly bad storm in Scotland, that peaked on the 8th December, who's 160mph winds closed schools and businesses and caused havok across the country.

For those from a sheltered upbringing Bawbag is West of Scotland slang for scrotum.

The nuts and bolts have been well documented elsewhere so I'll not dwell, but suffice to say the hashtag #hurricanebawbag was reported as trending globally on Twitter, while in the UK the shorter #bawbag also (more pragmatically) trended.

Even local government were in, Stirling council wrote on their twitter feed, “All Libraries are closing up at 1 o’clock – see Stirling Council Website for details #scotstorm #HurricaneBawbag”- though the tweet seems to have now been removed from the stream.

The national Scottish newspaper The Scotsman were also happy to join in, tweeting..

(Note: I just wanted to test the 'embed tweet' thing on the new twitter)

Within hours t-shirts bearing slogans like 'We beat Hurricane Bawbag' appeared for sale online, along with a dedicated Twitter account and Facebook 'fan' pages, alongside the almost obligatory twitter meme #ReplaceSongNamesWithBawbag ('Don't you wish your bawbag was hot like me!')

At their King Tuts gig in Glasgow on 13th December 2011, the band 100 Monkeys asked their audience to suggest a song title and they would make it up as they went along.
The audience replied in unison 'Hurricane Bawbag'.

Bawbag can help us remember a few key lessons on why an idea spreads.

- Firstly, viral is an effect or outcome not a ‘thing’ (most important rule).

- Everyone is an influencer (2nd most important rule)- this idea spread through small, tightly connected groups gaining momentum and scaling exponentially with each new connection, through it's own steam it became so big that mainstream media had to notice it.

- An idea will be spread principally because the spreaders want it to spread.There's value for the spreaders.

- There's room in the idea for people to add their own bit to the story.

- The idea resonates or represents something that's already in the culture.

- Some people are in, some are out.
(hearing an English newsreader unwittingly say 'bawbag' on the 9 o'clock news would, of course be the comedy moment of the year).

Perhaps my favourite anecdote, and the one which best demonstrates the point, on how and why things spread comes courtesy of The First Post, who report the following conversation on a tube train in London, in which a daughter was trying to convince her mother that the storm was indeed called 'Bawbag.

“Why would they call it that?” asked the mother.

The daughter showed her video on her phone and the front page of The Metro free newspaper and replies...

“If everyone starts calling it that, you have to call it that.”

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