Cognitive scientists at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute have reported that according to their recent studies simulating social networks, 10 percent is the critical mass for spreading ideas to the mass. If that proportion of the population emphatically embraces an idea, then there is a good chance for a mass follow.
“When the number of committed opinion holders is below 10 percent, there is no visible progress in the spread of ideas,” said researcher Boleslaw Szymanski, director of the Social Cognitive Networks Academic Research Center at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. “Once that number grows above 10 percent, the idea spreads like flame.”
The tipping point (see gladwell, 2000) or the ‘critical mass’ in innovation research refers to the point at which enough individuals have adopted an innovation so that the innovation’s further rate of adoption becomes self-sustaining (Anghern 2005).
Looking back few decades at consumer technologies, critical mass was considered to occur with about 15 percent of users.
With the evolution of social networks as a vehicle to spread ideas (Facebook itself has definitely crossed critical mass) – we do expect that the ratio will be smaller.
The notion of critical mass is becoming more interesting when political ideas (Egypt is a great example) addressed by social network users leverage the network effect (immediate response+ large scale) and spread beliefs and calls for action.
Can critical mass get lower? I believe so! Once people get an illusionary image of the mass (and social networks interactions can generate such effect)- they will address it accordingly.