Sociologists, anthropologists, and even economists, such as Malcolm Gladwell (“The Tipping Point”), have studied the 150 phenomenon. Gladwell asserts that the optimal number of individuals in a society that someone can have real social relationships with is 150. That is the economic perspective. It is, however, quite consistent with the social and anthropological perspective which comes from British anthropologist Robin Dunbar. Dunbar explains that sustainable inter-relationships for the human species are governed by our capacity for long-term memory. Long-term memory is a direct function of our brain size, which in turn limits group size, somewhere in the ballpark of…you guessed it, 150!
We can see the Rule of 150 operating in spheres that long pre-date the Industrial Revolution. It surfaces in late stone age farming villages, religious groupings such as the Hutterites, who share similarities with the Amish and Mennonites, and Roman army units. Beyond 150, there are hierarchical and structural issues that start to dictate rules and a degree of formality that depersonalizes the human experience.
For marketing practitioners, the question is, “What does the Rule of 150 have to do with me and my business?” The answer: “Everything.” If you are involved in social media management, take note. A 2011 study on Twitter users found that the 150 number applies to social networks. (Goncalves, B., Perra, N., Vespignani, A. (2011-05-28)."Modeling Users' Activity on Twitter Networks: Validation of Dunbar's Number"). Social media program developers need to know the size of users’ social networks in order to be efficient in technological delivery and support. From a user point of view, you may very well have thousands of ‘friends’ on Facebook, but those are not real ‘friends’; they are socially dispersed ‘acquaintances’, relatively few of whom you actually connect with on a regular basis. This number includes past colleagues such as high school friends with whom a person would want to reacquaint oneself if they met again (Wikipedia).
This is why Facebook allows its users to create smaller, separate sub-groups that make one’s social connections more manageable. Social media managers can take a tip from this sub-grouping feature by precisely tailoring and targeting messages for specific audience segments. It keeps the connection personable and relevant, the keys to successful customer relationship management. So, remember to speak with your customers as you would your real friend. They are not one in a million, they are one in one fifty!
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