Thanks to social media, the most important influences on your business often happen when you aren’t in the room. When people connect peer-to-peer, there is a shift in the locus of control. In effect, you need to have influence from a distance. Our mental models are ill-suited for this challenge. Influence from a distance requires a different way of thinking and talking about these ideas and a different kind of force: not mechanical or biological, but gravitational.
There are four attributes of gravity that are appealing as a way of thinking about strategy in a digital age: gravity is a force of attraction, exerts influence at a distance, is ubiquitous, and has an exponential effect. To compete with gravity, your strategy needs to generate a force of attraction, pull people into its orbit, and help them pull others in too. There are some critical questions you can ask of your strategy to determine if you are competing with gravity such as: Is your narrative more about your products or your purpose? Is there a reason for people to want you to succeed in your mission even if they never buy anything from you? If you can imagine your industry as a galaxy and that your job is to create enough gravity to pull them into your orbit, you’ll gain a new understanding of the modern, social business landscape.
Thanks to social media, businesses need to change how they think about influence. You can control what you say in an ad, sales meeting, or company memo, but when people connect peer-to-peer, you lose direct control over what is said or done. The new challenge is how to have influence from a distance.
Our mental models — such as those that come from the battlefield or biology — are ill-suited for this challenge. To understand influence from a distance, we must look to a different kind of force: not mechanical or biological, but gravitational.
By definition, gravity is a force that attracts any object with mass. Every object is pulling on every other object in the universe, a fact that is known as Newton’s Law of Universal Gravitation. Objects with greater mass exert more pull, and the strength of the force increases exponentially as objects move closer together.
Gravity has four attributes that are relevant to thinking about strategy in a digital age.
First, gravity is a force of attraction. As John Hagel and John Seely Brown have observed, business models are shifting from push to pull. Instead of pushing resources to meet expected demand, companies such as Uber and Zara enable customers to mobilize resources by pulling them in as need arises. A similar change is happening in marketing, as ad spend shifts from push strategies that broadcast a message to pull strategies that respond to or even predict customer interest. Gravity gives us a way of comparing the relative strength of a pull strategy, whether as a business platform or a method of engagement.
Second, gravity exerts influence at a distance. In a networked world, things are more interconnected but also more fragmented.