In chaos theory, the butterfly effect posits that seemingly small changes at one moment in time can result in large, dramatic changes at another. The subtle flap of a butterfly’s wing can trigger a violent hurricane that occurs miles away or days later. Rationally, the idea may seem like a stretch, but in a digital sense, we are witnesses to – and victims of – the butterfly effect every day through social media. A few individuals’ posts online can escalate into a chorus of voices that mobilizes communities and creates new standards. We saw this last year after a homeless man in Boston turned in a backpack and, more recently, when Cecil the lion was killed in Zimbabwe.
Social media has always been a catalyst for bringing people together as well as an outlet where consumers can vent. But when a surge of voices results in change, social media posts are more than ephemeral cybertext. And, according to Forrester’s Consumer Technographics® data, consumers around the world leverage social media to generate buzz about current events, although members of some countries are more vocal than others: