The crowd effect: when crowds have a mind of their own even in social media

Crowd effect

Crowd effect happens all the time. Sometimes they are so mundane that we hardly take notice. Yes, we hardly take notice that there is a lot to learn from a humble fish. The fish under the spotlight is the Golden Shiner. For starters, making an effort to be selfless is one.

Crowd effect is a special state of fascination, where the ‘hypnotized individual falls into the hands of the hypnotizer’.

I borrowed the above line from the book titled “The crowd: the study of the popular mind” written by the French author Gustave le Bon, published in 1895.  Gustave le Bon was a French polymath and a gifted doctor.  He worked in diverse fields such as Sociology, Psychology, and Physics.

Computer technology never existed then nor was there any social media during his time.  But then, his study on the Psychology and Sociology of crowds led to the book. He is considered one of the pioneers in that area.  You can find the book here on Project Gutenberg.

His works on understanding crowds and their behavior ring so true in today’s social media usage. Understanding human nature is important. It has a considerable influence on individual and the crowds, social institutions, religion, education, work execution, office rumors, industry unions, trade associations,  fanaticism, celebrations, social mobilizations and much more.

The fact is Technology is secondary and it is an enabler.  Understanding human nature is primary within the context of social media and the crowd effect.

Perfectly sane individuals behave so differently in the midst of a crowd. They are swayed by the opinions and feelings of the crowd. Isn’t it.

We have seen it happening to ourselves. How many times have we stopped and looked at a construction site or a random event that happens on a busy road? We have stopped because we have seen other onlookers standing by on the roadside. They are puzzled, just as you are and they are eager to know what is the hustle all about. Being curious, huh?

 A busy construction site
A busy construction site

If you are looking at the above construction site picture and forming an opinion, then there are chances that hundreds of other people are also watching the same page, this very moment and forming opinions just as you.

Thoughts collide.

It is pretty much in the same way as how we behave and interact on the internet. It is one massive crowd (3.7 billion active users, at any given time, to be precise).  All of them swayed and influenced by each other’s opinions, thoughts, and feelings.

Crowd effect and the group mind theory

There are many theories surrounding this crowd behavior and the crowd effect. One such popular theory is the group mind theory.  The theory states that individuals are motivated by each other. Even though they (individuals) exist apart, they act as one group.

Individual thoughts and feelings are stimulated by each other’s thoughts and feelings.  The understanding is that when there is a common cause in a group, individual minds in that group co-operate towards that cause.

The group mind is not the sum of all the individual minds. In fact, the ‘crowd has a mind of its own’ distinct from the individual minds that constitute it.

Crowd effect: Answers from the animal world

There are numerous examples of such behavior in the animal world. Fish, bees, and ants are all good examples.

Iain couzin from Princeton University has spent a considerable part of his life studying animal behavior in swarms and flocks. His particular interest fell on a very tiny bland fish called the Golden Shiner.  The Golden Shiners swim in shoals and they prefer to swim in the shadier parts of the ocean which are darker than usual.

Both, the lab experiments as well as studying their (Golden Shiners) behavior in their natural environment and habitats, have shown remarkable patterns of intelligent crowd behavior and crowd effect.

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The age of social media: our participation, makes it a way of life

In the age of social media discussion on a topic

This is the age of social media. Whether we agree to it or not, we are drawn towards it, participate and interact with it. It is a massive crowd: It is happening right now, as you read this. Being an individual is important. Our recent article published in ‘Medium’ talks through it. Please find the article below.

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Through our active participation in social media and making it as a way of life, we have given rise to a quite of a number of internet sub-cultures.

What I mean here is that,

Have you noticed that there are crowd sub-cultures abound everywhere?

Whether you are buying a laptop or an automobile or even still shopping online for your favorite wardrobe, you will find specific crowds thronging the site commenting and discussing ‘what they like and don’t like’ about the brands and to a great extent influence the buying decision of others.

This is exactly what the authors of the article “Branding in the age of social media”  from the Harvard Business Review talk about. You can click here for the article.

The rise of the new age of social media

Historically, cultural innovations and the so-called  “New age cultures” have always risen from the fringes of the society. Their mass social movements and voices never gathered steam. They have always challenged the conventional norms and tradition.

Their (people from the fringes of society) ideas and their way of life, have been borrowed by the mainstream companies and media houses.  The companies acted as intermediaries and packaged it as branded content and diffused it across the rest of the world.

Over the years, this branded content had become popular culture. Such packaging and marketing used to work back in the days, but no longer now.

The age of Social media has changed all of that.

The ‘internet crowd’ and their culture is the new competition.

The social interaction between such fringe communities and cultures that were once geographically spread out are now more intensely connected. The communities now collaborate with each other.  They have become interconnected dense networks and have far-reaching influence. Their influence is substantial.

The feedback is quite direct and accurate. This is the new age of social media and the rise of crowd culture. The Internet and social media crowd cultures over time have given rise to many sub-cultures in every genre. You name it and there is one.

In essence, brands and the brand strategy have to cater to the sub-cultures that exist for your product and service. This is essential for your brand to be successful and to stand out. We will discuss this in another post.

We are not far from the madding crowd

Talking about crowds, in the late nineteenth century, The English author,  Thomas Hardy, named his novel as “Far from the madding crowd”. Apparently, he had borrowed the phrase from an English poem.

Nevertheless, the phrase has caught our imagination and has ever since been ingrained in our popular culture. We refer to it very often.

The word “madding” means being frenzied or in a rush of mad excitement. The title appears to be fancy for the novel. It is not even remotely connected to the story nor with the plight of the main protagonist “Bathsheba Everdene”.

That apart,

The irony is we all still live in a crowd. The world is a crowd and we haven’t lost our individuality. There is a popular perception that with the rise of the crowds, there is the demise of the individual. It is not the case.

With this brief introduction, read the article above that was published on “Medium” recently.

It explains, why being an individual is important even though we are part of a crowd and our individuality is not lost in the age of social media.


Office Crowd Collaboration: Social media for Nerds, Geeks and Managers

The office crowd collaboration

Office crowd collaboration needs a certain degree of openness and altruism. Everyone has a role to play and everyone plays a part in the grand scheme of things. If we realize this and do our bit, I think the usage of social media is a sure candidate for success in the world of office crowd collaboration.

The internet has become ubiquitous. It would be no harm to say that “life would be difficult without the internet”. It is the single biggest system in the world with billions of transactions, interactions and sharing that happens every single day all over the world.

Just like the internet, the corporate intranet is used to deliver services of collaboration among employees, communication and sometimes even to initiate cultural change within organizations.

Having said that, by collaboration, we mean:

“A common shared understanding among people to accomplish mutual goals”.

Within industry circles and within the context of corporate social network, the word “Social collaboration” or “Enterprise social networking” has been used extensively for the use of social media for crowd collaboration within offices.

The figures tell a story: office crowd collaboration

office crowd collaboration
The office crowd, collaborating with each other

The top management of the organization, likes the word “collaboration” attached to the word “social” for obvious reasons of productivity and profit. But how much has this been adopted and accepted within the organizations, remains to be seen.

Please read our article:  “Making Corporate social network collaboration successful

It is an insights gained, learned as well as a external follow up on the article  “Why no uses the corporate social network” from the Harvard Business review.  Further information can be gained from the study, conducted by Bamboo HR in the United States

A recent study by Bamboo hr in 2016, points that:-

68% of employees feel using social media for personal reasons as appropriate during office breaks.

And at least 50% of them would spend 10 minutes a day surfing social media sites.

A good guess is that percentage would be higher in other parts of the world. It is just not Bamboo HR, there are other monitoring organizations like the “Altimeter group” who said more or less the same.

Now having seen the numbers, perhaps a closer look at  the current trend of social media collaboration and the science behind it would be beneficial.

Social media collaboration in organizations: The science and business behind it  

It would not be a better time than now to borrow an extract from the recent edition of The Economist. 

The Economist, in its Technology quarterly supplement talks about “a new breed of robots  being designed to collaborate with humans, working alongside them to make them more productive”.

Though it may sound a bit advanced and sophisticated, the speed at which such crowd collaboration, associated with social intelligence are being conceived and developed across the world is overwhelming.

Coming back to our very mundane human existence, British anthropologist, Robin Dunbar, says that the Neocortex (in the human brain) places a limit on the number of interpersonal relationships we can maintain.

The Dunbar’s number is approximately – 150.

Now the question that looks intriguing, is how a global multinational company, spread over many countries, with tens of thousands of employees, maintains meaningful connections, relationships and harnesses collective intelligence.

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