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.

Though it is steep, companies will implement smart social media collaboration technologies to make sure those connections work, along with defining and promoting a global corporate culture.

Using social media for collaboration in offices

Having said that, companies are presently using social media collaboration systems or rather crowd collaboration in a variety of ways and thereby encouraging social media in organizations.

They have started initially using social media, as an outlet for marketing,  product information, customer feedback, collecting customer complaints and comments. Also to get the first hand feel of the product or service from the customers.

Beyond this marketing push and knowing about customers, it is interesting to know that these social media networks are spawning into hubs of Collaboration and Innovation.

Perhaps the biggest value comes from the new channels of collaboration and Innovation. The channels have become unique touch points for the employee communities to come together, develop innovative ideas and recruit skillful employees.

These channel networks are tapping into the collaborative mindsets and in ways that continue to evolve.

The benefits are enormous. APQC, a best practice research firm, published its collaborative bench marking study of over 100 organizations.

Organizations use virtual collaboration and social media to bring employees together. The social media outlets encourage ongoing interaction between the leaders and employees.

It also helps, bridge the distances and an opportunity for employees to know one another. And also importantly, bridges the generational gaps within the employees.

In broad strokes, those are the promises of social media collaboration in organizations. A thoughtful and planned approach to social media collaboration or rather office crowd collaboration is needed.

Before we peer into the office crowd collaboration, it is good to pause and understand, what is an office crowd.  As well as the generational, attitudinal and expertise gaps  among employees.

What is an office crowd? Within the context of collaboration

Simply stated, a crowd is any group.

An “Office crowd” is a group of people in an office.

From a sociological perspective, there are some primary differences, in how we categorize them for their collective behavior.

Crowds can occur at random. Sometimes crowds are more organized and structured. Studying the collective behavior and collaboration would be a great challenge if they (crowds) had to form at random.

For example, crowds in offices, celebrations, contests and social movements follow a specific pattern of cultural definition and established procedure guidelines. The individuals who form such crowds, bring in their own personal characteristics and idiosyncrasies into the collective behavior of the crowd.

Understanding and motivating people for collaboration is easier to manage and control and it falls under established guidelines.

The “office crowd working within an organization” falls under the above gamut.

On the other hand, there are crowds which are unpredictable. Crowds that are formed at random. For example, a crowd that forms on the road, after a major road accident or an office crowd at random, watching a building construction outside the office. Under such circumstances, the crowds do not form under established guidelines and are difficult to predict.

For further insight on this subject, please read our article onSocial collective behavior:  How following the crowd benefits us

An entire area of science, computer networks, sociology and cognitive psychology has been reserved, for the study of collective behavior of crowds. It makes more sense in our article to present the case for office crowd collaboration using social media for managers, nerd and geeks. They are a crowd!

Who are the Nerds and Geeks?

An office nerd: Barbie for office crowd collaboration
An office nerd: Barbie

The online dictionary defines a Nerd as,

somebody who is overly intellectual and lacks social skills.

And a Geek as,

somebody who is “unfashionable and socially inept”, intellectually bent and is an expert in a specific technological field, for eg:-a computer geek.

Nerds and geeks, both share the same trait, except that geeks get into microscopic details of daily life and are more interested in the latest brands and technology.

Whereas nerds, are not interested in the daily details, but they are more interested in talking about the scientific discoveries and the future of mankind.

I think, nerds and geeks are highly focused and fascinating people, who gain expertise and abilities in a certain field and shine in them.

During this process of on-going skill and expertise development and maturation, there would be instances, where conformity to social skills and relationship building would take a beating.

Beyond social media for nerds: The history behind the word ‘Nerd’

There is a bit of history behind these terms. It is appreciable. There are multiple claims about the first usage of the word “Nerd”. This is  from the year 1940 onwards.

Some claim it is derived from the word ‘nert‘ (which means, stupid or crazy) and later on, the word “nurd” was also used at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology as early as in 1971.  It appears that the word “Nerd’ was also used in 1950, as the name of a creature in Dr Suess book “If I ran the zoo”.

But nevertheless, the word “Nerd” became so popular in our popular culture that is used as a stereotype for overly studious people.

Research from the Wiki and from our own practical life experiences, there is an enormous degree of “Nerd pride” in the United States and elsewhere. The rise of the Silicon Valley is greatly attributed to them.

The nerds are also the inventors and scientists. They are the new billionaires. The rise of “Google” is one fine example. They are ones who write complex computer algorithms.

Having said that, let’s look at how we can motivate them towards office crowd collaboration.

Motivating Nerds, Geeks and Managers for office crowd collaboration.

A typical office crowd has a lot of them and some people are somewhere in the between. Getting them (Nerds and Geeks) to express themselves and share their knowledge and expertise, is a major task in itself.

Unlike managers, who are adept at relationship building and social skills, nerds and geeks are comfortable in their own setting.

The corporate social network and the social media within the intranet have not motivated the office crowd enough.

There are psychological barriers of fear and management command and control.

The nerds and geeks would feel that they would lose out on their knowledge and expertise, if they shared it. Similarly, on the other side, the management feels loss of management control and hierarchical structure, if much is left open through social media interaction among employees.

Managers, nerds and geeks within an organization need to overcome these psychological barriers.  It has always said that,  social media within an organization or the outside of it, is great at mobilizing crowds and social movements temporarily.

People login to social media networks on intranets or assemble as flash mob within the network only at certain organizational events or under obligation.

For long term sustainable business change, we need to mobilize crowds at office with a more motivational perspective.

One possible solution is through introducing suitable incentive programs and relational triggers into structure of the social media platforms for collaboration. Both private information and direct benefits work wonders for motivating Nerds and Geeks for office crowd collaboration.

For insight into this aspect, please read our article on “Social collective behavior:  How following the crowd benefits us

Whether you are a manager, a nerd or a geek everybody has a role and a part to play in the grand scheme of things with an organization.

A brief history of Social media and Web 2.0

The term “Social media” raises eyebrows in many to the casual usage of time by using the services  of Facebook and Twitter in organizations.

This continues to draw a line between the casual usage and  a more structured and systematic  usage of social media for social media collaboration. The figures and data presented much earlier in this article points to this.

Social media collaboration enables organization to connect and engage  with the employees in a productive manner.

It all started in early 2000 with the Internet Innovators, who started to connect, users of applications with other users to express themselves.

This led to a growth of social networking sites like My space, Facebook, the Social wiki: all utilizing the collective behavior of the crowds. But there was not much crowd collaboration then. Even now, I would like to point out that there is no much focus in this area within the industry.

The first global Web 2.0 conference in the year 2004, promoted that the internet is just not a place for static Web pages but a participatory and interactive platform, where people can exchange thoughts. The consumer led, so called Web 2.0 technologies, is the new social media.

The value of connected workplace, is now a integral part of new business thinking.

They key word is collaboration, which happens when employees share their ideas, perspectives and work together to achieve a common set of goals.

It is interesting to note that the Economic intelligence unit, in its survey in 2007, which had interviewed top executives from 405 organizations, sees huge potential in social media collaboration across various industry sectors.

Web 2.0 is social media. Social media is Web 2.0 (Technically!)

The sharing and collaboration on Web 2.0 technologies will impact all the functions of the business.

Many large multinational companies see social media collaboration using web 2.0 as to way increase revenue and/or margins.

To quote from, Harvey Koeppel, CIO and Sr VP of Citigroup:

The usage of Web 2.0 technologies is not the ‘bleeding edge” it is now the “new leading edge”.

The table below gives a brief about the various Web 2.0 social media collaboration technology used.

Blog Personal and online corporate journal that offers reporting and opinion about people.
Enterprise 2.0 The use of web 2.0 type software and applications in Enterprise. Coined by Andrew Mcfee from the Harvard Business School
Mash-up An application that pulls and displays information from multiple sources in response to queries
Network effect A situation where the product or service is more valuable when people start to use it
RSS Real simple syndication, which lets consumers and corporate users which allows corporate users to deliver multiple sources of information
Tagging Online labeling for identifying content
Web 2.0 Web 2.0 is the network as a platform connecting all devices
WIKI A collaborative website, where users can upload without special programming skills. Wiki is the Hawaiian term for quick.

Challenges of crowd collaboration: social media for nerds, geeks and mangers

The challenges are very many that come between the effective implementation and usage of social media collaboration and thereby improving office crowd collaboration.

A finding from, Gartner, a leading research firm, in its book the “Social organization” says that, after having thousands of conversations and workshops with hundreds of organizations implementing social media, it is striking to know that the social media initiatives for crowd collaboration within offices fail.

There are various reasons for this failure. Absence of clear business value is one and the others include, wasting employee time, risk to privacy and IP protection.

It is good to use social media collaboration networks as another marketing channel.

Awareness and the generational gap is an impediment for sharing and collaborating in organizations. This presents itself as the number one collaboration challenge. More so, in cases where there are hierarchical structures.

Resistance to change and integrating Social media collaboration to business processes are the other challenges. There is also resistance to the perspective, that the “use of social media in organizations brings in change”.

Crowd collaboration best practices : Social media for nerds, Geeks and Managers

Make room for collaboration best practices
Pic credit: Pixabay

Below, is a list of  measures, improvements and best practices. Use of social media in organizations, would enhance crowd collaboration and  requires much needed support and commitment from the top management.

1.Having a clear business case:

Build a case where the benefits reinforce collaborative behavior.  Where the efforts and benefits outweigh the costs and risks undertaken. It is essential for assessing the ROI for making practical decisions.

2. Integrating with existing business processes:

It is good to integrate social media collaboration systems with existing processes. Email integration is critical as well.

3.Engaging in education and support:

It is good to encourage collaborative groups and give adequate training to the employees. This includes mentoring and coaching as well. It is good to learn from others who are already running collaborative groups. Create awareness and importance among groups.

4. Applying best practices:

Look around and see that other companies are doing in the same practice. See if we can apply any of them.

5.Aligning with the goals of the company:

Align with the goals of the company and create a convincing and compelling reason for collaboration. Achieve common goals.

6.Applying social media collaboration to business challenges:

Apply crowd collaboration to business challenges where risks are minimal. Promote and endorse successes and quick wins

7. Using of Social analytics:

It is good to use analytics for social discussion groups and improve on the existing features. Analytics complement existing crowd collaboration and sharing across all parts of the organization.

8. Being open and culture:

This requires support from senior managers. The network effects need to happen to gain sufficient traction. This turns the office crowd collaboration into an asset.

Crowd collaboration across best practice companies – Few examples

There have been many cases where collaboration using Social media technologies have taken off in a good way.

Gold corp:

A Toronto based gold Mining Corporation, has not been doing well as their property emptied. They had high labor costs, production costs and debt. They set up an innovation network to source ideas. Every piece of property information (Mines) was uploaded on the internet through their website. Employees from 50 countries poured in with ideas and identifying over 110 property targets. An estimated revenue of 3 billion USD was realized from the time the project started to roll out.

Asian paints:

One of the largest paint manufacturing companies in the world. They have rolled out a collaborative platform for employees to engage and collaborate across functions. Suppliers and customers in the areas of product development, supply chain and manufacturing have also joined this initiative.


A web community startup, and an open innovation company, with an aim to bring solvers and seekers together. Solvers and seekers will collaborate to solve the challenges, faced by the R&D organizations across the world. They have also introduced reward programs for the solvers.

Organizations like Du-Pont, Eli lily,  BASF and Proctor and Gamble have in-house reward programs for people volunteering in innovation networks.

Shared values and co-creation: A culture for crowd collaboration

The future global corporations will look at tapping the multi-cultural workforce, bring in localized management, more diversity and soft skills says the Economic Intelligence unit in its report “Global firms in 2020”, the next decade of change for Organization and Workers.

Collaboration is key within employees, customers and partners.

Collaboration programs, as currently followed in Google will aim to make employees “Think like owners” rather than assuming “Other people will take care of things”.

The new generation of millennials, have adopted to the collaboration mindset. They have started to act as if it as their own.

The old ways of solving the problems, developing solutions and services within the four walls will go sooner than later. This is  giving way to a shared value, co-creation and cultures of crowd collaboration.  In addition to this, building a sense of community within the organization makes employees feel connected.

The final word: What I would like to say to the Nerds, Geeks and Managers

It is a good  to keep employees fully engaged in their jobs by bringing them together regardless of their distance. It touches employees at all levels and tap into their creativity, experience and passion.

As Gary Hammel, the management consultant says, individuals choose each day whether or not to bring these gifts.

It is the trust and faith of the employees and  their interaction through social media collaboration in offices, enables them to bring their gift to work.

I would say, the“Network Effects” will take time to adapt and  settle down, to get a foothold among employees. The Dunbar’s number will not be increasing in the future.  What we need to do is to learn and collaborate in the right manner.

Consequently, a  quip from the article in ‘The Economist says, “They are developing collaborative humanoid robots which are no larger than a six year old, with large eyes”. It is no wonder that they should not catch on us.

Fostering a culture of crowd collaboration in offices, needs a good degree of openness and info-culture mindset. It takes time to evolve. As it happens in Google, the employee ownership, owning the problems, collaborating with each other should be second nature in offices. Social media collaboration in organizations will always enable this.

Finally, For further reading resources on this subject, the below links will help

  1. The requirements of a truly innovative company – By Gary Hammel in HBR
  2. The next tech revolution – Busting bureaucracy  – By Gary Hammel in Fortune

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