Inescapable Groupthink

Mass Yoga

Often cursed by reactionary pundits responding to the popular, groupthink remains an inescapable behavior pattern in social networks.

For those unfamiliar, groupthink is when a community’s desire for harmony overrides rational examination of ideas and concepts. Conflict is stamped out in favor of consensus.

So long as people act in tribal ways, we will always have groupthink regardless of media, idealism, culture or geography.

People act when multiple peers adapt an idea, action or product. Influence lies in the collective rather than the individual oracle, and that’s why groupthink prevails.

Groupthink offers a safe choice for most members of any community, no matter how backwards the common meme of the day may be.

From a marketing perspective, this means we need to focus on increasing stakeholder adaption in communities rather than top-down marketing approaches.

Influencing communities and markets requires significant grassroots seeding. Large, top-down media voices and online pundits help increase safety, but it’s really the actions, thoughts and comments of those in close proximity to a person that causes action.

Duncan Watts’ Six Degrees: The Science of a Connected Agediscusses this phenomena of social action in the light of safety. For most people, they need to see a significant minority of peers to act. The science of networks shows that groupthink is necessary for mass action.

This of course is familiar to marketers of the new. They must convince early adopters to act first in hopes of creating enough momentum to trigger a contagious market for their idea.

A parallel can be drawn to David Sifry’s Magic Middle theory on how large blogs pick up stories and memes are developed. In the heyday of Technorati, Sifry observed that top-ranked bloggers pick up stories AFTER several of their lesser ranked peers began discussing stories.

The question remains how to identify and trigger critical influential people so that groupthink can take hold. And the influence debate rages on.