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.


  • This is one of my pet topics, you know. 

    •  No, I did not. Tell me more!

      • I wrote on the subject some time ago – and this was one of my favorite posts for a very long time:

  • As you point out, groupthink is a social network pattern (and a sad one at that). I think what’s changed in the last few years is the amplification factor that comes with always online and 24/7 news cycles. 

    Isn’t figuring out how to trigger “your” groupthink idea or action somewhat akin to trying to make a viral video that isn’t about cats?

    PS: Thanks for experimenting anew w/ the whole post in RSS. :)

    •  Thank you for your feedback on the RSS!  We’ll see how it turns out.  Yeah, I agree amplification is a huge issue.  What happens next remains to be seen!

  • So groupthink rules the masses. But it’s not always the big players (top down broadcasters) that influence the groupthink. Maybe top bloggers are just good at spotting trends. They’re not producers of new knowledge just curators of common knowledge. Maybe the question isn’t how to start fires but how to notice when one is already lit that may serve your purpose.

    •  Yes, that’s why I think Sifry’s Magic Middle theory is very compelling. It shows that top bloggers hack trends.  Good comment and thank you!

  • Part of it is trend jumping, part of it’s that there is so much out here, we can’t lead every trend and part .. is just the idea that there aren’t that many new ideas. (Been to the movies lately?) Perhaps it’s more a case of which ideas are in vogue du jour and why. 

    I think there are those who can take the risks; either they’re the ‘lesser’ w/ nothing to lose or their the ‘top’ who, via their status and name, won’t really lose either. Maybe to find triggers is a case of looking at those on the fringes, not caught in the middle, but as you say are connected to the community that can motivate others. FWIW.

    •  Absolutely. It’s about the early adopter community, really. But sometimes these guys are off, too. Like Foursquare and Quora, for example… Good points here.

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