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Social Media and the Herd Instinct

Posted on the 10 July 2011 by Combi31 @combi31

Social Media and the Herd Instinct

Have you ever noticed the way that some websites attract hordes of visitors and others, which do not seem that different, have just a sprinkling of visitors for no apparent reason?

I guess the same can be said for social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter – there are some great Tweeters who have 10′s of thousands of followers, and some equally good ones with just a handful – although, followers maketh not the man, nor the woman!

Perhaps one way of explaining this is through, Social proof, a psychological phenomenon that is often called the “herd instinct”, used in financial circles to describe the mass movement of buying and selling of stocks and shares?

You know how sheep in a large field will tend to flock together, always treading the same path between the shady trees and the drinking trough, making a clearly worn pathway that may not be the quickest way from a to b, but it’s the way that is always used – without exception.

In fact some of the instances of herd instinct seen on social media sites make sheep look like discerning individualists.

I guess it’s all about hitting the right buttons and then being able to attract an audience, which in turn, attracts more – although it is often difficult to know which buttons to hit.

An analogy for this could be a line of dominoes – they all stand up straight until one topples, which then topples the others in turn, but no action applied to the first domino and they will stay there forever.

It is probably all about being human, with the added bonus, or disadvantage, of our primeval instincts. When in a strange place, facing an unfamiliar situation people tend to flock together, and in social media it appears to work in the same way.

We must then believe that a lot of observation is going on, as people watch what is happening – who is doing what, etc., – this must be what is called social influence, in social media …

I often wonder about the ‘Quote Tweeters’ – you know them, sending a steady stream of profound quotes in their timeline, interspersed with ‘Thank-You’ tweets when someone has done an RT on their tweets.

What I wonder is, are the quotes something that they, personally adhere to in value terms, or a way of stating and amplifying their online identity. That is, are they so closely identified with the quotes that they tweet?

Is there is a certain amount of fuzziness between the tweeter and the quote – i.e. that it now looks like it comes directly from themselves?

I personally, find as much value in the spoof quoters – something like, “The problem with Twitter is that you never know who reads your material” – Charles Dickens 1855.

The question is, why do so many people ‘herd’ around people who tweet, what is, in essence second-hand material that is freely available to anyone who wants to Google it?

If we can put our fingers on this one ….

Now, I’m not knocking these people, they are doing no harm and appear to be appreciated by a great number of people, given their number of followers – I am just asking, Why?

I have to admit that I send and re-tweet the odd quote from time to time – I just wonder what purpose it serves, when it is just this, and if this is an example of social media herd instinct, or just giving people what they want.

I have two websites – one is growing very fast and the other is just about ticking over – the former seems to be growing exponentially, while I am struggling to get the other up-and-running.

It could be just a game of maths, it could be that one gives people what they are looking for, while the other doesn’t, although the comments on the latter don’t really echo this.

Herd instinct can be seen in many aspects of life – brands know all too well how to exploit this and build a loyal clientele – social media is just a macro view of this.

So, should the same rules apply?

I guess we all need to be able to get the inner shepherd, that is living within us, out into the open and really start tuning-in, to be able to create an established readership – then, and this is the big one, get them involved, implicated and active in what we are doing (and ultimately in what they are doing) – or to quote Ghandi, “Be the change that you would like to see in this world.”

Really looking forward to your comments on this post Baaa ..

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Social Media and the Herd Instinct
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