What's a group of humans called? How our herd instincts spread ideas

Thursday, February 4, 2016

The way things go viral says a lot about the media. About how they all regurgitate the same stuff. Do we have to copy others? How strong is our desire to follow the herd?

The answers to these questions can help us reach a bigger audience. Let's take a look.

The Sheep of Wall St

Remember when Blue Horseshoe loved Anacott Steel? Half of Wall St caught Gekko's love bug. Stocks soared, and the company’s share price leapt 11%.

Why? Because we're very good at forming herds. Most of our behaviour is based on the way we see other people behaving.

As author Mark Earls says:

Mass behaviour is not driven by powerful extra-human forces like economics or brands or by traumatic events but instead, by other people. Individuals do not do what they do largely on their own volition, but through the influence of others.

Gordon Gekko is a legendary, influential figure on Wall St. That makes him the perfect spark. But he is just the spark.

The guys on the ground are buying the stock purely because they can see other regular traders doing it too.

Dedicated followers of fashion

From fictional finance to fancy fashion. Balmain is a Parisian couture house with an illustrious, opulent history.

Why would it enlist the Kardashians as brand ambassadors? Why would it collaborate with the high street’s biggest buyer of clothes made by the world's poorest paid workers?

Ever been to an H&M store? Or a Bangladeshi garment factory? They're a world away from the 'gold-leaf trimmed doors, 1940s classic furniture, Versailles parquet floors and elaborate ceiling moldings' of Balmain's Paris HQ.

A label that boasts of dressing the world’s greatest actresses in 'richly embroidered fabrics', is now fronted by a family made famous by a sex tape.

You don't really act. You don't sing. You don't dance. You don't have any - forgive me - any talent.

Why then? Yep, it's because we move in herds.

In 2011, Balmain made 24-year-old Olivier Rousteing Creative Director. With the help of his phenomenally influential Kardashian friends, the brand gained 1m Instagram followers before any other French fashion label.

It now has 3.6m.

Olivier Rousteing has 2.2m of his own.

Kim Kardashian has 59.5m.

Kendall Jenner has 48m.

Kylie Jenner? 50m.

That's an almighty flock for just four shepherds.

These ambassadors are known as the 'Balmain Army'. And guess what folks? You too can enlist today.

Other than our herd-like nature, what can explain this scene?

Remind you of anything?

Rousteing knew what would happen to the Balmain bottom line with apex influencers on board and Balmain clothes on H&M racks.

Remember the Ice Bucket Challenge?

More than 17m people poured ice-cold water over their heads and uploaded their videos to Facebook. We watched those videos 10bn times.

Charity played only a minor role. People want to do good deeds. But people also want to feel like stars, and social media allows them to.

The Ice Bucket Challenge was about peer influence. People watched other people do it, so they did it too. It's that simple.

Why copying is good

Mark Earls is the author of the excellent book Herd: How to Change Mass Behaviour by Harnessing Our True Nature.

Earls observes:

Copying is the essential thing about being human.

We worship uniqueness, and originality. But we aren't independent thinkers at all. Most of what we do, we do because we've seen others do it.

Earls says it's precisely our ability to copy the useful behaviour of others that makes us so successful. The way DNA replicates illustrates his point perfectly.

If you want to influence large numbers of people, influence the way they behave when they're together.

It's not about how you make an individual person feel, it's about how you make them behave around others.

Find your Gordon Gekko

As Mark Earls says:

If you have to prioritize some customers over others, seek out those who have the most influence over their peers.

I think you get the point by now. So here's one final example.

In a 2005 study, more than 12,000 people were given a choice of 48 songs. Each song had a ranking that showed how many times other people had listened to it. The rankings were made up, and only some participants could see them.

Guess what?

... participants who were aware of the behaviour of others were more likely to listen to songs that they believed were more popular.

How much more likely? Six times more likely to listen to the most popular song than one of a middling rank.

Change behaviour, make that behaviour visible, and get your message herd.

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