Nowadays, anybody involved in marketing communications needs to cultivate an interest in group theory and network behaviors. It's increasingly important to understand how Google works, what goes on inside Wikipedia and what motivates those who contribute to YouTube.
Why? Because in the very near future, the theoretical and behavioral underpinning of these phenomena will dictate the way brands and businesses are built, talked about, adopted and abandoned. Concepts of "distributed creativity," "propagation planning," "herd theory" and a lot of other neologisms are all founded on understanding the way new technologies enable group behavior.
|Ivan Pollard is a partner at Naked Communications, London, a communications-strategy shop with offices in six countries.|
A great primer for this topic is James Surowiecki's book, "The Wisdom of Crowds." Its central thesis is that the average guess of a crowd is more accurate than the specific estimate of an (expert) individual. It definitely seems to work where "wisdom" is about solving a particular problem, but it does leave you wondering about more emotionally based issues and behaviors.
Let me give you two examples drawn from British life -- the London underground and a soccer match.
In theory, the wisdom of the underground crowd would dictate that all individuals spread throughout the carriage to fit as many people as possible into the available space. But people obstinately cling to their own space by the door as others are left on the platform. Wise crowds or dumb individuals acting solely for themselves?
In stark contrast was the crowd at the Champions League final in Athens, Greece, a couple of weeks ago. This is our version of the Super Bowl for the two best football teams in Europe. If you know anything about soccer, you will know it is a tribal, sometimes vicious affair being part of a match-day crowd. But at the end of this game, 30,000 Liverpool fans spontaneously applauded the victorious Milanese. How did this outpouring of positive emotion come to pass? Any such thing as a wise crowd of 30,000 spontaneous Liverpudlians? And how do we harness this form of emotional spontaneity for brands?
The tube and the terraces are both remarkable things to witness.
And two brilliant things have come out of Liverpool -- the Beatles and Liverpool Football Club. We should learn from both of them.