For a few weeks now I have obsessed over the applications of Swarm, herd and Mob behavior and how they might apply to social media, and I believe there is something there worth striving to understand. I believe that how people behave online might follow these theories.
Swarm behaviour or Swarm Intelligence discusses how working together the group is smarter and stronger than the individual. This is demonstrated by insect swarms, where the individual insect is not intelligent, but collectively they can carry out some pretty amazing/destructive things. I believe that swarming can be one of the causes of topics trending on twitter.
In April of this year we saw a swarm with the creation of #4SQDAY. Consider only 3 weeks before 4/16/2010 no one ever thought of a “Foursquare Day” see the story here. With 4SQDAY we saw an idea’s inception that was shared with a core group via twitter, that group then then focused their attention on getting this idea “out there” and the collective bit on it. We then saw this idea grow in 3 weeks to 250 cities throwing parties in at least 35 countries. Don’t find this impressive, try planning just 10 parties in ten cities in 3 weeks.
Herd behavior discusses how individuals act in a similar pattern to those around them, much like a flock of birds. This Herd behavior can be seen in the stock market where individuals look to see how others are acting, and without thinking about it, mimic their behavior. On Twitter, herd behavior would be one probable cause of people re-tweeting trending topics, causing them to continue to trend. “It’s what everyone is doing”.
Mob behavior however discusses people being motivated to act in a fashion outside of their character, because they are swept up in the moment with others demonstrating that behavior, this is accountable for why people buy impulse items when they see others buying those items, even if they never intended to buy those items. On Twitter, mob behavior may be an explanation for people who jump on board attacking a company or brand online. Today while researching a company that I am meeting with next week I noticed that they were promoting a “big announcement”; after the announcement I noticed a quick mob joined in after the first negative remark, people jumped in on the company, and my guess is that some of those people only jumped in, because they saw others doing it.
The question now, which I hope to investigate and find out, is can behaviors such as these be artificially created, can they be focused, once focused, can they be dispersed or redirected in a new direction. I am looking for any and all ideas on this, so please chime in. If you have any examples of any of these behaviors, add them as a comment. I hope to have a follow-up to this article, including what I learn.