Social groupthink, or following the herd?

# Follow the herdIn a new post over at Media Tapper Grace O'Malley poses some interesting questions:

Is a social network, or other closed forum, bound to become self-serving to the point where its participants resent having to follow external links and is this hurting conversation? She asks if it has reached the point where we should not even bother posting those links as people will not follow the call to action. In essence, have we forgotten how to be social?

Is social becoming a paradox where our behaviour is affected to the point that we can no longer truly converse? Are we suffering because the more social we are the less time we have?

Killing conversation

I had a similar thought in my post "Is social killing conversation" in respect to the move away from commenting on blogs to social networks. I argued that we had seen a fundamental shift in the way we behave online as it is generally quicker and easier to drop in a quick comment or a virtual thumbs up rather than expend the time and effort to continue the conversation by writing your own post. Grace questions if we have even gone beyond this point.

People are often like lightning: occasional flashes of brilliance but mostly taking the path of least resistance. They will click a Like or +1 button rather than make the effort to contribute something more meaningful but with so many social signals being thrust upon us is it any wonder.

Times have changed

In the early days there was an overwhelming sense of needing to keep up, to read everything and have your finger firmly on the pulse. Back then, when it was only early adopters, there was a limited amount of information and a lot of the discussions paved the way to how we use social today. It was possible to absorb a greater proportion of what came in to your feed but we knew it was almost all important as we were on the cusp of Social revolution.

Today we do not have that luxury so must pick our moments more carefully. Unfortunately, not everyone's moments coincide so a useful link will fall by the wayside without the discussion it deserves. We are all busy and a sense of TL;DR (too long; didn't read) is all too common.

There is no denying that, with suggested user lists and influence scores, social is very much a popularity contest. We hate to admit it but we are all caught up in the rat race. Do we need to gain an ever-increasing number of followers or is it counter-productive?


When I posted that relationships were the real social currency I said that on our own we aren't that interesting but "where our paths cross is a different matter; those intersections, the relationships between us, are the interesting bits". We gather in communities of like-minded individuals so would assume conversation is a given but the very global nature of the internet, undoubtedly its strength, can also be a great weakness as we sit in different time zones.

In order to facilitate an active discussion there is a need, however, to gather a reasonably sized social circle so that more of our individual "moments" will coincide. The more followers you have then the greater probability that someone amongst them will have the time to click on that link, read the item and make the effort to join the conversation.

The larger following the more will be able to participate thus building a conversation which, in turn, may persuade others to reevaluate their priorities as they may now see it as something of value. We also seek divergent points of view rather than a small echo chamber of a few frequent commenters; as much as we appreciate their thoughts it is good to have a variety of opinion.

This is part of why we follow the popular and the social media superstars: we are more likely to see a meaningful discourse because of sheer volumes - if we want to be involved we must go to the conversation which, unfortunately, is a self-perpetuating cycle.

Regardless of all this we should never stop sharing, we will all be at a loss if we do. Perhaps there could be a better way to facilitate more views of the target item - maybe some form of light box for pages to avoid having to leave your social network - but something has to be done which is why we see more services offering curated and personalised news.

Is it really groupthink?

Following the herd is not necessarily groupthink or the end of individuality but, perhaps, a necessary evil in achieving our goals.

Social is a tough mistress and we have to work out for ourselves what we want from her.

Image by Martin Deustch

  1. It's a vicious circle we've created on social media. In order to get links viewed and discussion begun we must have a multitude of followers hoping that one (or more) will take the time to begin a discussion, yet by having so many we follow and follow us back we then have a difficult time doing the same for them.
    1. Colin says: #
      Indeed. The global nature of our networks means we are now exposed to more information so must filter and prioritise. It's a shame but a fact of modern (social) life. We need to either strip back our networks to simplify things (and potentially miss out) or find another way to work.

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