Critical Mass Effect and Edward Bernays

Public Relations Pioneer and Master

Public Relations Pioneer and nephew of Sigmund Freud

One of the most amazing things in the face of this world, to me, was the life of Edward Bernays. Born the nephew of Sigmund Freud, he would use his uncle’s ideas along with crowd psychology to pioneer his way into the world of public relations. He would tackle problems with the consideration of the behaviour of masses of people. Perhaps the days of Bernays are over and the things he did would be considered appalling today, but certainly there is much insight on grasping the tendencies of a seemingly irrational crowd/society/mass of people.

The biggest crowd I could ever imagine taking form in a relatively practical sense is the internet. Undoubtedly we browse through it individually, yet, the thinks we like, the pages we visit, are completely biased and influenced by other …internauts.

Relating to an actual memory of mine, I remember when a friend told me I should make a profile in a site called ‘myspace’, ‘it’s a place to meet people’ he said. I remember thinking at the moment: ‘ What a silly domain name’, there was nothing on the site that motivated me to use it.

Months went by and the site became super huge and popular, it certainly didn’t look it at the time! Since, MySpace became the pioneer of the Social Web era, it achieved critical mass at some point unbeknownst to me and apparently before I joined. The term ‘critical mass’  (for the web), is generally understood by website owners but I’ve found the perfect example of what critical mass is in the following YouTube video:

Dance, guy!

Watch how at 1:18 in the video, the dance achieved critical mass, afterward he would just have to keep dancing and everyone would rush to the impromptu party, at least till the song ended.

Well yeah, I feel I’m deviating from the point which is that the popular sites we visit are actually visited because peers in the social web have recommended them to us, otherwise we would just visit them that first time. Examples of how this process is used to persuade you to register and use a site is the ‘bouncer effect‘:

Used by Facebook, you could only register if you had a @hms.harvard.edu email, they later accepted students of US universities, later any school or job and finally it was open to the public. People rushed to creating accounts as soon as they were permitted much as people would rush to a club when they have an ‘IN’ on the list. The whole situation was a tactic used on an irrational mass to create a need tied to the feeling of belonging. At the point were all universities were accepted, Facebook reached critical mass and everyone wanted in.

As of May of this year, it is estimated there are over 109.5 million websites. It is unarguable that there are probably much better websites than what Facebook was when it was only open to Harvard, yet it is perfect proof of how Edward Bernays practices can still be applied in any new medium. Much the same way there are a lot of practices used in the internet that can be twisted for a purpose, depending on the way the internet matures some have become popular, like:

Sending website invitations to a registered member’s contact list with the email subject “John Doe wants to meet with you in SomeSite.com”. This benefits from a marketing strategy called the ‘tie-up’ or ‘tie-in’ where before first-contact the site would have a third’s recommendation to use it.

So, there you have it; 2 case studies, a silly dancer, and one of the best minds of last century. I insist you discuss with me points made in this post in the comments area below, thanks for reading!

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3 Responses to Critical Mass Effect and Edward Bernays

  1. Athena says:

    I agree and disagree with you in that you think that Edwards research is not used today. Sure his work was in the pioneering forefront of its time but like most great thinkers and their work their results were and are astounding. Its like saying Freud had some great ideas but that they are outdated today. The fact is that their works have to do with humans and though we have changed a lot in the past 50 years we are still humans, much like you pointed out yourself with the critical mass exercise. Sure the style at which he did things would look strange today but it was great for its time. I am sure that if he were here today he would be able to make us all think we need whatever it is that his clients tell him to sell us. I mean it was because of him that still today the “All American” breakfast is bacon and eggs. Not sure if I made my point but that’s that.

  2. admin says:

    Your points were super clear and very well put, thanks a lot for commenting Athena! It’s great you pointed out the “All American” breakfast as he used the “tie-in” strategy in that case much as email spammers use it today. He would get physicians to “recommend” it convincing the public that it was in fact true.

  3. gabo says:

    Sometimes when I’m in a club I do this thing were I take a camera and gather a group of friends to take a picture. Then I continue telling people around the group to pose in the picture, random people that is. At first just a few join in but there’s a point when everybody else sees how big the group is getting and just jump into frame.. everybody.

    I’ve gotten some pretty hilarious pics doing this stunt and it proves your point perfectly. It happens everywhere. Be it at a Sasquatch music festival, the internet or some club in Germany.

    Anyway, I got a new favorite song: I got to be UNSTOPPABLE!

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