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:
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!