After failing miserably at my A-levels many years ago, I attended South Bank University. One of the most interesting subjects for me was always Organisational Psychology (every Tuesday morning), it’s probably called something far more fancy now. Here we touched on all aspects of how individuals, groups and organisations interact.
Browsing the raft of information from social media experts, I’m always struck by the sheer volume that is written. The shocking aspect, given this volume, is the lack of real debate on any given strata of social media and the subsequent theoretical norms that are created because of it.
I’ve been reading blogs for a while now and, in the main, I ignore the comments. I can’t recall the last time I saw a lively debate or a commenter adding anything of worth to the subject being discussed.
Here’s how it goes… blog post is made, comments fill with people nodding sagely saying that they said the very same thing on their blog (grabbing a bit of link equity and reflected glory). These kinds of replies run into the hundreds on some posts. This is where the Tuesday morning lecture reminiscence kicked in, bear with me.
Irving Janis had a theory that concerned how groups come to poor decisions. He concentrated mostly on US foreign policy – Cuban Missile Crisis is the most (in)famous – analysing the dynamics of the groups’ interactions, coming to a conclusion that poor decisions which seemed ridiculous to an impartial onlooker (i.e. let’s invade Cuba) were, in these cases, borne out of Groupthink. He defines Groupthink as:
“A mode of thinking that people engage in when they are deeply involved in a cohesive in-group, when the members’ strivings for unanimity override their motivation to realistically appraise alternative courses of action.”
Where Groupthink occurs the outcome is poor decision-making by the group. I decided to apply this theory about how groups interact to the social media debate. Janis used an eight-point symptom test to determine the presence of Groupthink:
1. Illusions of invulnerability creating excessive optimism and encouraging risk taking.
2. Rationalizing warnings that might challenge the group’s assumptions.
3. Unquestioned belief in the morality of the group, causing members to ignore the consequences of their actions.
4. Stereotyping those who are opposed to the group as weak, evil, biased, spiteful, disfigured, impotent, or stupid.
5. Direct pressure to conform placed on any member who questions the group, couched in terms of “disloyalty”.
6. Self-censorship of ideas that deviate from the apparent group consensus.
7. Illusions of unanimity among group members, silence is viewed as agreement.
8. Mind guards — self-appointed members who shield the group from dissenting information.
Clearly the social media debate consists of a massive group, so applying this directly has issues but looking at these eight points some really do hit home when applied to the social media debate, or my perceived lack of.
As an agency we’ve been working in this field for over 10 years now – back then we managed fan clubs, message boards etc, and it was called community marketing. So I’m not here to deride the industry that we’re intrinsically part of. What I think it lacks is any real debate about the key issues. Saying “yes, I agree” and putting a link to your blog in the comments serves no-one other than yourself.
Over the coming weeks I’ll be touching directly on some of the eight points above in individual posts and adding some quantitative analysis so feel free to disagree. No, really, please do.