The Crowd and the Mob


If you read this blog, then you know that we are fully invested in what the crowd has to say and offer. From new brand ideas, to charitable giving and fundraising to breakthroughs in science and technology. But there are, of course, those who rightfully ask how much wisdom a crowd really has to offer, offering instead “when does a crowd become a mob?” I picture one of the closing sequences in Disney’s Beauty and the Beast where the entire town gathers around Gaston who brandishes his torch through the night, casting huge cartoon shadows across the snowy front yard, telling everyone that the Beast will come after them and their children and as one the whole town appears to be persuaded, raising their pitchforks in the air and stomping off on a crusade to the castle singing “Kill the beast!”

A truly bad call on the part of that crowd and one that is, mercifully, rectified by the end of the Disney film.

Whenever soliciting opinions en masse, one hopes that they are listening to the democratic wisdom of the crowd and not the voice of the mob. So how can we tell the difference? How do you build a successful campaign?

In a recent SF Weekly article, Dan Mitchell cites three recent examples of the crowd speaking with the voice of reason: SOPA, the recent response to the Komen Foundation, and the panicked retreat away from Rush Limbaugh on the part of his sponsors. These aren’t exactly crowdsourced solutions or suggestions, so much as they are public reactions, but they nonetheless illustrate some important facets that should be engaged when looking to the crowd.

An engaged audience that really cares is sometimes the best source of knowledge. Employees of a company for example, are oftentimes hugely invested in the growth of a company and its bottom line. Fans of a brand (particularly fanatical fans) are eager to protect a brand that they know and love and actually want to be a part of it. Their responses are more likely be thoughtful and thought-provoking.

Momentum. This case study by the Online Journalism Blog looks at the qualities of a successful crowdsourced investigation and ends up talking about the importance of reminders, reaching out, and developing conversation (among many other things) so that one person’s engagement builds on another in a productive way that leads to a desired outcome. The report stated “That this turned out to be a significant factor in driving activity suggests one important lesson: talking publicly and regularly about the investigation’s progress was key to its activity and success.”

Good organizational response. As we discussed in our Network Intelligence white paper, the responsibility of any organization relying on a response from the crowd is to evaluate those suggestions and innovations and make sense of them and then respond to them quickly and efficiently.

These are just a few starting points. What are some other ways that one can speak to the enlightened crowd and not just the angry mob? What are some other crowdsourcing success stories?

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