4 Crowd Dynamics for 09

12 Jan

I’m interested in 4 things this year (it seems like it’s always 1, 2, 3, or 5 things, right? Never 4…or 6. At that point, you should just go for a Top 10 list, I think.) In the coming year, I hope we can stop talking about Social Media in Social Media and start discussing a wealth of successes in the field – giving customers the kind of experience they want – connecting people in new ways.

  • How Crowds Work
  • Observing Reputation
  • Brand Universe of Crowds
  • The Cesspool of Message Marketing

How Crowds Work
Yeah. Crowds, Markets, Conversations, Tribes, Organizations without organization…there’s plenty of speculation and related ruckus in the market, as social media gets more and more attention in traditional PR circles (and vice versa). Great little book by Seth Godin about Tribes…not related to Crowds in this sense; it’s more about Leading From Where You Stand – and doing what you love (yeah, it gets a little preachy).

I’m talking about Crowds in a sense of topical relevance; a crowd is a group of folks that are actively taking interest in a specific topic. Near the center of the crowd, you might find the Elite – people making, creating, thinking, dreaming…putting “art” into the market, relevant to their crowd. A crowd may be assembled around nearly any topic; Robotics, Skateboarding, Current Political Events, or Kittens.

Skill and knowledge that’s native to the topic are highest in the center. Spanning out from the center of the crowd, you’ll find decreasing expertise and knowledge (and interest) in the topic. The more specific the topic, the smaller the crowd, probably. The more inclusive and expansive the topic, the larger the crowd…and more difficult it might be to find the center.

Here’s something you’re probably familiar with: The Forrester NACTAS “Social Technographics Ladder” thing. Here, I’ve put it on it’s side, and put it in the context of a crowd. I’m interested in how folks interact in the crowd. I am interested in the activities of a crowd, based on topic.

Figure 1: Anatomy of a Crowd. Click for big version.

Here’s the thing about that Forrester chart…it’s only kind of right. It describes people across the board as “Creators” – when, in reality, I’m a creator only in respect to a few topics…not everything. So, how do I, as a person…and as a brand, go about understanding the roles that people play in specific topics (NOT markets)? I think observation of crowds, and the dynamics at work there will help understand how ideas flow through crowds.

This ladder on its side only plots behaviors. I’m going to work on visualizing the dynamics between the divisions of crowd members – and mobility from one group to another. I have a feeling there will be elements of Dale Carnegie’s famous book at work here.

Observing Reputation
I have the least amount of ‘meat’ on this topic, thus far. But, I am really interested in how folks perceive reputation. There are systems that folks have set up to manage reputation –  overtly scored like that on eBay…or, privately viewed models, like contributors on Wikipedia…there are plenty of these models, and I’m going to make a study of them – and hopefully figure out what makes some content items and stories more shared than others, at face value. I also think that some crowds (and the profiles inside them) deal with the concept of face value differently; some folks share everything they come across (like my Aunt Norma June) and some folks investigate the content more carefully before sharing. Reputation and sharing lie at the heart of how things “go viral.”

Figure 2: Reputation Powers Sharing. Click for big version.

I’m going to look at some blue sky and practical methods for gathering reputation information. Blue sky ideas like an aggregated view of sharing, including Word of Mouth (!), phone, text, tweets, Facebook, email, blogs, etc. Practical ideas like ad network cookie data and recent innovations like Bit.ly’s click-counter browser plug-in. I think a new model for dealing with reputation will not only help people Convince and Convert (go Jason, @jaybaer) markets and the people in them…it will help us understand how to measure, find, and propagate the best and most important ideas throughout the world.

Brand Universe of Crowds
So, any given brand is at the center of any number of crowds – crowds don’t always revolve around a brand…but, good brands are usually very much in touch with the crowds that are relevant to their product/service.

A TV show might appeal to drama fans, sci-fi fans, and readers of short stories for teens. A footwear product might lie at the center of a light cross training crowd, people who jog from time to time, runners, and people who walk to work. Now, maybe those aren’t crowds because they don’t have any group participation…maybe they’re just demographics, targets, or something like that. I’d like to have something better than ‘target audience’ to work with when I want to get an idea out there – I want to know the dynamics of the crowd, the specifics of reputation there, and I want to know how to behave myself there. Maybe kind of like getting a sense of the dress code before I go to a party? Here’s how to get a “dress code” for the topic/crowd’s you’re pursuing – great post by Marshall at Read/Write/Web.

Figure 3: Brands in the Crowd Universe. Click for big version.

In the coming year, I’ll work on my definition of crowds – in the context of a brand…and how brands. I think that brands that understand their crowds in an honest and participative manner hold them most gravity in their specific markets – gravity that they turn into revenue, loyalty, and other really important things. 

The Cesspool of  Message Marketing
OK. This one goes a bit far – but, there’s real value in understanding how the concepts of reputation and crowds affect the success or failure of specific campaigns, marketing tactics, and messages. I want to understand how topical relevance, honesty, and inspiration are all perceived by crowds – and maybe develop a visualization of an accurate logical model of campaigns, their dispositions in specific crowds, the perceptions of the crowds, and the results of the campaigns. Should be fun. 

For this one, I’m observing interactions with a company that I’ll categorize as operational…such as, “I give you money, you give me a Grande Chai Latte.” Anything related to operational interactions, I’ll put in one bucket. The other bucket is for categorizing experiences that are on-topic for a crowd. These experiences hold relevance to markets and the people in them because of a topic or idea that a crowd and a brand experience share. Think, “Nike didn’t invent basketball, but they talk about it a lot more than they talk about the construction of their shoes.”

Figure 4: Gravity of Interest; Operational vs. Topic. Click for big version.

I think a divide is developing between Operational and Crowd Experiences. Everyone is finding themselves a part of a niche, developed based on the immediate availability of very detailed information…not to mention the ubiquity of communication platforms for folks to exchange thoughts. There’s more to it, but – when a company floats a message out there with very little tie to something that’s interesting to a specific crowd, it better be about giving me Chai Latte…otherwise, it’s just out there…in the noise of the market – left to fend for itself, along with the other corporate messages of the world. It’s cold out there, in the vast expanse of communication topics, without the warm, insulation of loyal activists, enthusiasts or built-in interested parties.

So, four things. It’s unheard of, I know. But, that’s what I’d like to work on this year. I’ll keep the visualizations, pictograms, diagrams, and findings coming throughout the year. If you’ve got something to add to this, I’d love to see it. Should be interesting.


14 Responses to 4 Crowd Dynamics for 09


Jason Baer

January 13th, 2009 at 6:54 am

Great post. I love the Gravity of Interest approach. You should mine that thinking more. Tons of potential there.


Barbara Uechi

January 13th, 2009 at 8:40 am

At the end, I wonder if you’d find that we are all connected and one? Your visuals are compelling and I want to keep watching. Thanks.


Margot Bloomstein

January 13th, 2009 at 9:36 am

Definitely appreciate the distinction you start to explore between a crowd and just an “affiliated group” based on demographics. I agree; in the context of building a brand in the minds of your target audience, a “crowd” by definition should require group participation. It starts to get interesting when brands, marketing departments, and visionaries of the medium wrangle over the nature of that participation: should citizens of the crowd be able to interact among themselves? Or should the rhetorical arena–a forum, hosted dialogue, etc.–only encourage interaction between citizens of the crowd and the brand itself? It feels like this model emerges on many corporate sites: see Zappos, where I can post reviews but not talk with others about their reviews. In more general arenas, as a follower, you can ask me questions, and I’ll post responses that the whole world can see. But if you want to interact with fellow followers, you’ll need to take the conversation elsewhere… to Twitter, perhaps. And it seems that’s where many corporate brands miss the mark, because they fail to engage their followers in the spaces where they’re already talking to each other.



January 13th, 2009 at 2:40 pm

Interesting set of questions. Suspect, however, the model is going to be ultimately hampered by assuming the things themself are going to be important. As Schelling puts it, most of human life is about other people not things or products: that’s what the crowd mechanics are built on and for.

Looked at this way – i.e. without assuming the primacy of the things themselves, it’s much easier to understand how the underlying crowd mechanics explain how things spread and what you might (as a marketer) do to harness that…


Hope that helps


Tim Richards’ Experience Foo » Blog Archive » My Take on The Connected Agency

January 14th, 2009 at 12:24 am

[...] just become common knowledge and each of us will either be gainfully employed via our reputation (position in crowds) or we’ll have rushed on to the next black [...]



January 14th, 2009 at 12:43 am

@Mark Thanks for the great insight. With a bit of experience in this, I do indeed find that there are some real challenges to working with brands in this social space. Big 3 problems?

First, Being Interesting. Companies often are clumsy, and feel as though they need to mention themselves or their products incessantly…they want to capture too widely, and thus, capture no one.

Next, Being Present. This isn’t something that runs itself. To be engaged on a topic, one has to, well…be engaged. Reputation must be earned, relationships must be created, and conversations must be…*gulp* enabled? In any case, social is a personal place…when companies are in the space, they often live up to their common diagnosis as sociopaths.

Lastly, Being Honest. Honestly interested and engaged in the conversations they wish to have. Honestly participating in these spaces. Honestly contributing to the conversation, with value.

Yes. My aim is to describe the crowd dynamics from outside the lens of the b-word. Next up, maybe a study of sub-culture-to-pop-culture journeys? Independent Trucks? Dr. Maartens?



January 14th, 2009 at 6:58 am

Nice post. If you haven’t seen it already, Yahoo has done a great job of categorizing the various reputation model, their benefits and challenges.



Josh Bernoff

January 14th, 2009 at 4:08 pm

Hi, Tim. Nice to see you riffing off the Social Technographics ladder.

You are absolutely correct that what matters to a brand is not how many of its people are participating, but how they participate in the discussion about that brand or activity.

In that sense our surveys give you a start — they tell you what’s possible. If few of your users are on social networks, don’t go there to engage them. If many are . . . well, they still might not want to engage with you, but it’s at least worth considering.

As I have used the ladder with so many clients in the last 12 months its been very useful to give them a bead on their customers’ behavior. (We do the ladder for their client base, which is essential.) It helps them get started. To take it from there, it’s entirely possible they’ll have to work with somebody like you.

One little caveat. Since the categories overlap, you can’t just add Collectors and Joiners together — your number will be too high. Gotta be careful when riffing off an idea — survey numbers represent something real.



January 15th, 2009 at 12:01 am

@David Yes, huge fan of Yahoo! Pattern Library. I’m developing a bit of a study on reputation models, including those mentioned and categorized there at Yahoo! In addition, I’m looking to identify less structured reputation systems as well. I keep going back to how music spreads – and how I used to study liner notes to find that next amazing band…social networking is much older than these machine-intermediated experiences we deal with now.

I enjoyed this post of yours – thanks for the shout out on Williams-Sonoma: http://www.decheser.net/site/comments/differentiating_online_retail_experiences/

Also, we need to talk about music.


Robin Grant

January 15th, 2009 at 6:15 am

Hey Tim – it makes a bit more sense now! :) Keep up the good work…


How Do Crowds Work In Social Media Networks? | Digital Buzz Blog

January 21st, 2009 at 2:20 am

[...] I really recommend, is that you click here to read the full post, it’s a great read and no matter who you are, you’ll learn something, or [...]


A Digital Perspective » Friday Finds: Delicious

January 22nd, 2009 at 9:31 pm

[...] 4 Crowd Dynamics for 09 [...]


Aden Davies

February 6th, 2009 at 8:41 am

What a great post…look froward to the continued output on these 4 themes


Hans Leijström

March 4th, 2010 at 4:35 am

Thank you Tim for sharing and for a great post.

I would also like to share my PoV and model on “How Crowds Work” which is based on my experiences and research work within online community. I hope it will add some value for you?

This is how I would like to describe the participants in the crowd:

(differs a bit from Forrester, and yours but includes categorization of the most popular, common names used to describe the participants)

And here is an overview of the content generation process:

1) New content is added by contributor (bear in mind that some people like to bring something to the “table”, others like to make critics (only) and most people just like to consume great content, inactive may be influenced to join)

2) Critics interact with new content (the like or dislike it)

3) Creators become visable (most positive critics/ratings earned by critics)

4) Consumers will consume great content (top rated, relevant and most otstanding content)

5) The crowd start to share great content with the world (WOMM)

6) More people will join the crowd

It is all about engagement and great content is king! Never forget!

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