Be original. Be unique. Be conspicuous. These are the mantras that surround blogging and social communications. But I want to throw something out there: what if deviating from group opinions simply does not work?
Finding something original to write about was identified by one in three bloggers as their biggest challenge in a recent survey I conducted. In the face of the sheer volume of competitive blogs and the traffic-sucking impact of the Mashables and the Huffington Posts of the world, maintaining relevance and being original is a real concern. But, ironically, unless you’re Danny Brown, going against the grain of popular thought doesn’t necessarily attract eyeballs or attention. Choosing to be a voice of dissention against commonly held beliefs or ideas can be a very lonely stance to take.
The Theory of Groupthink
In an interesting post on his own blog this week, Geoff Livingston wrote about how the rational examination of ideas can be rejected by a community’s yearning for harmony. He, quite rightly, states that: “Groupthink offers a safe choice for most members of any community”. And yet it’s obvious that any community only grows and learns by having its views, beliefs, opinions and behaviours challenged.
From a social marketer’s perspective, this has real significance. Having a distinctive communications standpoint (or ‘voice’) is widely acknowledged as being a way to create cut-through in order to become influential. It’s held up as a point of difference: “we’re unique because we say something different to everyone else”. And yet achieving true influencer status is incredibly difficult, and hardly any individuals or organisations really manage to achieve it. So what if saying something ‘original’ isn’t the secret to becoming influential? What if the secret to becoming influential is actually to adopt and to amplify the same thinking as everyone else?
I’ve been accused many times in the past of being cynical due to the style in which I write many of my blog posts. I may prefer the phrase ‘constructively critical’, but essentially the accusation is true in that I question what I read and hear. A lot. I’m like a child, constantly asking ‘why?’ I know there are some people out there who appreciate and like it when I probe and challenge. But I also know that I’d be far more popular and have a far, far bigger readership if I wrote in a less challenging manner and adopted some of the themes and styles that other comms bloggers use. By a magnitude of several times, I expect. Added to that, constantly being that voice of dissention is exhausting. Really. I’m starting to think there’s only so long you can keep taking a different viewpoint to try and encourage discourse.
Be Popular, Not Original?
So can marketers learn from the way communities self-regulate and leverage groupthink theories intelligently? I’ve observed many times in the comments of popular blogs how the community rallies around to eradicate divergent thinking and, sometimes, very rational questioning to come to a consensus that invariably agrees with the author. It’s almost as if debate is tolerated (by the community, not necessarily the blogger) as long as the conclusion is in line with the original post. And it can appear extremely sycophantic to the
cynics constructive critics among us.
But if communities self-regulate and, as groups, adopt the thinking of others within those communities, is the key to success via blogging and social marketing to play the popularity game by mirroring community opinions, views and beliefs, rather than by trying to stand out or swim against the tide? Is it, in fact, simply to have a great product or service and to get in front of as many people as possible by shouting loudly using a groupthink approach, no matter whether or not you agree with them? What do you think?
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