Everything is Social – Mark Earls at The Next Web

This talk proved to be one of my favorites, not only for the style of presentation which was energetic and humorous, but the way Earls exploded a few myths from his research findings and the findings of others. He started by looking at football crowds, making sure the audience participated in a few Mexican waves. He said that the research that is being conducted is showing that the theories of social behaviour are being revealed by technology. The web is forcing us now to see ourselves as social creatures.

Earls stated that we think of ourselves as individuals, thinking and feeling what is done to us from external forces. In the last two hundred years history, economics and recently, marketing affecting our behaviour. The web has shown that we actually are highly connected and copy each other much more than we realise or would like to think. Individualism and originality were immediately set up here by Earls to be questioned. We find great pleasure from doing things together and collaborating. The idea of the individual is actually an internal mode of thought, not acted out in reality and this is proved by our online interactions.

 

  Showing this popular video, he asked us to consider Colin, the hero who starts the dance, as an innovator, his second friend the early adopter. He then proved that the idea of influencer is wrong, this is not what happened in reality. In truth, he tried several times to get people to dance around him but it was the crowd who decided. The change that occurs is when momentum is the change agent, not people in the crowd. It is not the influencers, it is the influence. Not individuals but the collective. Earls reiterated; we are fundamentally social, we are fundamentally like that. It was not Colin’s actions but the crowd (look carefully and you will see Colin leave the crowd).

 

1. Everything is social 
Social first and foremost. Our minds are fundamentally adapted to be social, we naturally seek security from each other. We instinctively know when something dangerous happens from the behaviour of others. From the moment we are born to when we die our lives are with other people. Our inclination for co-habiting means that isolation is the greatest punishment. This even affects how we think, we think before action but in reality we act and think in that order. Thought following action a millisecond behind. We also think together in a way that is subliminal or tacit, a common understanding revealed in the popularity of tagging and memes.

2. Copying not originality rules
The ‘I’ll have what she’s having’ effect (from When Harry Met Sally and Meg Ryan’s restaurant scene) is what shapes our decisions. We take opinions and referrals on trust. We copy behaviour if we think it is good or desirable. Here, there was another myth exploded:- independent agency is a fallacy. The success of Amazon can be attributed to the taste selector, and it’s recommendation engine. He remarked that opinion polls are banned in some countries before an election because of this power to persuade.

3.Sailing on social soup
Earls said there was a missing element that Chris Anderson missed in his book The Long Tail. If a lot of traffic appears here, it is likely that it means you have social influence. He moved on to the anti-social problem of binge drinking in British culture. No individual influences people to do this, but a cluster mentality develops. This structure is the most  important thing, and a dynamic that can only be changed by changing the group’s perception about their behaviour collectively. You can not make people do something but you must work with them. His last mention was Tweenbots, an experiment by Kacie Kinzer into a theory of letting humans do the heavy work of data input through their sense of compassion. Tweenbots lets the humans put down the paths, that services can use for other purposes.

 

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Photograph courtesy of Julia de Boer
 

Everything is social
This was a fascinating talk, mainly because it changes the perceptions that we may take as defacto from marketing gurus and experts. Earls’ points are based in ethnographic study and social science. Behaviour of the individual is influenced greatly by the crowd. Earls’ findings are important; expelling the myth of the individual, the missing element of the long tail and originality as not the main factor for success represents a shift in thinking.

He has moved the conversation on from landmark books such as Groundswell and into another area of consideration. We cannot control the crowd, we must go with the flow. Drawing parallels with sailing, Earls stated that we all must learn to navigate the stream, but the tides are out of our control. Momentum in crowds can not be anticipated or created but exist due to many smaller factors that we can only react to. I think realizing this fact will help us build better experiences and help us realise our goals realistically in social media.

Mark Herd is author of the book Herd: How to change mass behavior by harnessing our true nature.

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