Select Page

Humans are innately biased, fact is we cannot help it, we simply prefer to be in situations where we do not feel like the odd one out, we seem programmed to flock to like-minded groups. This is not anything ground-breaking or new, it’s a basic human trait.

Some typical examples of like-minded groups include:

  • any religion
  • football fan
  • the mafia
  • social media evangelists

I used that list in a presentation/session I led at MediaCampLondon and I’m sure you’ll agree, before we dig deeper, that most “specialised” groups or niches do exhibit similar personalities, or group thinking. For a rugby team to excel there needs to be a team mission, a team work-ethic, a cluster of similarity, or a company philosophy, policy. For the police force to work the individual soldiers much share a common belief of law enforcement.

So what can we call the glue in these “packs”, “tribes” “groups”, “fan bases”? What term describes this commonality of behaviour, the mind-fuck of similarity? What is it then that Chris Brogan the Pied Piper of social media evangelises, what is it that Lloyd Davis the Tart of Tuttle encourages you to love, what is it that Will McInnes the Madman of Metrics and Measurement propagates, and what is it Chris Hambly the Don of the Social Media Mafia challenges you with? – Ideological Amplification is what.

Ideological Amplification is when a belief within a tribe (niche) becomes the “norm” or “accepted” and often “expected” and is then exponentially amplified among its members. – chris hambly

If you think for a moment, all tribes have leaders, this is age-old theory, and from that a vision or a broad ideology born. When loyal members join a particular tribe it is that vision that is then perpetuated, amplified and encouraged to the expense of a nearby tribe – to an extent. Chelsea fans are not in any way waving the ideology flag of Liverpool, for example. Or David Cameron’s flock will always seek ammunition to unbalance the arguments of Gordon Brown. These frictional moments and engagements may be unstated, may even take place unwittingly as part of the ideology but they DO occur.


Many years ago merchants would tout their business wares in the village market, typically to small groups, small tribes, the merchants could operate a very specific marketing message to a known demographic. When scaling was made possible through technological developments such as printed materials, and more recently radio and television, marketing moved into a more broad-based model where above the line blanket-bombing tactics become the norm, and still are, shear numbers became the model.

The Internet now affords the rapid establishment of tribal theories once again, marketing droids (I include myself in that definition) are once again taking an interest in niche tribes, the “power” of a niche ideology, or they SHOULD be.

You see, for a marketing person we want our products to be discussed, we want the goodness, the buzz, the positive aspects to be ideologically amplified by the tribe. Steve Jobs’s gang do this for him daily. Steve’s long-term brand (generational) has a fiercely loyal pack of dogs, whom will enthuse and die at the gates of computer heaven before switching brands.

But even new brands to the game can now take advantage of ideological amplification, because The Internet facilitates rapid tribal community building. Never before have we been able to seek and find like-minded people, never before have we been able to run shoulders with vast amounts of people who bolster own own perception of an ideology.

Let’s look at more theory.

Thomas Schelling

1971, he published a widely cited article dealing with racial dynamics called “Dynamic Models of Segregation”. In this paper he showed that a small preference for one’s neighbours to be of the same colour could lead to total segregation. He used coins on graph paper to demonstrate his theory by placing pennies and nickels in different patterns on the “board” and then moving them one by one if they were in an “unhappy” situation.

The positive feedback cycle of segregation – prejudice – in-group preference can be found in most human populations, with great variation in what are regarded as meaningful differences — gender, age, race, ethnicity, language, sexual preference, religion, etc. Once a cycle of separation-prejudice-discrimination-separation has begun, it has a self-sustaining momentum.

source: wikipedia.

Dangerous stuff…

Once a cycle of separation-prejudice-discrimination-separation has begun, it has a self-sustaining momentum.”

This is what some theorists might call “going viral”, I actually prefer to call this pathological, I find it dangerous, sure for a marketing person it can be golden, but and what expense?

So what are we supporting here with social media adoption?

  • Increase of niche gangs

– as I’ve stated, never before have we been able to seek out such vast extremes of ideology in one place. On the Internet there are no mechanical forces preventing us to segregate, we have no house to sell, we are free to indulge in our extremism.

  • Disdain for “mainstream”which actually forces us to segregate, isn’t that good? – mainstream channels DO force us to listen, watch and be presented with multiple view points. Newspapers cover a variety of themes which may draw you, something which your niche may not, ever.
  • Adoption of tribal mentalities, actually enthused, embraced, encouraged. – Leaders will evangelise, as the Don of Social Media Mafia I do want the members to critically analysis social media, rip it up, question it, find proof, examine it, uncover theory. Chris Brogan doesn’t ask this of you, he enjoys the “magic” of it. Will McInnes will want you to find metrics, he wants an industry model, he wants something to bolster and give credibility to his products. Lloyd Davis want you to socialise in public spaces and sing his anthem of Tuttle. Makes no difference what the niche is, we are all selfish and pimping our own ideologies, and if you do not roughly come into line with that, you are marginally ostracised. Debatable, but I challenge you.
  • Polarisation, amazon, knows what you like every time, you are profiled. – for each click we make on the internet we are then profiled into a category one step further, for each and every cookie and derivative of YOUR choices are made narrower. You will not be displayed products which you are never likely to buy.
  • Additional views which support your views add to your perception of correct, or right. – If you sing hallelujah to the ideology of the group, the remaining participants will praise you, pat you on the back, thus further entrenching the ideology, thus further amplifying it.

Critical analysis skills are taught at 3rd year in the UK University system, and even then it is only the beginning, critical analysis and stepping out of your tribe takes balls, courage and a willingness to argue. This skill is not something we are born with, it takes practise and lots of it.

And that is where the problem lies for me, a serious lacking in critical skills within social media, a fundamental flaw in the system, cult-like blind faith is fucking dangerous, and there will be ferocious venomous spitting when opposing extremes come together.

Look at any war, it is no different… treat your tribe with caution, tread carefully before you preach for you may be amplifying an ideology which is in fact marginalising and segregating.

I will talk about “bridges” at a later date.

UPDATE: 13.07.08 – So what do YOU think, am I being harsh, do you not agree, or do you sense some of this in yourself, what’s on your mind after reading this?