April 3, 2009 12 Comments
We’ve all heard the concept of the hive mind, where when one member/node/bee/ant etc. knows something it gets transmitted instantly throughout the hive. The Borg from Star Trek is the hive made evil, with no free will.
Twitter behavior is starting to look more and more like a benign hive, where participants have free will but often willingly join in collective behavior. A recent example of this came from Demi Moore (twitter user “mrskutcher“) who saw a tweet from someone in San Jose who said she was going to kill herself. Demi re-tweeted one of these horrible tweets from sandieguy and the collective jumped into action. The San Jose police were contacted. Hundreds of Twitter users sent supportive messages (a few a-holes were mean), and we all hope that the crisis was averted and @sandieguy is getting the help she needs.
This is only the beginning. Imagine as tweeting gets even easier, and more pervasive. The ability to mobilize the hive mind to deal with a crisis, inform the world, solve problems, generate action and more is only going to get more powerful.
A collective/hive mind can be powerfully negative as well. Imagine at some point a Rush Limbaugh-like personality who uses Twitter to mobilize hate and fear-mongering in a way that is destructive. Imagine Hitler with a Twitter account (no, I’m not comparing Rush to Hitler). Scary, though perhaps if there was a Twitter in the 1930’s Hitler may never have been able to go so far. Maybe the benign, voluntary, and informed collective would have forced a quicker response to the threat.
For marketers, this collective mind is a huge opportunity – and an even larger threat. Never has it been so easy to inform a huge community of influencers about your experience with a product or service. We all know that people are much more likely to complain than to compliment, so downside risks from the hive will impact more brands than upside. A strange trend, though, is that my informal scan of the environment shows that there are a LOT of positive tweets about brands. Perhaps this is because collective participation is so easy and immediate – it takes only a few seconds to tweet about that great customer service you just got, so why not? If you’re not following your brand on Twitter, you are missing a huge opportunity. Someone talks you up? Reward them!! Someone puts your brand down? Make it better and win them back – instantly. They’ll tweet about how impressed they are with your attention.
One brand that gets the collective is Zappos. Tony Hsieh (CEO) follows most of his followers, and he probably has a whole team dedicated to tracking the conversations about his incredible service. There are over 350,000 people who follow his tweets. Most are huge fans and never miss an opportunity to say so.
For good or for evil, the global collective mind is here – and it’s growing. Resistance is futile – assimilation has begun!