Altruism or Anonymity?

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How do you create a movement without scale?

You can’t. At least not in the traditional sense.

Segmentation of media has rendered the concept of  a “movement” into a much more digestible (and achievable) concept. Hitting the “mainstream” has never been easier.

How? After all, shouldn’t fragmentation hurt this process?

Yes and no.

Humans are social animals. They break off into groups and organize themselves on culture, spiritual and language similarities. From tribes, to city-states, to nations we have steadily created more complex and intricate ties to build out what makes us part of a group. This culminated in the 20th century with the invention of mass media and the rise  of nationalism.

Then the internet happened.

What impact did the internet have on group dynamics?

Fragmentation. Instead of forcing people to mobilize around a watered down idea it allowed for them to construct their own identities with a (very!) similar group of people. Information stopped moving vertically and started moving sideways.

Audience atomization overcomeA new pattern of information flow, in which “stuff” moves horizontally, peer to peer, as effectively as it moves vertically, from producer to consumer.

A few examples:

Ice Chewers – A community for people who love to chew ice…way too much.

Juggalo Faith – An invaluable resource for that rare handful of folks who are both Insane Clown Posse fans (aka “Juggalos”) and God-fearing Christians.

Dancing Alone to Pony – People who love to get down alone to Ginuwine’s seminal hit.

Niches have essentially crushed our need to consensus build. We can now exist in a world where everyone we interact with socially, shares the same motivations. This is great for our self-esteem, not so great for exposure to differing viewpoints. This has led to accelerating polarization.

After all, how could someone like Sarah Palin or Michele Bachman come along and take over the national  scene? They don’t ascribe to or even try to appeal to most of America what they do instead is focus on a specific set of highly motivated vocal supporters.

In marketing we call these supporters “influencers”.  These are the catalysts for any successful movement, whether it’s for sharing a video or casting a vote. These influencers have a disproportionate amount of say into what ideas succeed or fail.

It is with this mindset that we can divide all online movements (natural and manufactured) into two camps:

Altruism – A desire for good. Kickstarter, Causes.com, Reddit and Social Good.

Anonymity – A desire for mischief. 4chan, Reddit and Something Awful.

Every marketing campaign, political initiative, or community based initiative needs to have one of these ideas at their core. Otherwise, they run the risk of feeling forced or even worse? Contrived.

How does this mesh with your sense of community? Have you constructed a movement/marketing campaign with these core ideas at their center?

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