Social Media and the Roar of the Crowd

by Ken Mueller on January 15, 2013 · 9 comments

Social Media and the Roar of the Crowd

While we’re all busy trying to figure out how social media works, why it works, how to measure it, how to make it work for us, we’re all missing out. We’ve gone out of our way to automate, accelerate, facilitate, stimulate, and prognosticate the heck out of social media. We’re afraid to do anything unless it can be measured and analyzed to death. And all the while, we’re forgetting to observe and watch.

Not long ago I wrote about applying the scientific method to social media. When we talk about science we generally talk about measuring, but we forget this nice definition I found regarding the scientific method:

All scientific research, including social science research, involves observation and/or measurement of the empirical world.

No matter with which field of science you are involved, you have two ways to conduct your research: you can measure, and you can observe. We tend to think of things that aren’t measurable as not very scientific, but nothing could be further from the truth. Observing how people behave is a form of research. Some science and data is qualitative rather than quantitative.

Sometimes observation is all you need. I think this is one of the reasons why things like influence and Klout really get under our skin. Influence is something that is more easily observed than it is measured, because it is so fluid and unpredictable.

I’ve talked in the past about the fact that sometimes we need to step away from the numbers. I love analytics, but when it comes to understanding HOW social media really works, I think observation might be helpful. Here are a few recent cases that offer insights into the fact that the future of social is just that: social. Working with the “crowd” to reach our goals (and theirs).


This week the popular crowdfunding site Kickstarter released its annual report, including some statistics and numbers that are rather impressive. You can check out the entire report at Kickstarter, but here are a few numbers:

In 2012, more than 2.2-million people pledged nearly $320-million dollars to successfully fund more than 18,000 projects.

Pretty amazing, considering that most of these are entrepreneurs and creatives seeking to fund small businesses, albums, films, novels, games, and the like. These include 10% of the films seen at Sundance, an Oscar nominated film, and FUBAR, a graphic novel from right here in Lancaster, PA that reached #6 on the New York Times Best Seller  list.

Using the crowd to fund all sorts of products and projects gives people like you and me a chance to do something big. The crowd decides which projects get funded, and they enjoy a level of “ownership” in those projects.


And then there’s Instagram. When the incredibly popular mobile app (which I happen to love) changed its Terms of Service shortly before Christmas, the crowd roared. Users were upset that with how the changes allowed the service to use their photos. The roar of the crowd was loud enough that Instagram listened and backtracked, acknowledging the role that the crowd played in their decision. Other platforms and businesses have also made decisions based on the feedback and criticism of users and customers. If they didn’t listen to the crowd, they faced the very real risk of losing a lot of dedicate users.


An just one more example: Doritos is giving us, the crowd, a chance to decide which of their commercials will air in that showcase of commercials we all know as the Super Bowl. With their Crash the Superbowl promotion, not only are the five commercials made and submitted by members of the crowd, but we get to vote on our favorite. And when we watch the Super Bowl, we will feel a sense of pride and ownership if our favorite commercial was the winner. On the other hand, we may whine a bit if our choice didn’t win. I’ll also add that the five finalists are all pretty good and pretty funny, so it’s really hard to choose.

These are just three examples of how we can listen to the crowd and tap into the power of the crowd. Get your customers invested in you. Give them a sense of ownership. This happens by listening to them. Sometimes they just talk (as in the case of Instagram), other times you have to reach out to them first.

My blog post yesterday about defining your blog content was a similar exercise, as I listened to a business question from a friend, and answered it publicly, so that it might benefit others. Amazon is tapping into the crowd by buying Facebook ads to promote a simple $5 banana slicer, based solely on the comments it has gotten.

Listen to the roar of the crowd. Collaborate with the crowd. If the crowd isn’t roaring, engage them and encourage them to work with you.

The crowd matters, and that’s what social media is all about.

How are you tapping into the power of the crowd?


Another excellent post, Ken. My question, though: is social media ALL about the crowd? Because I believe it is also about the one-on-ones we can discover and enjoy via the internet. I would say social media is about listening to and observing the crowd; and it is equally about engaging as an individual with other individuals - which also is something we don't do well enough, in general!

Adam | Customer Experience
Adam | Customer Experience

I think crowdsourcing/crowd listening has a lot of really interesting benefits, and our connected world makes it so easy to do. I love the Doritos thing, such a great way to create content and get engagement!

I do think we still have to beware of the lessons we pull from the crowd -- the old Henry Ford "they would have asked for a faster horse" idea. Sometimes, it is what the crowd tells you by its behavior not its words that is the better indicator.

KenMueller moderator

@maryhruth Well, certainly one on one can be incredible and is desired. We should never forget that the crowd is made up of individuals. But the crowd can be especially important in assessing what all those individuals are saying in unison. So both are beneficial.

KenMueller moderator

@Adam | Customer Experience Agreed. I probably should have added that it's always important to listen to the crowd, but you don't always have to give in and do what they say. Certainly there is information we have that they don't have at times, that could affect how we use the information we gather from them.

And it's been too long, Adam! We definitely need to chat soon!


  1. […] Social Media and the Roar of the Crowd Go to this article […]

  2. […] businesses and nonprofit will recognize this, and the power of the crowd, and will embrace it. A quick look at how traditional media has tried to adapt to a new media world […]

  3. […] to your customers. Listen to the roar of the crowd. Understand the intent behind their ideas, and that many of them mean well. Understand that they […]

Previous post:

Next post: