Crowds, Hives, Mobs, and Swarms

Here is a great article discussing intriguing concepts in consumer innovation.

With the diffusion of networking technologies, collective consumer innovation is taking on new forms that are transforming the nature of consumption and work and, with it, society and marketing[.]

The authors argue that marketers should redefine “consumer” as an individual belonging to various creative/collaborative communities (Crowds, Hives, Mobs, and Swarms), where routine information consumption and disgorgement leads to unanticipated insights and innovations.

The authors define Crowds as large groups organized around a specific purpose or goal that disbands at the completion of the goal. The authors state that an example of Crowd innovation is the Frito-Lay Super Bowl Doritos advertising competition “Crash the Super Bowl”.

Crowds tend to emphasize a particular project, or bounded set of projects. They are organized, focused, and purposive. They are centered on the achievement of a particular objective, after which they usually disband.

The authors define Hives as groups formed to reach a specific goal; these groups are typically small in size but high in skill (e.g., the authors point to the open source community as an excellent example of a Hive, with its attendant focus on fostering innovation but creating a creative commons licensing struture to prevent corporations from gaining a hegemony over innovation within the community).

Usually Hive sites have many different forum topics including sections for expert talk, exhibiting creations, and/or providing downloads.

Mobs are defined by their singular focus on a specialist topic, providing targeted expertise solely to that topic. The authors point out single fathers, registered massage therapists, or nineteenth-century coin collectors as Mobs.

[The Mob’s] specific focus lends them particular value, especially to marketers who are able to capitalize on the value of segmentation, and the insights that come from understanding the unique needs of various segments.

Swarms involve communities engaging in mass behavior where individual contribution may be low but aggregate (output) value is high. The authors categorize Swarm behavior along four vectors: hyperlinking (think Google page rank), creating a “nation” of consumers so vast and complex it cannot be easily duplicated (eBay), ranking and rating (ala Amazon), and finally tagging (

[H]ighly adaptive and complex solutions can emerge when large numbers of slightly diverse individuals with different expertise follow simple rules in pursuit of their objectives.

It is the convergence of childlike play, adult rules, passionate fandom, and serious work that make these communities so intriguing to marketers.

In an attempt to overcome the utilitarian notion of work and creativity, many of these [new types of consumers] reaestheticize their creations and re-enchant creative labor in a way that is not typically found in the many mundane jobs which the typical industrial and postindustrial information economy offers[.]

But therein lies the difficulty in trying to “study” or “tap into” or “utilize” these groups; that is, the authors point out that a Mob can spin off into a Crowd, which can turn into a Swarm, etc, a process the authors label as “Elicitation-Evaluation” (i.e., inducing a Mob to create something, like Frito-Lay’s Super Bowl ads, which then spins to a wider audience that rates, ranks, and tags submissions, which then distills a “winner”, but then disbands to go participate elsewhere). It’s more like trying to manipulate an amoeba rather than command nanotechnology.

Nevertheless, the end result, the authors argue, is a serious organizational network with roots in medieval craft guilds, art studios, and organized work networks with four implications for marketers: (1) marketers should address Crowds, Hives, Mobs, and Swarms differently, (2) marketing managers need to think of themselves and their brands as a thread in an ongoing communal tapestry, (3) these communities should be considered as fiscal partners in product/service innovation, and (4) companies need to understand that these communities operate as powerful counterbalances to corporations perceived to be acting unethically, irresponsibly, and abusively (e.g., see Google search steak and shake and look for “A Deaf Mom Shares Her World: Steak and Shake Denies Service” about position three).

2 thoughts on “Crowds, Hives, Mobs, and Swarms”

  1. Wow, that blows me away, talk about in depth analysis! I think in particular swarms and hives are incredible examples (and comparisons) of how sociology/biology/marketing all can blend into a definable, maleable entity.

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