Critical mass: understanding what drives fluctuations in likeability for brands

Whilst I continue to question the financial returns from social media for brands, there is no denying their ability to galvanise. In fact, social media is the driving force behind “critical mass” – the ability to bring together consumers from many places to form a significant mass of opinion, in support or against, based around an issue they consider critically important to them.

For brands, critical mass can be a powerful forum for advocacy, feedback, testing, support and, perhaps most importantly, a way to stay directly attuned to what Mr and Mrs Consumer are feeling. But a critical mass also makes for a powerful enemy: as we’ve seen this past week, a group of people united by a single idea can turn on a brand with extraordinary ferocity.

Critical masses flock and disperse in response to ideas. People join, leave and link at whim. So these groupings are constantly forming, dissolving and reforming on a global scale. They are not one constituency. And the density of the mass and its duration derives directly from the galvanising strength of the idea, the momentum it gathers, and the response of the brand. These are instant opinion communities that can choose to express themselves as pages, groups, in the wider media or directly through a blizzard of tweets.

Social markets, just like their financial counterparts, are driven by sentiment and the interactions of many. And it is that participation that generates volatility. But unlike the sharemarket, critical mass drives partiality rather than actual value. It helps decide whose on your side and whose not – at any given moment.

For scaled brands, then, the sentiment of critical mass represents your likeability in real time.

Some days your partiality will be up – meaning people generally feel good about you. At other times, the mass of opinion will be negative, impartial or absent. Same for your competitors.

Understanding that, quantifying it and responding to it is significant for its importance and yet it can only be momentary in its interpretation.

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