When you see an “occupied” sign on a restroom these days, do you think of it differently? Personally, I picture folks camped inside with tents and generators and cooking pots and placards. Whatever else the Occupy movement has accomplished, they’ve certainly changed the meaning of the word for all of us. It will never be the same again.
Danged if I know. I do know the crowd is very, very powerful. We’ve always known there is strength in numbers. And this can be a wonderful thing when harnessed wisely. What’s a bit dismaying is that I also know the crowd can be wide of the mark. Wretched writers can get published. Tone deaf singers can become famous. Urban legends can be passed ‘round and ‘round, and people will believe them.
Unless we’re proactive in harnessing the crowd’s power, consumers can potentially cause a business to veer off course, or off mission. The other night on the radio I heard a piece about an online game called cow clicker. The inventor, Ian Bogust, created the game as a spoof on games like Farmeville. He thought it was idiotic that folks would pay real money to buy props in games, so he created what he thought was the world’s dumbest game. It consisted simply of clicking on cows to get points. That was it. You clicked; then couldn’t click again for six hours. Well… the crowd loved it. They began demanding more and more. Different kinds of cows. Different ways to earn extra clicks. Before long, the game inventor found himself acceding to the demands. He got carried away, describing the encounter thusly: Just like playing one, running a game as a service is a prison one may never escape. He finally realized what was happening and killed the game with a virtual apocalypse.
The crowd does not exist for our pleasure. If we can keep this at the forefront of our minds, we may be able to find our way. It’s not about what they can do for us; from their perspective, it’s about what we can do for them. This give/take and take/give can easily lead to obsession if we’re not conscious and thoughtful. Digital life is compulsive. And compulsion has a tendency to obscure reason. Because of this, the meaningful interaction we seek when we develop our online communications plans can sometimes become muddled. Ian Bogust thought no one would find meaning in clicking on cows. But they did. They did. But if what the crowd finds meaningful does not support our business purpose or social mission, then we definitely need to regroup. Hopefully, short of an apocalypse.