The Power Of The Hive Mind

The other day I started getting notifications pop up on my phone where I was “being mentioned” by several people and other people were commenting on something where I was mentioned.  That’s not entirely unusual, I often get tagged by people or am mentioned in a conversation – that’s the price of being interwebz famous, LOL!

Even though my phone was kind of blowing up with these notifications, I was in the middle of a meeting and really couldn’t check what was going on.  This went on for a good 45 minutes or thereabouts.

When I finished the meeting I fired up Facebook to see who I’d managed to offend and what specifically I had done to generate this firestorm of activity.

Turns out that someone mentioned my book in a group that I’m in and said something nice about it.   Someone else then replied asking for the link and this whole conversation started about what was in the book and was it relevant to people at this stage of their business development or whatever.

A number of people then started “repeating” things that I say or sharing my perspectives on things.

For example, someone mentioned that they liked the rule in the book about digital sharecropping and how I talk about this rather frequently.  Another person commented that they liked the book because it was short and punchy like my daily emails.

On and on it went, by the time I was able to check in, there were about 35 posts in this thread talking about me, my book and my ideas.

Put aside that it was flattering and a nice little ego boost, there was something else at play here – transactive memory, and more specifically, a transactive memory system.

If you’re not familiar with the concept of transactive memory, let me bring you up to speed.

In the 80’s a Harvard Professor of Psychology named Daniel Wegner started studying the idea of the “group mind”.  He came up with this notion that groups have the ability to store memories across people in the group.

So think of close-knit family relations – my wife and I collectively have a shared memory about a certain vacation that we took together.  Independently our memories are incomplete, but together it paints a fairly comprehensive picture of our vacation.  When we retell the story to other people we each chime in to fill out the details.

There’s something else going on here – even when I hear my wife talk about part of the vacation for the second or third time, I never REALLY lay down that memory in a meaningful way where I tell it as part of my recounting of the vacation in the future.  I effectively leave that part of the shared memory up to her – it’s pretty neat and it happens all the time, most people just don’t realize that it’s a thing.

That’s called transactive memory.

In a wider group, that happens too but it’s called a transactive memory system.

Here’s an example.

Get a dozen people who watched a major sporting event or saw something happen live.  Then sit them down and listen to them describe the event.

Each person will have a sizable portion of the memory, but collectively they will play off each other’s memories to fill out the puzzle more completely for the person listening.  People will share their version of the memory mixed with their perspective and emotional recall, but the facts will harmonize with each other to make the retelling of the memory richer and even more complete.

That added richness that’s part of a transactive memory system is called “metamemory” and it’s akin to metadata in a computer system that’s stored around data.  You have a data file containing a document and then you also have some information attached to the file like the author, the creation data, maybe some keywords, etc.

So what does all of this have to do with me getting tagged and pinged about posts in a Facebook group talking about my book?

Well, interestingly, your audience has transactive memory too and what that thread was displaying was a transactive memory system.

Someone mentioned my book, another person asked for information about it and this group of people who had a shared experience (me) began playing back the information.  Each person added to the retelling of that shared experience and a considerable amount of metamemory got shared too.

For example, one person in the thread talked about how I recently helped them figure out an angle for the niche they’re exploring and how something I said in my book played out for them in real-time.  Another person talked about meeting me at an event here in Sydney and how I was “funny, but a bit standoffish”.

These people were sharing metamemory to add to the overall “memory” they were sharing of me as it related to my work in this industry.

It got me thinking, is that not an added benefit of building a great audience?

You’re effectively seeding people indirectly with a shared experience and if your message resonates with them they’ll remember you.  More importantly, they’ll remember you in a way that has a deeper meaning for them.

Once you have a big enough audience, eventually these kinds of “shared memory” events start happening and the audience will begin to indoctrinate people for you.  They’ll tell people their version of a memory with you that will trigger something from someone else and they’ll fill in some additional colour for the new person.

I think this is a massively under-explored area of marketing – we tend to think of it as “recognition” and whatever, but I think transactive memory is more powerful than that.

The simple answer I suppose is, “be more memorable” but again, I think it is deeper than that.  You need to not just be memorable, but you need to be “recallable”.  You have to lay down memories in people’s minds that get wrapped in a layer of metamemory that when those things are shared, it triggers other people’s transactive memory.

When I started thinking about it conceptually, I noticed it with several people that I know, how when someone says something a bunch of people chime in and relate it back to this other person.

I will admit, I don’t really have the answers to how you make this happen but it’s something that I’m going to spend some more time exploring.

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