Why Understanding Mob Mentality is Key to Creating a Crisis Response Plan

CSI - Courtroom Sciences Inc.

We live in an era where a single negative post or comment concerning even a well-established company can rapidly turn into a social media crisis. Humans have a penchant for adopting certain behaviors based on the influence of their peers. One’s point of view can be easily altered based on their circle of influence, causing a person to act emotionally rather than rationally and driving a group of individuals to make different decisions than they perhaps would have on their own. Psychologists refer to this phenomenon of following the actions and behaviors of one’s peers as mob mentality or herd mentality, and it is important to fully understand it before crafting your crisis response plan

After a triggering event occurs, an organization has a limited window of time to create the kind of psychology-based messaging that will resonate in a crisis situation. Courtroom Sciences knows that founded or unfounded stories that can capture the attention of a social media mob can quickly go viral and develop into a social media crisis.

How should you factor mob mentality into your crisis response plan?

Social media mobs result from the narrative that is created following a triggering event. Organizations must understand that once a story goes viral, they have little to no control over whether or not a social media mob will form, which means they cannot wait to take action. Factoring mob mentality into a crisis response plan means understanding that the focus must be on the initial formal response, from which all other narratives will build. 

Understanding Mob Mentality

With roots in social pressure, mob mentality is a circumstance that has occurred throughout human history. Humans are inherently social, and neurobiologists have found that when they gather into large groups, thinking and acting as one, their brains produce chemicals that cause them to depart from logical cognition and regress into a more primitive state. 

Whether it occurs consciously or unconsciously, individuals have a tendency to align their attitudes and behaviors with those around them. This compliance with social norms, or responding to the expectations of one’s peers, is almost instinctual, a part of evolutionary psychology as the prefrontal cortex plays a decisive role in guiding the kind of cooperative behavior that leads to a person acting in ways they would have never considered independently. Many people find it almost impossible to go against what’s socially acceptable. In the end, a person’s natural desire to be part of the group is likely also the catalyst for damaging their independent decision-making ability. 

When it comes to mob mentality and social media, the anonymity of the Internet can diminish the sense of individual identity, accelerating the path of yielding to mob or herd mentality. Reduced to avatars and usernames, individuals may more quickly let go of a sense of self-restraint that might deter them in a face-to-face setting. Not only may people lose control of their usual inhibitions, but they may also assume that the anonymity of the Internet releases them from any consequences of their actions. 

The Forming of a Social Media Mob  

Social media mobs, fueled by a narrative designed to provoke a target audience, tend to follow the same four-step progression:

Step 1: A triggering event occurs.

Step 2: The first story is published or broadcast that spins the event into a narrative capable of provoking moral outrage.

Step 3: Social media influencers pick up on the narrative, feeding off and back into the story, all while remaining largely anonymous.

Step 4: The story goes viral and is fueled by a widespread lack of faith that justice will prevail.

Thanks to practically unrestricted worldwide platforms from which to make accusations, leak information, or manufacture false accounts, these narratives, whether or not they hold any merit, can severely impact an organization. And, unfortunately, once a negative story takes root, following step 2, not only can the story be self-sustaining, but the organization has no control over whether or not a social media mob will form. Once all four steps have transpired, it is unlikely that any calls to reason or for a measured response will be met with anything other than increased fury. For this reason, organizations must be prepared to take action immediately after a triggering event occurs because that first published story or broadcast will build off the company’s initial formal response. 

If that initial response can convince key stakeholders and online influencers that justice will prevail and that appropriate steps will be taken to ensure similar incidents do not occur in the future, the mob will go searching for a more interesting narrative. However, if that initial response is thought to be self-serving, disingenuous, or misdirected in any way, the mob will leap to action. 

When a potential crisis breaks, Courtroom Sciences can help you be prepared to avoid a social media mob. Our psychology-based approach to messaging enables you to break through the noise and influence attitudes and opinions. Working as part of the litigation team, CSI’s crisis and litigation communications experts will assist in developing a highly responsive crisis response plan with policies and practices that protect and defend your company’s reputation. Speak with one of our critical communications experts to get started

Key Takeaways

●  Social media mobs result from the narrative that is created following a triggering event. 

●  Social media mobs follow the same four-step progression. 

●  Once a negative story takes root, the organization has no control over whether or not a social media mob will form.

●  Courtroom Science’s psychology-based approach to messaging enables you to develop a highly responsive crisis response plan. 

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