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Conditions for Herding Behaviour and how Marketers can Encourage Herding Behaviour in Social Marketing Essay Example

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Conditions for Herding Behaviour and how Marketers can Encourage Herding Behaviour in Social Marketing


This essay is about herding behaviour within the context of social marketing. The essay examines two important questions. The first one relates to the conditions that are necessary for herding behaviour to occur within the context of social marketing. The second question relates to how social marketers can encourage ‘positive’ herding behaviour within the context of social marketing.

Conditions for Herding Behaviour

The concept of herding behaviour refers to how individuals within a group adopt thoughts and behavioural patterns that others within the group exhibit (Baddeley et al. 2012, p. 1). The essence of herding behaviour is that individuals adopt the behavioural patterns and thoughtsof others based on their interactions within the group (Raafat, Chater & Frith 2009, p 420). Social marketing is closely linked to herding behaviour. Social marketing refers to the practice of influencing the behaviour of people (Reynolds & Lancaste 2013, p. 345). The essence of the concept of social marketing is that organisations, both for-profit and not-for-profit, seek to meet the needs of their stakeholders who may include the society, shareholders and customers (Cheng, Kotler & Lee 2013, p. 90). Thus, organisations seek to be profitable, satisfy the needs of their customers and address the needs of the immediate societies.

There are several conditions for herding behaviour in a social marketing context. In the first place, for herding behaviour to occur in a social marketing perspective, there must be the aspect of individuals attempting to mimic the actions and expressions of others within a given a group. The tendency of individuals to mimic the behaviours of others within the context of groups is technically referred to as emotional contagion. It is noted that individuals are naturally predisposed to mimicking the actions and emotions of others (Vishwanath 2015, p. 1356). Within the context of social marketing, the propensity of individuals to copy the behavioural traits and attitudes of others is a necessity for herding to occur. As many individuals imitate others within a group, an activity, point of view or action becomes a fad, fashionable trait or behaviour.

The second important condition for herding to occur within the context of social marketing relates to the social norms and general expectations that members of a group may exhibit and how this influences their tendency to act and think in common ways. In general, herding behaviour occurs because individuals tend to exhibit the need to conform to standards that are arbitrarily set (Baddeley 2010, p. 284). It is argued that the tendency of individuals to follow specific behavioural traits that appear socially acceptable is one of the most important conditions for herding behaviour to occur within the context of social marketing (Baddeley 2010, p. 284).

It is important to note at this point that social norms only occur within contexts (Robinson 2009, p. 2). Moreover, it should be noted that individual behaviour is shaped by the conditions that exist within a given context (Cwalina, Falkowski & Newman 2014, p. 97). In other words, the attitudes that individuals hold may shift based on the situation in which the individuals operate. Hence, if individuals find themselves in a situation in which they interpret given tendencies as the most appropriate social norms, they may easily adopt the practices as a way of sticking to the norms. Another way of interpreting this condition is that individuals may adopt behaviours and attitudes as a way of conforming to the practices that the individuals believe define their social groups. Also, people may adopt specific behaviours as a way of avoiding the perceived punishment that they may face if they do not adhere to the code of their social groups.

The third condition for herding behaviour within the context of social marketing relates to how information spreads among people in a group. It is observed that one of the defining features of how information spreads within a group whose individuals are exhibiting herd behaviour is that the information is normally provided by local actors as opposed to a centralised authority figure (Vishwanath 2015, p. 1354). In other words, within the context of social marketing, herd mentality occurs when local actors act as authority figures and generate information that develops into fashionable trends. It is noted that groups that exhibit herd mentality lack a centralised form of control (Vishwanath 2015, p. 1354). It is difficult to pinpoint an individual who maintains control over the members of groups whose formation is based on herd mentality. In practice, individuals adopt the opinions of the other local individuals as opposed to seeking the opinion of a single authority figure.

Badelley (2010, p. 286) notes that decentralised control is an important attribute of herding behaviour within groups because it creates the right conditions for information cascade to occur. Information cascade is a situation in which people in a group deliberately avoid information that that is contrary to what the others in the group believe to be right (Raafat, Chater & Frith 2009, p 425). Thus, individuals within a group deliberately adopt the opinions of their local influencers even if the individuals know that such opinions may not be correct. Thus, decentralised control, which creates ideal conditions for information cascade, is a prerequisite for herding behaviour within the context of social marketing.

How social marketers can encourage ‘positive’ herding behaviour

‘Positive’ herding behaviour can be described as actions that lead to the benefit of the people involved in herding behaviour (Skiba & Skiba 2017, p. 71). For example, when people in the society adopt healthy eating habits because of campaigns, they end up benefiting from the benefits of adopting healthy lifestyles. Thus, ‘positive’ herding behaviour is different from the usually negative practices that the concept of herding behaviour is associated with (Skiba & Skiba 2017, p. 72). In practice, herding behaviour is associated with socially-inappropriate practices such as groupthink, mass action and others. However, ‘positive’ herding behaviour involves socially-desirable and appropriate practices.

There are various ways in which marketers can encourage ‘positive’ herding behaviour. However, one of the most important ways by which social marketers can successfully influence individuals to adopt desirable practices relates to the use of social networking sites (Fromm, Hall & Manfull 2014, p. 283). Social networking sites provide some of the most important platforms that marketers can use to positively influence the general population (Powell, Groves & Dimos 2011, p. 105). Marketers can successfully create and disseminate messages on various social media forums. Members of the various forums can then be encouraged to share the messages that marketers create with the people they are acquainted with on their respective social media platforms (Fromm, Hall & Manfull 2014, p. 283). This implies that social marketers can effectively harness the power of social media to create messages that may grow into a buzz.

It is important to note that social marketers can use social media platforms to encourage positive herding behaviour in the society by intentionally creating special content aimed at specific groups (Goldsmith 2012, p. 270). One of the most important reasons as to social marketers may find it easy to use social networking sites is that social media platforms are virtually global and that this property gives social marketers a big audience (Powell, Groves & Dimos 2011, p. 105). The global nature of social media means that social markets can access their targeted social population groups very effectively by relying on social media platforms. The second reason relates to the nature of the content of social media platforms. All social media platforms are defined by their dependence on user-generated content (Brandau 2009, p. 14). Users generate content and then share the content with each other to form conversations on social media sites.

It is argued that social marketers are increasingly realising the importance of social media in pushing for positive and socially-appropriate practices among the general population (Lefebvre 2013, n.pag). For example, governments and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) have successfully used social media to encourage population groups to adopt specific health-related practices (Lefebvre 2013, n.pag). Thus, marketers can successfully use social media platforms to influence members of the society to adopt new health-related practices, for example, or any other socially-acceptable practices.

The use of social media to influence the general population to adopt positive behaviours meets all the basic criteria of herding behaviour. For example, if marketers use special bloggers to plant carefully-designed messages on specific social media sites, the marketers do not have direct control over how the message spreads. The individuals who end up accessing and sharing the information do so because they are influenced by how local individuals access and share the messages. In other words, the way a health-related campaign can be run on social media platforms, for example, depends on the extent to which the key condition of herding behaviour or lack of decentralised control over the members of the group is met.


In conclusion, three conditions are necessary for herding behaviour to occur within the context of social marketing. First, it is necessary for the group of individuals to be loosely organised so that local individuals influence the opinions of others. Secondly, it is necessary for the individuals who form the group to exhibit the natural tendency of people to mimic the behaviours and attitudes exhibited by others. The third condition is that individuals must show the tendency to conform to the behaviour exhibited by others in the group. People may conform to group code because of the need to belong to the group or because of the fear of possible repercussions of failing to conform to the unwritten group code. Finally, it is observed that social marketers can generally use social media to effectively encourage individuals to adopt positive herding behaviour.


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