The Bandwagon Effect and Why People Follow the Crowd

No comments yet

What is the Bandwagon Effect?

The bandwagon effect is a psychological tendency where the adoption of ideas, products or behaviour increases with the uptake (or perceived uptake) by others. This means the propensity of people taking up the phenomenon rises as more people decide or appear to follow the trend (i.e. jump on the bandwagon). The bandwagon effect is part of a group of cognitive biases or logical errors. They enable the human brain to make decisions more quickly. However, cognitive biases can result in people making mistakes and suboptimal decisions.

1. Examples of the bandwagon effect include:


  • Songs and groups become more popular as more people follow and listen to them. Sometimes a particular sound or style becomes popular as the “next big thing” and artists who are associated with the trend will benefit.



  • Similar to pop music, published charts of sales of individual games can have a huge impact on the popularity of games. In July 2016, Pokemon Go, a new smartphone app incorporating virtual reality become a global phenomena. As the app was released in one country or region at time it also benefited from the scarcity heuristic.
Screen for capture of Pokemon Horsea

Source: Pokemon Go iOS app


  • Where drinks become part of the fashion of socialising, such as vodka. Brands can benefit from the bandwagon effect when popularity is all that counts.

Stock Market Bubbles

  • Stock market and asset bubbles occur when people stop using their own judgement and rely on the wisdom of the crowd. People wrongly assume that other investors must have knowledge they don’t. They seek to avoid regret (which they might feel if they don’t follow the crowd).


  • Sales of clothes, shoes and other fashion items are highly responsive to their popularity. People love to buy clothes that are the latest style to demonstrate that they are keeping up with the latest trends.

2. What causes the bandwagon effect?

The bandwagon effect demonstrates the importance of social influence and implicit motivations on human behaviour. This includes the power of social-norms, customs, traditions, and a desire to conform and belong to groups that are integral to our social networks. Some of the factors that contribute to the bandwagon effect include:

Herd Instinct: 

As social creatures our herd instinct is a strong motivator

When people consciously or unconsciously copy the behaviour of the majority of people, this is referred to as our herd instinct. For example, people may purchase a brand due to its popularity within their peer group. Not because they compared the features and consider it to be the best product. Why spend time evaluating all the options when you can copy the choices made by others you trust?

Our herd instinct is an important driver of the bandwagon effect as it is an automatic impulse or tendency to act in a group. Customs, traditions, expectations, social status, roles and a wish to be liked can all result in a desire to conform to group behaviour.

Loss Aversion: 

People that are loss averse, are more concerned about a loss than a gain of the same size. This is partly because of the fear of missing out. Regret is a powerful and deeply unpleasant emotion. When everyone else appears to be doing something we can become anxious that we are missing out on something valuable. Our loss aversion motivates us to join in.


The bandwagon effect is a form of groupthink, where the pressure to conform and support the in-group is very strong. Following a trend or fad is also seen as supportive to the group decision. It can be used to dismiss anyone who questions it.

A Need to Belong: 

People are “super social apes” as marketing expert Mark Earls points on his book Herd. We have a strong desire to belong to groups of people we admire or want to be associated with. We also don’t want to be the odd one out or to be excluded from our social networks because we don’t conform to social norms, customs or traditions.

People like to be Right: 

Some psychologists believe that the bandwagon effect may be an evolutionary strategy for reducing the risk of making a poor decision. Being part of a large crowd can certainly provide protection in dangerous environments. Merchants also risk losing reputational capital if they sell sub-standard goods or services to a member of a large group. People understand this and so assume that they are less likely to be ripped-off if they buy from a well-known supplier who is known to other members of their social network.

Using our social network to identify what everyone else appears to be choosing seems a good short-cut to make the right decision. We assume other people may know something we don’t and that ‘everyone else can’t be wrong’.

3. The Downside to the Bandwagon Effect:

The bandwagon effect can be relatively harmless when it influences what music we listen to, the clothes we wear, the colours we use to decorate our house and the gadgets we buy. Often the ‘wisdom of the crowd’ can help us make relatively good decisions. However, it can be dangerous if we completely suspend judgement in areas like investments, health, politics and business.

  • In the UK many people were influenced by misleading and incorrect information about how leaving the EU would allow the country to ‘take back control’ of sovereignty and allow the government to give an extra £350m a week to the NHS. Voters were told they could keep the same benefits of EU membership without having to pay for it. People in the UK now face losing rights guaranteed under freedom of movement, increased barriers to trade with their closest and most important trading partner, and years of difficult negotiations with the EU. None of the benefits they were told would come from leaving the EU have so far materialised.Boris Johnson Brexit bus lie
  • Misleading research from the anti-vaccination movement has resulted in a significant fall in the proportion of parents getting their children immunized against dangerous childhood diseases. In the UK, the decline in the proportion of children being vaccinated with the MMR (measles, mumps and rubella) vaccine contributed to the World Health Organisation. Thus withdrawing the UK’s measles free status after it had 231 cases in the first quarter of 2019.

Stock Markets and the Pandemic

  • Stock market crashes are very damaging to most people even if they don’t directly hold any shares. A crash can damage confidence in the economy and create uncertainty which may delay or stop investment and recruitment. Most stock market crashes are caused by asset bubbles resulting from investors suspending judgement and following the crowd. In these circumstances the bandwagon effect can be very damaging to the health and security of millions of workers who rely on the value of stocks and shares for their pension or as a savings vehicle.
  • During the Coronavirus pandemic of 2020, a conspiracy theory emerged which blamed the roll-out of the 5G telecommunications technology for the spread of the virus. It was claimed that 5G degrades the immune system and the risks were being covered up by the global telecommunications industry. As the theory spread mobile phone masts were set alight across European countries and telecommunication engineers were abused. This threatened important communication networks during a global health crisis. Scientists pointed out that COVID-19 is spread through respiratory droplets and you cannot transmit droplets through 5G waves. Furthermore, a number of countries hardest hit by COVID-19 have no 5G masts (e.g. Iran).

4. Does The Bandwagon Effect Support Influencer Marketing?

The bandwagon effect doesn’t appear to involve specific ‘influencers’ as part of the way it works. Indeed, Mark Earls points out that there are a number of styles of decision making. Not all decisions are primarily directed by social influence.

Even when social influence is important it is often undirected, so the role of “influencers” is less clear or manageable. The evidence suggests that ideas and behaviour do not spread through influencers, but rather through our large and complex social networks.

5. The bandwagon effect & conversion optimisation:

Developing a compelling purpose-led value proposition and encouraging people to interact with other people about your brand are important first steps in improving conversions. It is not what you say about your brand that matters, it’s what your customers and staff say that determines what your brand stands for.

Define a clear brand purpose and align your businesses and employee behaviour with what is important to your customers. If you can do this you are more likely to motivate visitors to interact and share your brand with others.

Image of Lean Cuisine ad "#Weigh this" which benefited from the bandwagon effect

Lean Cuisine manufactures low fat food for people who want to be careful about their calorie intake. Rather than focusing on the obvious weight control benefit of their brand they recognised that people do not necessarily buy their product because they want to lose weight.

A strong implicit motivation to purchase Lean Cuisine is that customers want to feel good about themselves for being careful about what they eat. To reflect this core brand purpose they created an ad “#WeighThis” which shows people talking about what they are most proud of in life. The YouTube ad went viral because it communicated this core purpose in such an emotional and inspiring way.

Celebrity Endorsement

Image of cristiano ronaldo playing poker

Image Source:

Evidence of social proof can help online conversion optimisation. This includes customer testimonials, celebrity testimonials, number of customers, product rating and reviews, social media likes and shares, awards and brand logos of well-known customers or partners. Indeed, a lack of social proof is often a key reason for poor online conversion rates. Visitors are reassured when they perceive that a site is popular and trusted by lots of customers.

Social Proof A/B Test

Example of A/B testing customer numbers for social proof

In the above A/B test example, the only difference between the two variants is the number of monthly players from all players on the left (i.e. total number of players for all rooms throughout the whole month) to the number of unique players (i.e. only counting each player once in a month) on the right. This dramatically reduced the number of active players that could be quoted underneath the call to action button. Variant B displays the lower number of unique monthly players reduced registration conversion on the landing page by 5%.


The bandwagon effect demonstrates that social influence is one of the most important drivers of behaviour. However, influencer marketing is only one aspect of this. People copy behaviour for a number of reasons and in a number of different ways. Not all decisions are strongly shaped by social influence and so other marketing strategies may be better suited to your market.

It is essential to establish a strong and compelling value proposition. People love to associate themselves with people and brands that epitomise their own values and behaviour. A purpose-led proposition can help this process and can encourage customers to interact with your brand. This can facilitate the sharing of your idea or product through social networks.

Having clear evidence of social proof on your site or app should also be a priority. It provides reassurance to visitors that you are a popular and trusted brand. Use online experiments to validate the implementation of social proof as it is particular sensitive to how and where it is communicated.

Avoid simply copying trends and fads in website design as these are often not based upon evidence or experimentation. This form of the bandwagon effect has resulted in designers using the hamburger icon and using auto-play which have proven to only harm conversions. Before implementing new ideas on your website try to test the impact first with an A/B test.

Related posts:


Word of Mouth

Herd instinct

The Psychology of Pokemon Go

No comments yet

Learn the psychological secrets of Pokemon Go’s success!

In just two weeks Pokemon Go, the augmented reality smartphone game designed by Niantic, achieved over 21 million active users in the US, more than Candy Crush did at its peak. The game’s popularity has quickly spread in other countries and it is now becoming a global phenomenon. So, why did Pokemon Go become a such an instant success? What are the psychological buttons that it pressed to create so many users?

1. Nostalgia from a childhood brand:

Pokemon is a brand that has grown across multiple entertainment categories for over 20 years. This provided Pokemon with the opportunity to target an existing and passionate audience of players who grew up in the 1990’s and wanted to indulge in an old obsession. This instantly helped Pokemon Go establish itself on a new platform (smartphones and tablets) and created the conditions for the game to spread through social networks to a more diverse and younger audiences.

Image of implicit goals

Source: Decode Marketing

The desire for adventure and escapism is just one of a number of implicit psychological goals that motivate brand choice. Using the latest research from psychology and neuroscience marketing consultant Phil Barden has identified 6 key psychological goals that brands can be perceived to meet. The extent to which people perceive that a brand will fully meet certain psychological goals that they find compelling will help determine which one they choose.

Image of Pokemon Go in App store

Source: Pokemon Go, Niantic Inc, iOS App Store


Leverage brand equity by targeting existing engaged customers to give you a head start to building your app store presence. Ensure brand communications target appropriate psychological goals that can help generate a strong emotional response to your game or product.

2. Herd mentality:

As social beings our decisions are heavily influenced by what we think other people around us are doing. When in a new or uncertain situation we naturally look to see what other people are doing as a guide to desired behaviour. Pokemon Go benefited from copy-cat behaviour as our herd instincts assisted the spread of the awareness and adoption of the game through our social networks. Once the number of downloads gave Pokemon Go entry into the download charts this would have further boosted its desirability among trend seekers or gamers unsure about the nature of the game.

Top iOS apps in USA for 23rd July 2016

Source: App Annie top iOS apps in USA for 23rd July 2016


Using social proof and encouraging people to interact with your brand across offline and online social networks is a powerful influence on success or failure. How people interact with each other and what they do with your product or idea will determine the nature of your brand. Not what you set out in your brand guidelines.

3. Novelty gets attention:

Our brains are hard-wired to be wary of change. The blending of the real world with the digital world of augmented reality brings fantasy into the game experience in a seamless and engaging manner. This creates a novel user experience that attracts attention. Novelty is a powerful psychological trigger for stimulating our brain. Although augmented reality has been around for a number years, Pokémon Go cleverly integrates it with a real-world game that also activates user’s curiosity.

Image of Pokemon Go Drowzee


Use novelty to grab attention and create curiosity about your brand.

4. We desire control:

The design of Pokémon Go means that players have a good chance of intercepting a monster where ever they travel. There is no necessity to head for a Pokestop or Gym if it doesn’t fit in with the user’s plans. Monsters often pop-up randomly as players go on their daily business.

Pokémon Go allows players to remain in control. It is up to the user to decide how much effort they want to put into the game. This is important from a psychological perspective. Autonomy is one of three basic drivers of human behaviour identified by psychologist Daniel Pink that make people happy and engaged in activities.

Image of Pokemon Go with Venonat showing


Autonomy and our desire to act with choice is something people naturally seek. Psychologists believe that it improves our lives. Where possible always offer people choice as we dislike doors being shut or forced down a particular path.

5. Mastery :

Pokemon Go uses achievements to reward players for progressing through the levels of the game. People love to obtain a high degree of competency in activities they undertake. But can easily get frustrated and abandon a game if a task is not realistically achievable. On the other hand if it is too easy to complete players can lose interest in the game. Pokemon Go achieves a balance by setting a low degree of initial difficulty for new players. Using a distance/time barrier to ensure it takes some physical effort to discover more creatures.


Ensure challenges and tasks are realistically achievable, but not so easy that players lose interest. Mastery is one of our most powerful and intrinsic motivators which drives our passion for achievement.

Pokemon medal for 10 normal Pokemon

Source: Pokemon Go, Niantic Inc

6. Variable ratio schedule reward model:

In the 1950’s the American psychologist B.F. Skinner conducted experiments to understand how people respond to different reward schedules. He discovered that a variable ratio schedule, where the reward is based upon the number of times the task is undertaken. But the timing is randomised to make it unpredictable, is the best method for encouraging repetitive behaviour. This type of schedule encourages people to complete the behaviour over and over again as they are uncertain when the next reward will be received. It is also resistant to extinction by its very nature and can make some behaviour addictive.


Link rewards to the frequency of the behaviour, but use a variable ratio schedule to make the timing of the reward unpredictable.

Pokemon Go level up 4

Source: Pokemon Go, Niantic Inc

7. Use classical conditioning to obtain an automatic response:

When a user walks near a Pokemon, gym or Pokestop, their smartphone gives an audible buzz. As the players is then rewarded with a new Pokemon or other creature. This sound becomes associated with the forthcoming reward in the same way that Pavlov’s dog would salivate at the sound of a bell. Classical conditioning creates automatic behaviours by paring a stimulus (a sound) with a response (search for monster nearby).


Use audible sounds, smells or movement to create automatic behaviours through classical conditioning by pairing a stimulus with a response. Once users react in a certain way, you may pair another stimulus to the desired behaviour and create a new automatic response.

Image of Pokemon Zubat before capture

Source: Pokemon iOS app

8. We are all social beings at heart:

Unlike most apps, Pokemon Go provides the opportunity to meet new people. It requires you to visit local landmarks and walk to places nearby to find Pokémon’s. As human beings we are hard wired to connect and interact with other people. Indeed, social isolation and loneliness are harmful to our long term health and can trigger depression. Playing Pokemon Go therefore benefits are psychological health by creating opportunities for gamer’s to meet and interact with other people.

Image of Pokemon Go gym


Allow people to share or interact with other people as this is an important human characteristic with many benefits for the individuals concerned.

9. We benefit psychologically from walking:

There is increasing evidence to suggest a sedentary lifestyle is harmful to our health. Walking is beneficial from both a psychological and physical perspective. We have an innate desire to get outside and research suggests that walking can reduce depression and our risk of diseases such as diabetes.


Creating a game or product that requires or encourages physical exercise has health benefits for the customer. It can create natural breaks in product usage which improves attention and engagement.

Image of Pokemon Go map

Source: Pokemon Go, Niantic Inc

10. Good timing:

Launching the game in the summer and just at the start of the holiday season meant that people are already primed and ready to go outside and explore. We are naturally drawn to sunlight because it increases the amount of vitamin D in our bodies which can help prevent cancer and improves our alertness and mental performance.


Always consider timing and how it may influence usage to give your product or campaign the best chance of success. Research your audience to identify key factors influencing adoption or likelihood to view your content.

Image of Pokemon Rattata outside Pets at Home store

Source: Pokemon Go, Niantic Inc

11. Easy equals true:

The app is so simple and intuitive to use that it does not require any detailed instructions or much practice to become competent. This means there is little friction associated with getting started and this minimises cognitive load which encourages continued engagement with the app. Many apps are so poorly designed that they require extensive onboarding instructions and navigation aids. Such complexity can cause cognitive strain and frustration which often leads to apps being abandoned.


If your user interface requires detailed instructions or navigation aids to allow users to learn how to use it you have failed. Keep user interface designs simple and intuitive.

Image of Pokemon Gym description

Source: Pokemon Go, Niantic Inc

12. Piggy back on existing habits:

People are creatures of habit and so adoption is much easier if you can piggy back off an existing habit rather than having to create a new habit. Most smartphone users take their devices with them as they go for a walk or travel to the office or the shops. Pokemon Go was therefore able to benefit from habitual behaviour which assisted take-up of the game.


Where possible identify existing habits that your product or campaign can benefit from rather than trying to create a new behaviour.

Image of Pokemon Horsea creature

Source: Pokemon Go, Niantic Inc

13. The power of free:

We are attracted by free apps because people are inherently afraid of loss and free is a powerful motivator because we don’t like to miss out on a bargain. Further, allowing users to play for free minimises the perceived risk of signing up to Pokemon Go because there is no monetary cost to the player if they subsequently find they don’t enjoy the game.

In addition, even partial ownership (e.g. a free trial) tends to make people more attached to what they have and make them focus on what they could lose rather what they may gain. This is why free trials offered by the likes of Spotify and Netflix are so successful.

Pokemon Go generates revenues by players purchasing virtual coins to exchange for items such as Pokeballs to capture monsters. Once players have moved up a number of levels they may also want to pay to store, hatch, train (in the gym) and battle opponents. Companies also have the ability to sponsor locations to attract players to a real location.


Ownership changes are our perception of things and our aversion to loss makes it more difficult to give up things that we have. For non-fremium apps, offer a free trial to give users ownership and allow them to check out the user experience. To monetise a free app allow players to buy in-app currency to spend on digital goods or enter competitions.

Image of loading screen for Pokemon Go

Source: Pokemon Go, Niantic Inc

What should we take out from Pokémon Go’s success?

Good marketing planning and having the right partners for a venture certainly help. Although we may not be lucky enough to have a global brand that has 20 years of heritage behind it, we can still be careful to create a compelling proposition and ensure that implementation is not rushed. What Pokémon Go does show is that if you can align your marketing with human psychology you will benefit from important drivers of consumer behaviour.

What Makes Social Networks Tick?

No comments yet

Why Do People Cooperate in Social Networks?

What underlies the evolutionary success of the human race and allows social networks to function? In the book I’ll have what she’s having by Bentley, Earls and O’Brien, the authors’ assert that cooperation between individuals is key to both.

Research into a diverse range of group activities by North-western University Institute found that individual performance was a poor indicator of team success. Group results are a combination of individual performances and how well people co-operate. This post examines how cooperation evolves in social networks.


Image of weighing scales for time and money


Co-operation can flourish in complex systems such as social media and modern highly interconnected societies. For co-operation to evolve game theorist Martin Nowak identified that the benefits must outweigh the costs to the individual. It is human nature that people will not persist with a behaviour that does not have a perceived return greater than the time or effort invested in the activity. Social networks rely on the benefits outweighing the costs of participation.

The authors’ grouped conditions that need to exist for co-operation to evolve into three categories.

1Group Mentality:

People support others who are either biologically related (kin selection) or belong to the same group (group selection). Despite the power of kinship it is group selection that is more common in our modern societies. Humans are naturally drawn towards cooperating as part of a group or social network. Psychological studies suggest that people have more positive emotions and are more motivated when feeling part of a community. This goodwill allows for sharing, bartering, trading, lending, borrowing and many other collaborative behaviours.

Cooperation allows people to provide different skills to manufacture complex products that an individual would struggle to build. To grow a single crop that can be exchanged for goods and services from other members of the group. People benefit from assisting the group because their long term interests are usually from the group’s success. As a result more cooperative groups, such as online social networks, tend to be more successful and grow at the expense of less cooperative groups.

2. Reciprocity:

Image of African-American male hands holding a red velvet box with gold ribbon.


The system of indebtedness originating from the rule of reciprocation may be a unique characteristic of human nature. Indeed, the archaeologist Richard Leakey suggests that reciprocation is part of what makes us human:

“We are human because our ancestors learned to share their food and their skills in an honored network of obligation.” Richard Leakey

Reciprocation acts as an adaptive mechanism that facilitates the division of labour, the exchange of goods and services, and the formation of clusters of inter-dependencies that link people together into social networks. Robert Cialdini asserts that reciprocation is essential for our ability to make social advances because it provides confidence to the person who gives something to another individual that their effort will not be in vain.

Reciprocation can work where an individual looks for another person to cooperate first before they cooperate. However this form of direct reciprocation can be unreliable because the mood can quickly be destroyed by freeloaders. But it also fails to explain why someone will cooperate with people they don’t know and may never meet again.

Indirect reciprocation, where co-operation has become common, if not the norm, is a more powerful form of reciprocation. This occurs when individuals respond in kind to the reciprocal behaviour of others. Twitter relies on the mechanism of reciprocation to drive the flow of information around the social network. Following other people, re-tweeting other’s posts, answering questions, and leaving comments on blogs all encourage reciprocal behaviour from others.

3. Reputation:

Image of businessman sitting on a sofa


Authority or reputation is a further enabler of indirect reciprocation. Robert Cialdini asserts that our obedience to authority allows for the evolution of complex systems for resource production, trade, defence, and social control that would otherwise not be possible. Such obedience often takes place with little or no conscious thought. Often a communication from a recognised authority is used as a behavioural shortcut that determines how we act in a certain situation. For example on Twitter people will sometimes re-tweet a link before reading the post because of the reputation of the source.

Earls and his co-authors assert that reputation only works if a person has legitimate authority. However, Cialdini points out that in reality just the appearance of authority can be sufficient for people to be influenced by a person or group. For instance titles reflect years of work. But it is very easy for a person to adopt just the label and receive automatic submission to their judgement. Clothes, such as a doctor’s uniform, can also trigger our mechanical compliance to authority.

In a similar way group membership and kinship use various forms of identification so that individuals know whether they belong to a group or not. This could be a surname or clan name in some societies or you from your accent or appearance. Whatever the nature of the group though copying and conforming is an essential part of belonging to a group or social network. Because we are social creatures membership of groups often overrides our individuality and determines our place in society.

“The key to group membership, of course, is copying those around you so that when you’re in Rome you act as the Romans do, and not like someone else.” Bentley, Earls & O’Brien – I’ll Have What She’s Having.


  •  Social networks take many forms, from close groups of friends located within a small geographical location, to global social media networks. As a result we can use the ‘rules of the game’ as the authors’ refer to them in many different situations to encourage cooperation and innovation.
  • There are huge benefits to be gained from encouraging a culture of cooperation within our diverse social networks. People are more likely to be able to achieve change when battling a bureaucracy if they cooperate than working in isolation. Similarly within organisations cooperation is essential for any change program to be successful. Conventional top down strategies will often fail because they have not got buy-in from people lower down the organisational structure. Management need to accept that they can’t force people to do things that they don’t agree with. Innovation is also more likely to result from collaboration.
  • Brands and organisations in general can assist the process of cooperation by making sharing of content easy and rewarding. Facebook, Twitter and other large social media appear to provide a ready-made solution for sharing. Analysis of the dynamics of Facebook communities by Emilio Ferrara discovered that there are relatively few large communities in Facebook. The vast majority are small size communities. However, members of such networks often suffer from information overload due to the number of connections each has. This reduces the chance that individual members will see and share content.Image of 3 people sitting on a bench talking


More Implications
  • As ‘super social’ apes humans benefit from being embedded within groups rather than acting in a selfish and isolated way. Research suggests that people who surround us influence and regulate our behaviour. Organisations can benefit from our social nature by engaging with people in a collaborative manner to encourage creativity and innovation. This helps build trust and is more likely to influence mass behaviour than conventional marketing approaches. Indeed, Rachael Botsman suggests that trust is the currency of the new economy and is our most valuable asset.
  • Organisations can encourage a culture of reciprocation by taking a genuine interest in their customers and staff. People are generally good at spotting insincere interactions, but appreciate communications that are both helpful and engaging. Offering interesting and unique content facilitates reciprocation because it is more likely to be well received when shared.
  • Reputation gives authority to communications. Organisations often adopt brand values as a way of demonstrating their commitment to key customer beliefs. However, Mark Earls suggests that actions are the most powerful means of communicating behavioural change. Organisations are more likely to be successful in achieving change if they align the company’s actions with their core beliefs. This demonstrates more clearly than any marketing communication that the organisation is serious about its core beliefs.
Further reading: 

I'll Have What She's Having: Mapping Social Behavior (Simplicity: Design, Technology, Business, Life)