So a guy is into you – whether you are a person or a brand – and then he isn’t. What’s going on?

Solomon Asch (1907-1996), one of the pioneers of social psychology ran some ground-breaking experiments into why men change their mind, and it’s very relevant to social media, and it’s all about conforming to group norms.

So on the back of insights last week from Kurt Lewin on the potential of discovery in unlocking the commercial potential of social media, today let’s turn to Polish psychologist Professor Solomon Asch.

Asch, with a PhD from Columbia University who worked at Swarthorne, MIT, Harvard and Penn, was famous for asking men to take a simple visual test; view pairs of cards, one showing three straight lines, and the other a single line – and identify which line on the first cards matched the length of the line on the second cards. Unlike similar visual tests, like those run by fellow psychologist Muzafer Sherif, the correct answers to Asch’s test were self-evident and blatantly clear. In 720 trials, only three mistakes were made. But then Asch re-ran the tests, this time putting 123 male test subjects into groups of 6-8 before asking them to identify matching lines. This time 75% of test subjects gave the wrong answer!

Why? Because Asch had manipulated the test, putting ‘stooges’ (‘confederates’) into the groups who were instructed to publicly give the same wrong answer before the real test subjects gave theirs. Either doubting their own judgement, or not wanting to be seen as wrong, test subjects conformed to the fake group view nearly a third of the time (32%).

So men, it would appear, change their minds to conform with a group majority or unanimity. But what was particularly interesting about Asch tests is that that some men, about one in four (24%) appear to be immune from the psychological pressure to conform, and that for most men the pressure to conform evaporates once there is dissent voice in the group. Men are influenced by group pressure when there is group unanimity, or at least a sizeable majority. Break the unanimity, then you break the pressure.

The commercial – and indeed political – implications for social media are clear; first think of people in terms of groups, not individuals – identify groups where conformity is already high and use social media to sell products that build on that conformity. Or, if conformity is standing in the way of selling what you have to sell, use social media to show a wide divergence of existing opinion and behaviour – and you’ll break the pressure to conform and open up the possibility of making the sale.

Oh and if you want to get your guy back, break the unanimity of dissent that exists about you among his friends.

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