Social Media Behavior: 90% Chimp and 10% Bee

Great digital strategies are an artistic mix of individual psychology and group sociology.  Today, even though we’re steeped in social channel communication, we’re turned oddly inward, emphasizing influence and social circles to illustrate our brand benefit, rather than “being native” and using tactics that provide influence and social circles for our customer’s world to our benefit. 

We act more like chimps than bees.

This behavior perfectly aligns with our individual social behaviors, but behaving this way on a brand level works against us.  We’re participating in these behaviors, rather than employing them.

Chimps and Bees

Jonathan Haidt, social psychologist and researcher, in his book, Righteous Mind, offers up some 21st century insight for modern social communal mixology:  we are 90% chimp and 10% bee.

That is, 90% of our behavior is made up of our individual dynamics within our groups, and importantly, the competition among individuals within the group.

A mere 10% of our behavior is hive-ish (the stuff we often hear as the best of social media): collaborative, team-oriented, alturistic.

Your behaviors (strategies, language, content) in your online communities switch on and off the chimp or bee part of our nature.  If you are going for bee behavior, but acting so it brings out our chimp side, struggle and frustration with social media is not far behind.


We’re a groupish lot, but for selfish reasons.  We find enormous individual benefits in groups.  Protection, help, companionship. We compete for various kinds of power and maneuver for position (reputation) within our groups. We put on shows for others in our groups.  But, when necessary, we will join together to compete against other groups for the spoils.

By nature, we’re overwhelmingly in it to win it for ourselves.

People don’t behave in isolation. They are infinitely aware that every social action they take sends a signal through their channels into their places to their people. Most of the engagement outcomes we go for in social media like sharing our posts, followers, liking, commenting, voting, contests is triggering individual behaviors to the benefit of the individual.  Therefore, they have to view the action you want as providing some “win” within their groups or social networks. That doesn’t mean supplying them “status,” but rather actions that build their individual reputations – around the things they value.

With the weight of our psychology on the individual side, beeishness needs serious attention to activate.


Our bee tendencies respond to things that emphasize commonalities among people. In business and in marketing we, without realizing it, tend to emphasize the “them” and “us” with the language, images or tactics we use. That keeps the bee at bay and favors our chimp tendencies.

If it is collaboration, cooperation, altruism or group action you want, watch your language or implications and keep away from things that highlight diversity.  Togetherness, meaning, common identity and outcome are key links to our beeishness.

Emphasize the alikeness of your customers or donors and beneficiaries or frienimies – no matter how diverse they are.  Make them members, not followers.  Tactics that focus on the teams within the community (not the individuals) switch on the hive mentality.  Friendly inter-group teams actually cement the whole group or community more, and build the entire community’s social capital – if the rewards are not a scarce resource. When teams are competing for a scare resource (a prize) this destroys hivishness and trust.

So those ever-popular contests may actually be working against your community’s best interests.

Take a look at your social tactics through the chimp/bee lens.  Be aware that you are acting on the 90% / 10% rule too.  Take control of your content, language and strategies and influence the behavior you trigger in others.

For You
Check out the book, 
The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion 
by Jonathan Haidt.

Categories: Community, Social Behavior, Socialgraphics


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