Doctor SpinMedia & PsychologyCommunication TheoriesConversion Theory — The Disproportionate Influence of Minorities

Conversion Theory — The Disproportionate Influence of Minorities

Why minorities can be powerful beyond their sizes.

The conversion theory is a fascinating psychological effect.

The conversion theory explains why minorities can be powerful beyond their numbers.

How does the conversion theory work?

The ‘social cost’ of holding a different view than the majority is high. This increased cost explains why minorities often firmly have their views and opinions. It takes determination to go against the norm. 1Source: Moscovici, S. (1980). Toward a theory of conversion behaviour. In L. Berkowitz (Ed.), Advances in Experimental Social Psychology, 13, 209-239. New York: Academic Press.

These convictions often award minority spokespersons valuable knowledge and authority, which increases their ability to persuade and gain traction.

The minority can have a disproportionate effect, converting many ‘majority’ members to their cause.

In contrast, the majority members aren’t as firm believers in their cause. They might only belong to the majority for no other reason than that everyone else seems to be. 2Source: Chryssochoou, X. and Volpato, C. (2004). Social Influence and the Power of Minorities: An Analysis of the Communist Manifesto, Social Justice Research, 17, 4, 357-388.

Many majority members might simply be going with the flow because it seems more accessible, because they haven’t put that much thought into it, or because there was no viable alternative when they made their decision.

There’s also a chance that a good portion of the majority might be fed up with the majority group’s purpose, process, or leadership and are, therefore, more open to new proposals.

The disproportional power of minorities is known as the conversion theory.

According to conversion theory, while majorities often claim normative social influence, minorities strive for ethical high ground.

Given the power of normative social influence, minorities must stick together in tight-knit groups that can verbalise the same message repeatedly.

This is not to say that every minority is correct or that every majority is wrong. Minorities could be objectively wrong while still yielding a disproportionate amount of power.

Combined with the media logic favouring the underdog, identifying and liaising with a strategically chosen smart minority could be a compelling PR strategy.

Being part of a movement overthrowing a stupid majority can empower an organisation. It tends to give all participants a sense of meaning and real accomplishment.

And any blowback from the majority leaders will only strengthen the engagement and communion amongst those who dare to oppose them.

So, which stupid majority will your brand choose to take on?

Cover photo by Jerry Silfwer (Prints/Instagram)

FOOTNOTES
FOOTNOTES
1 Source: Moscovici, S. (1980). Toward a theory of conversion behaviour. In L. Berkowitz (Ed.), Advances in Experimental Social Psychology, 13, 209-239. New York: Academic Press.
2 Source: Chryssochoou, X. and Volpato, C. (2004). Social Influence and the Power of Minorities: An Analysis of the Communist Manifesto, Social Justice Research, 17, 4, 357-388.

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Jerry Silfwer
Jerry Silfwerhttps://www.doctorspin.net/
Jerry Silfwer, aka Doctor Spin, is an awarded senior adviser specialising in public relations and digital strategy. Currently CEO at KIX Index and Spin Factory. Before that, he worked at Kaufmann, Whispr Group, Springtime PR, and Spotlight PR. Based in Stockholm, Sweden.
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