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Conversion theory — the disproportionate influence of minorities

The conversion theory is truly fascinating.

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

Why?

The ‘social cost’ of holding a different view than the majority is high.

The increased cost explains why minorities often hold their views and opinions more strongly. It takes determination to go against the norm1.

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 own cause.

In contrast, many majority group members aren’t exactly strong believers in their own cause2. They might only belong to the majority for no other reason than that everyone else seems to be3.

They may be simply going along because it seems easier or that there is no real alternative. They may also have become disillusioned with the majority group purpose, process, or leadership and are therefore more open to viable alternatives.

The powerful conversion theory

The disproportional power of minorities is known as the Conversion Theory.

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

Given the power of normative social influence, it’s key for minorities to stick together in tight-knit groups who are able to verbalise the same message over and over again.

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

Combined with the media logic that favours the underdog, identifying and liaising with a strategically chosen “smart minority” could be an immensely powerful PR strategy.

Being part of a movement that overthrows a “stupid majority” can be really empowering for 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?

CTA: Make a list of potential stupid majorities in your industry. This list could then serve as inspiration for your next PR strategy.

Photo by Linus Nylund on Unsplash.

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  1. See Moscovici, S. (1980). Toward a theory of conversion behavior. In L. Berkowiyz (Ed.), Advances in Experimental Social Psychology, 13, 209-239. New York: Academic Press.
  2. 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.
  3. See for example The Bandwagon Effect.
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Jerry Silfwerhttps://doctorspin.org/
Jerry Silfwer aka Doctor Spin is an awarded senior adviser specialising in public relations and digital strategy. Based in Stockholm, Sweden.

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