By default, the web is a network. When we say web today, we don't mean only "stuff online," but the whole digital ecosystem of interactive interfaces, smart objects, phones, and whatever else can interact. Now, if connections between people and things are like a network, then the difference between a "behavior" and a "mechanism" becomes a little bit irrelevant (just think Foursquare, Twitter, Nike+, or just about any app these days).
If every behavior is a bit of technology and a bit of our action, then we are actually talking about a network that is a combo of both. And when we start talking about networks, then causality becomes slightly problematic. In other words, digital really doesn't give us a reason to believe that either behavior or technology is something separate that causes immediate and apparent changes in one another. It's all about small & gradual changes.
This would all be cool if the marketing models haven't been based on causality or, on questions like "how is this effort going to impact behavior of this particular target?" or "how many impressions do we need?" or "how much media buy is going to cause this particular sales lift?" Everything people in marketing do is to create causes that (they hope) will result in certain effects.
But what if things don't work in this way? In everything we do, and in all (or most) decisions we make we look up to either to others or to an immediate context. We often do things because others have done them, or because they are easy and convenient to do, or because "one thing led to another."
This is where visibility of aggregated individual behaviors comes in: knowing how many people have already done something inspires and coordinates our own behavior. In turn, the ability to see actions of others, immediately and in aggregate, sort of changes how we talk about mobilization, organization, collective action, and movements. It's all about adding scale to the small & gradual.
Blue State Digital knows this, and a very few smart brands also know it, too. They let people to directly communicate with each other, organize their own events, and then record and share stuff they have done with the online community. Instead of dealing with the question of causality - "how is this message going to change this behavior," they focus on the widespread sharing of information about all the local, individual actions that happen. This visibility of collective "traces" then inspires a larger collective behavior.
The fun part is that, in the past, it took us years or even decades to gather this sort of composite data. At that time, when we could not see each other (literally), operating according the principle of causality (this brand/cultural/political representation caused people to behave in a certain way: shop, identify with something, or vote) may have been an useful social/economic invention. But today, choices, preferences, and actions of others are collected and exposed at an almost immediate speed. Networks and patterns made of small and local stuff form. Make that visible, and the whole new world opens up.
Still, for now, the only few times when we have seen this sort of local-actions-turned-networks that change our perceptions and behaviors were media events like Winter Olympics (Twitter Tracker), Super Bowl (reading Twitter was more interesting than watching a game), or MTV Music Awards (not sure how relevant that one was).
Why don't brands do this? To remain important in today's world, the best strategy may as well be to expose a bit of it.