Digg logo ‘Follow the bear’ read the TV slogan for a beer brand popular in the 1980s. A bear market indicates one that’s in decline, so the advice may not be that wise, but tracking something that’s not doing so well at first but gradually gains in popularity may pay off in the longer term.

Following the crowd, on the other hand, is very much in vogue. Google has made a great success of watching what others are doing and ranking sites and search results accordingly. Digg.com (current value: circa $80m) exists to share the news and to do so based on its popularity with its users. To ‘Digg’ an online story has become synonymous with giving it a thumbs-up signifying your approval – a hippyish term, but one used to indicate a sense of belonging. Clicking ‘Like’ on comments and status updates on Facebook serves a similar purpose.

This group approval is becoming more and more important. Customers are using it as a feedback mechanism for products they’ve bought – the Reevoo site that we hook into for user reviews is one such example. Web retailers use it to secure online custom. Customers who are happy with and knowledgeable about products they’ve bought – consumer electronics being an apposite example – tell other potential purchasers why they rate them.

Actual customer experiences – which form the basis of our PC Advisor Awards 2011 – are critical. Why else would Amazon ratings and eBay feedback be such valued commodities? Influential figures can make or break a product by tweeting about it, while the masses can help it ‘trend’. Teen pop star Justin Bieber owes his initial success – and subsequent record sales – to YouTube, Twitter and fans’ ability to share their admiration of his music via social networks.

But the approval process isn’t just about kudos. When people club together they can earn discounts as well as influence. Groupon, Brand Alley, Keynoir and LivingSocial, recently acquired by Google, proffer deep discounts to members who are actively encouraged to share their good fortune by inviting others to join them.

So-called crowdsourcing is now being used for group purchasing. In December, Australian entrepreneur Kogan Ruslan unveiled a site known as LivePrice. Users express an interest in purchasing a virtual product, which becomes a physical product a few months down the line when their championing of an idea has helped secure the finance to manufacture it. Costs are minimal, as there’s little or no marketing outlay involved.

But will people simply be too fickle to make good on their initial interest and remain committed to purchasing an unseen product when it finally becomes reality? As the results of our reader-voted Gadget of the Year award reveal, one month’s must-have item can lose its appeal by the month after.

Still, if a service such as LivePrice had been used to raise the finance for all those tablets on show at January’s Consumer Electronics Show (CES) – where one of Bieber’s fellow pop stars, Lady Gaga, was the big draw – we might have seen fewer but more diverse designs, and our news pages wouldn’t be decrying the glut of identikit slates.