Facebook: Social Proof of What?


This week I was invited to be part of Jason Keith’s amazing Social Fresh Tampa 2011 conference. I was particularly excited to check it out because of the full day of Facebook training presented in conjunction with some big players on the social media field—and I know virtually nothing about Facebook for business. HubSpot sponsored the conference and sent along the whip-smart Ellie Mirman to present. The afternoon that she spoke, I pretty much got in Ellie’s face, grabbed her arm, and said, “Oh my gosh, you are so smart. It’s so refreshing!” She is, and it is refreshing. This is all to say that I trust Ellie’s judgement on matters of internet marketing, that HubSpot is obviously a great company, and that the info I got at SoFresh was valuable. This way we can look at something Ellie said without it coming off as an indictment, because the context in which she said it makes perfect sense. OK. Enough covering my a**. I want to talk about Social Proof. In her presentation, Ellie gave a list of a couple dozen tips for Facebook Page management, but she led with the following:" The first argument for sharing content on Facebook is, of course, social proof. If you see two articles... say one has three Likes on it, whereas the other has, maybe, 1000 Likes on it…which one do you think is the better article? "This, to be blunt, flipped me out. How the heck would we know, I thought.



Social proof is, in a nutshell, a term for explaining the monkey-see, monkey-do pattern of human behavior. If you see a bunch of people doing something, you’re more inclined to think it’s a good idea and to do it yourself. We usually look at social proof in a positive light. After all, it’s how we figured out that it’s safe to eat particular foods or that playing soccer or going to the movies can be fun. Lots of people do these things and lots of people talk about them, so more people do them and talk about them. As far as social proof goes, the “proof” of something’s value or quality is buried in the group mentality, not in its inherent quality. Social proof is what marketers encourage us as business-owners and idea-spreaders to get. Here’s where it gets dangerous: At the conference, the vast majority of the attendees agreed by a show of hands that the 1000 Like article is “better.” If that hadn’t been the case I wouldn’t be saying any of this, but arms flew in the air. Are these articles even about the same thing? What if one is about Bosnia and one is about Bosley hair replacement? With the Like button, it doesn’t matter; they get the same lone click. What if the article that has three Likes on it is the better article? What might make it "better," anyway? What if the article that has 1000 Likes is preferred because it accepts the status quo and makes people feel comfortable? What if the article that has three Likes is scary because it asks people to think? What if the article that has three Likes breaks rules and makes people squirm—as innovative ideas often do? Social proof isn’t really “proof.” It’s a Mass Opinion. While social proof is part of the fabric of anthropological success and human survival, we’re getting an incredibly distilled version of it on Facebook. The word “Like” has become about as arbitrarily meaningless as “credit” and “debit” in accounting.I “like” my book, Outsmarting the SAT, I “like” Nordstrom, and I “like” the charity Invisible Children. It goes without saying that the reasons I “like” them and the ways in which I like them are totally different. I’m shamelessly self-promoting my book, I want to win some money from Nordstrom, but I want other people to financially and personally support Invisible Children, as I do. On Facebook you can’t tell the difference. On Facebook my wedding dress fund and saving the lives of orphaned child soldiers in Africa gets the same click. Is liking on Facebook dumbing us down? Are we forgetting that what we value, recommend, and like are all different? If many of us assume that a 1000 like article is better than a 3 like article, it's entirely possible. How can we make sure we’re thinking critically and weighing the status quo when our opinions about the content of a video, article, or photograph comes down to one blue button? How do we make sure that we don’t miss out on (or worse, ignore) incredible ideas that just might not yet be popular? With the advent of the Like button, how do we find information that’s truly likable?

Elizabeth King