Blog post
June 24, 2019

Has social proof spilled online?

We’re not short on information. In fact, never before have we had so much news, research and commentary available to us – with accessibility improving almost daily.

And yet, why is it that we still fail to discern the real from the fake and the genuine from the scripted? Or that we subscribe to mass opinion without so much as a fact check?

Firstly, we’re short on time. The theory of social proof has spilled over into the digital age where it has fueled the ever-hot topic of influence and persuasion.

Social proof, otherwise known as social influence is a psychological phenomenon where we look to assume the actions of others in an effort to ‘shortcut’ certain decision-making situations and reflect what’s presumed ‘correct’ behaviour.

Simply put, when we are uncertain about how one might react or are thrown into a situation where we’re overwhelmed by information or emotion, we look around the crowd to see how they respond and do the same ourselves – finding comfort in this social proof.

While online we may not be able to determine the ‘correct’ response from a person’s face, perhaps we’ve adapted this behaviour too, and can look for other signals. For example, when we see a tweet building momentum or a post that’s garnered critical comments that are seemingly snowballing, do we recognise this as proof to follow the majorities reaction?

This is particularly intriguing to examine when looking at a crisis or world event where information can often be misleading or incorrect from the initial spark. Instead of waiting to compile and analyse all the information, we seek out an opinion – often led by someone that we consider to be similar to ourselves.

While this need to assimilate may be driven by many factors, including pressures on time in any emergency situation or modern life, it’s also interesting to note that humans are easily swayed by authority.

Historically we may have recognised this as a position of political power, or number of stars on a lapel. Funnily enough, this seems to have also blurred onto our social communities – the blue ‘verified’ tick beside an account name, the volume of followers, or the endorsements an individual aligns with could all be influencing our motivations to follow them.

Whether these individuals are truly authoritative on a subject or topic, or merely masquerading as one, we seem to seek out signals or evidence as a way to shortcut our bias.

As online social behaviour evolves and channel mature, it is becoming increasingly interesting to watch how we discern real influence – whether we will continue to find quick tactics to inform our responses or seek more knowledge to better align our stance.

Originally shared by Gill Matthews, Isentia Marketing Director

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