The hubris of trends, tweets, status updates, blogs and social media has definitely dominated online user activity over the past few years. Along with the substantial revenue brought in by eCommerce and online advertising into this sector, the majority of online marketers and internet startups have undoubtedly overlooked one very important aspect of user involvement. And that is: their online behavioural psychology.
Briefly put, in a process known as Social Proof, our behavioural patterns are highly influenced by the actions of other people or communities which is indicative of the herd mentality/bandwagon models whereby users tend to follow a crowd without first evaluating the merits for themselves.
For example: it is a well known fact that sites with a higher number of comments, rss subscribers, page impressions and higher online ranking receive more attention than the lesser known blog. Likewise with Twitter — random topics may trend, not necessarily because the issue is newsworthy, but simply because everyone else is doing it. YouTube is another favourite for exploiting social proof with a lieu of viral videos receiving millions of views and sky-rocketing unwary users to social fame.
This process, which is so deeply rooted into our psychology is often teeming with assumption, ambiguity and bereft of common logic. The overall merits gained from “being with the in-crowd” online is often less rewarding than gaining any useful information via a search engine. Yet, where startups and entrepreneurs are concerned, it’s highly effective. Essentially, developing a strong online presence adds a lot of credibility to your blog or website and leveraging on social proof is a great way to drive traffic and boost your online exposure.
A simple analogy, close to home, is that of Liqui-Fruit’s iceberg viral campaign in 2010 which the company created in anticipation of its Summer Melt Down promotion. By generating hype around a ‘mysterious iceberg’ which showed up near Clifton Beach in Cape Town, South Africa, Liqui-Fruit kept users speculating by circulating emails and posting clever amateur YouTube videos of the supposed iceberg and had the general public guessing, tweeting and posting, with more than a few companies ‘hijacking’ the hype, until Liqui-Fruit eventually owned up, pulling in a thumbs-up for clever marketing and good usage of social proof.
Apple has been a leader in driving behaviour through marketing campaigns. The iPad launch showed us news footage of excited users queuing since the early hours outside designer stores such as Armani, all inline for Apple’s latest offering with some eager fans flying down to San Francisco from Holland and applauded on receiving their new iPad. Apple, again, clearly had enough stock of iPads to avoid long queues but the consumer response would automatically be along the following terms: “those guys are in line for something worthwhile”.
By being influenced by positive behaviour of others, we’re falling for social proof, particularly in situations where we’re unsure of the correct course of action. Social Media has been a huge advantage towards driving social proof or herd behaviour and internet startups, web entrepreneurs and even the larger corporations have adopted social media in their marketing and brand campaigns. But beware the pitfalls — a message, tweet, post on your blog or status update can be easily misinterpreted if not presented correctly. Identification is key in determining not only what it is you’re broadcasting, but how you’re going about presenting it.
Irrespective of whether or not you’re keen on the benefits of social proof, keep the following tips in mind the next time you tweet/blog/advertise your brand or company:
- Social media is about engagement. Social proof is about how you voice yourself during that engagement period. Bear in mind that you are not speaking as an individual person but as a company. Focus on projecting that ‘voice’ positively, even amid negative criticism.
- Follow the LOL approach: Listen, Observe, Lead. Listen by following social media trends and behavior, observe user interaction before jumping aboard and don’t be afraid to lead with suggestive comments, arguments and trends.
- Collaboration. Social media is all about sharing and adding to the online social behavioural gene-pool. It encourages user interaction and adds value to your brand but at the same time, steer clear of over-indulging in social media as this can be interpreted as overzealous marketing.