You may have noticed in late November the sudden disappearance of the number that accompanies the Tweet button on websites’ social sharing tools.
That’s because, in its infinite wisdom, Twitter decided to cut off share count data via its API on November 20, 2015, much to the dismay of website owners everywhere.
Why are we bloggers and site owners so upset about the move? Two words: Social Proof.
What Is Social Proof?
Wikipedia defines social proof thusly:
Social proof, also known as informational social influence, is a psychological phenomenon where people assume the actions of others in an attempt to reflect correct behavior for a given situation. This effect is prominent in ambiguous social situations where people are unable to determine the appropriate mode of behavior, and is driven by the assumption that surrounding people possess more knowledge about the situation.
In the online environment, social proof is commonly understood to be those elements of online content that indicate the level of interest others have in that content. Examples include:
- The number of comments on a blog post,
- The number of video views, and, of course,
- The number of Likes, Tweets, Shares and Pins on social channels.
Just as people look to others in a group for social proof with which to model their own behavior in the real world, these online elements act as hints to model behavior in the virtual world.
Why Is Social Proof Important?
The number of tweets a piece of content has, the number of Facebook Likes, LinkedIn Shares and Pinterest Pins demonstrates to the visitor that other people found the content valuable enough to show they liked it.
Once the concept is pointed out, you start to see it everywhere. The Trending List is a social proof tactic that most of the major sites employ. It started with Twitter.
Facebook jumped on the bandwagon with their own segmented version.
And I just noticed that YouTube has now put a Trending tab front and center.
Online publishers have known for many years the power of the “Most Read” widget to drive additional pageviews. Here’s a screenshot of the Most Read articles from the StarTribune.com home page:
Popularity begets popularity.
These examples of social proof do several things:
- They indicate to the visitor that other people find this content valuable so you might, too,
- They prompt the visitor to interact with the content themselves,
- They create a desire to be “in the know.” People do not like the feeling that they are the last person to know something.
- Social proof is an algorithmic trigger that helps boost visibility within social channels and search.
Where’s The Actual Proof?
To date, the idea that social proof has an actual effect on behavior has been largely a theoretical argument to those who do not have access to their own data. Last month, however, the public was treated to real, tangible data that proves the efficacy of social proof as an amplifier of content, a tactic we content marketers are a bit obsessed with.
On December 4, Shareaholic released data that shows sharing to Twitter declined 11% after Twitter removed access to share counts from their API.
Sharaholic makes a social sharing tool and therefore has access to a great deal of social sharing data. Their findings are based on social sharing activity from more than 300,000 sites reaching more than 450 million unique monthly visitors. In other words, a huge data set.
As the chart below indicates, Twitter’s share of voice dropped 11.28% after the company removed access to sharing data.
The simple lack of a number removed the social proof that prompted people to share an article on Twitter.
Why did Twitter remove the data? You’ll have to ask them. I suspect they want to charge people for that particular data set or perhaps they viewed it as a disincentive for sharing long-form content on the channel, which is a feature many anticipate will be rolled out soon.
Regardless, I suspect they’ll find it was an extremely short-sighted move.
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