How To Use Social Proof For Social Content Promotion

You’ve heard it before, “Content is king”, but is it really? When it comes to promoting content in social media, content is not what’s solely going to drive popularity to your campaign. Content is still a very important factor, especially if you are using a resource hook to drive traffic and links.

I’ll wait for future posts to dive into all the factors that drive popularity to your content through social media promotion but today I am going to cover an important element, social proof.Social Proof

Wikipedia defines social proof as:

“Social proof, also known as informational social influence, is a psychological phenomenon that occurs in ambiguous social situations when people are unable to determine the appropriate mode of behavior.”

Naturally, humans look for external cues or indicators of influence when they are making decisions regarding consumption, time, attention, and engagement. With the Web constantly inundating users with a steady flow of information, it’s even more apparent that users rely heavily on indicators of social proof and wisdom of the crowds.

A mass quantity of people adopting, consuming, and/or contributing to a single entity subconsciously gives a lot of unspoken credibility to that entity. This is where social media comes in. People instinctively look for the acceptance of others as proof that the content is viable or the consumption is worth their time.

When you are promoting a piece of content in social media on sites like or there are ways to create cues as social proof that your content should be worth checking out. A piece of content looks pretty lonely on the “new” or “upcoming” pages with no votes or comments on it. People are most likely to pay more attention to the content that a large amount of people have engaged with either by voting or commenting. You can create visual cues by creating and initiating a conversation and having users vote up your content. These cues draw eyes, entice engagement, and increase the chances of natural promotion.

Another element of social proof is any traffic or engagement indicators on the actual content itself. These traffic indicators can include:

  • Displayed number of RSS subscribers
  • Displayed number of visits to the content
  • Comments on the content
  • Votes on social media sites as displayed by buttons/widgets
  • Alexa/Compete/Quantcast high traffic indications on the domain

Digg has made their algorithm such that if you get votes from friends that regularly vote on your content, then their votes count much less than a person who does not regularly vote on your content. A large amount of votes from people who don’t regularly vote on your content decreases the threshold for your content to be promoted to the front page. So if friends’ votes don’t count as much, then why bother?

The answer is social proof. If you get friends to vote up your content or comment on your submission, then other, non-friends are far more likely to naturally see that content and be more enticed to vote for it themselves.

Be cautious in the manner you go about creating a conversation or voting, though. Anything forced or done with the suspicious intent of manipulating social proof is likely to be called out and therefore will work against you. The key is to do it in a natural manner. A newly submitted piece of content that’s only been in the “new” or “upcoming” section for a few minutes shouldn’t have 75 votes, as it may look unnatural at that point – unless it’s extremely breaking news.

A social media submission with a bunch of unnatural comments like “cool article” or “nice post” just for the sake of having a small or large quantity of comments on there also looks highly unnatural. Any unnatural behavior is asking for a downvote or bury, because users feel deceived at that point. If you draw users in and they see you’ve done so by gaming the system, then you can have great content but they’ll still be upset enough to bury your content at that point.

Here is some great advice from a social media post by Brian Clark:

” … given the way social proof drives social media, the way you frame your initial message is critical. You want the momentum of social proof aligned with where you want to go, not with where things are.”

And with that, I’ll leave you with tip to start off a conversation as an element of social proof, in your social media submission. Pose a question either in the title or description of your submission. The more controversial the question you pose, the more engagement you’ll have. Keep in mind, however, it is not recommended to be the first to comment on your submission or pose a question to get the ball rolling. Many social media users are (typically) unhappy when you are the first to comment on your own submission.

While you can help steer a message, you can’t completely control it – so be prepared and have backup plans for negative sentiment and repercussions.

Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.

Related Topics: Channel: Social | Search & Social


About The Author: is the Senior SEO Manager for the agency, Red Door Interactive.

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