Blogging and Writing

Blogging, Likes, and Social Proof

Blogging and social proof - graphic of a brain

Rory of A Guy Called Bloke alluded to this recently, and I wanted to talk a little more about the psychological phenomenon called social proof, and how it applies to blogging.

First off, what is social proof? When we’re in a situation where the action we should take is ambiguous, we tend to follow what others have already done. The actions of others serve as social proof that they may know something we don’t know about the situation, and since we naturally want to conform to social norms anyway, seeing what others have already done brings out our inner sheeple.

So, what does this have to do with blogging? Let’s start in more general terms.

Social proof and marketing

A Buffer article talks about the benefit of sharing milestones, like follower/viewer counts. WordPress likes to show you fancy little badges to make it easier to share those kinds of things.

A post by marketing company Hubspot mentions “wisdom of the crowds” as a form of social proof. If you see lots of people are into something, that can trigger your inner FOMO. Ratings/reviews also matter. The popularity of the site Yelp is an indicator of how much we care about what other people think. The way Amazon displays reviews also taps into this.

Marketing guru Neil Patel identifies several more social proof strategies that tend to be effective, including influencer endorsements, badges/certifications, “as seen in” logos, and visible stats.

Those visible stats are where blogging platforms and social media platforms go to town. While the terminology varies by platform, on WordPress, it’s easy to see how many followers a blogger has, along with how many likes, comments, and social shares a post has gotten. Those little verified check marks on some social media accounts? Social proof.

Search engines also like social proof, in the form of backlinks (other people linking to your site) and social media shares, because their algorithms think that if people already like your content, searchers are likely to be interested in it too.

How this affects individual bloggers

If that all sounds a bit contrived, that’s probably because it is. Where it gets interesting, though, is that we’re not necessarily aware of why we’re reacting in a certain way as viewers. We may be responding to social proof without even realizing it.

Let’s say you’re reading a post by a blogger that you either haven’t come across before or you’re not very familiar with. You see that a handful of people have already left comments, and the blogger has responded to them. This can make it more likely that you will also leave a comment.

Obviously it’s not as simple as that, and that’s where the ambiguity aspect comes into play. If your approach to blog reading includes a specific approach to commenting, that makes the situation less ambiguous, and therefore social proof is less likely to be a factor.

In a lot of cases, though, there is a fair bit of ambiguity when we’re considering how to interact with an unfamiliar blogger’s post. That’s where there can be some benefit in having a few people that you regularly exchange comments with. Even if the numbers don’t matter but you like interactiveness, having a couple of comments reliably showing up on most of your posts can lay out the psychological welcome mat for others.

Passive benefits of social proof

If there’s some good that can come out of serial likers, it’s that they bump your social proof. It’s completely contrived (does the name Sebastian ring a bell to anyone? ๐Ÿ™ƒ), but genuineness isn’t a requirement for social proof to catch our notice. If a post has been up for a while and has zero likes, whether you realize it or not, that’s likely to be a little bit of a turnoff, unless the post is written by a blogger you’re pretty familiar with, or you’re deliberately looking for newbie bloggers to connect with. Both of those decrease the situation’s ambiguity for us, which decreases the need to see what others have done.

For any newer bloggers who are self-critical over low numbers on their blog, keep in mind that larger blogs have social proof already working to their advantage. Someone running a blog with 10,000 followers could put in 1% of the effort of a newbie blogger with 20 followers and still do better at bringing in ever-increasing numbers, because social proof is passively working to their advantage. It can be difficult and slow to get to that point where it’s passively working for you, and this a good example of how little meaning absolute numbers have.

Anyway, this post turned out to be a little more rambly than I had expected it to be. Do you notice social proof playing much of a role in the blogosphere? Do you think it might be playing a greater role than people consciously realize?

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37 thoughts on “Blogging, Likes, and Social Proof”

  1. Who is this ‘Sebastian” guy and what does he get out of it? Social proof, interesting. I know I depend somewhat on on-line reviews – I’ve gotten bit by not believing them LOL Yeah, sometimes those Amazon reviews are the real deal. As for blogging, hmmm – I do like to read comments, but when there are 125 I do kinda skip them – who has the time? And if someone new comments or likes my blog I will go look at their blog, don’t often ‘follow’ because I have zero interest in their blog topic and wonder how, or why, they ever found my blog. If I read a new-to-me blog and the comments are all generic then even if I wanted to comment I don’t. Generic comments tend to put me off and give me the impression that any comment of substance would not be welcome. (Am I rambling LOL)

    1. I find that generic comments often come from spammy type people rather than genuine people.

      Sebastian has a blog with advertising, and given that he gets a whole lot of likes in return, he’s probably making some decent money from his ads.

  2. I experienced this more in political blogging (a long time ago, I had a short-lived political blog). Social proof helped me pre-judge which bloggers to follow because I was more likely to agree with them, which to follow because I was more likely to disagree with them, which topics I should write about because they were the most commented on, etc. I don’t think that was a good thing, and there are many reasons why I left political blogging. Sadly though, I think that many people, not just my old-political-blogger self rely on social proof in place of critical thinking. Especially dangerous when it comes to politics.

  3. I suppose I hadn’t given it a whole lot of thought before, but I do think that seeing comments and likes make people more likely to stick around and do likewise. Actually, I find myself feeling the opposite sometimes; if a post doesn’t have anything but they’ve worked hard on it, I feel bad and want to let them know someone’s actually read it. Seeing things like how a blog has won specific, noteworthy awards or is linked to other brands does increase intrigue and a sense of trustworthiness, much like it can on any website or online store. xx

  4. I too still have my eye on Sebastian. It seems so… self-serving of him to like my posts (and everyone else’s) just to get attention to his blog. He never comments or anything! AAUGH!!

    It’s true about social proof! If no one comments on a blog post, I’m less likely to comment! I’m sure the reverse is also true! Very interesting!!

    1. It’s 100% self-serving. He has ads on his blog. Every time someone goes to check out his site and see who he is, he makes a bit of money. There’s no way he’s reading anyone’s posts, and he may well have built his own bot to like things immediately after they’re published. But he gets a shit ton of likes on his posts, so there are plenty of people returning like for like. It works for him and makes him money, so that’s why he keeps doing it.

  5. Social proof might play a huge role in why any group of people (not just bloggers) react as they do to certain things. I’m nowhere smart enough to decide. I innately dislike the idea of “monkey see, monkey do” that seems to be the basis of such a thing. I like to think I’m above being culled in that way, and that I sheeple my way through life doing the things that others do in some effort to conform to the norm. But I probably do it. So does everyone, even subconsciously, which I think was your point.

    I will say that if I’m reading a new blog, my motivation to comment is the same as if I’m reading something from a blogger I’ve followed for a long time. If I have something to say I will, and I hope that something is pertinent to the discussion going on and not just pap. But who knows? Interesting post Ashleyleia! I didn’t find it too ‘rambly’ at all!

    1. It’s an interesting subject. I also dislike the monkey see, monkey do side of things, and try to avoid that as much as l can. But I think I probably am influenced, at least to some extent, by the subtler side of social proof.

  6. I see social proof from podcasting to blogging and social media. I think itโ€™s important to have a clear mission with any creative endeavor. For me (podcasting and blogging), itโ€™s to share information; therefore, social proof doesnโ€™t matter to me.

  7. Very interesting concept. It makes sense because people donโ€™t want to miss out and donโ€™t want to appear foolish.

    We donโ€™t want to look foolish but have no social media presence to protect or defend. So we feel little online pressure. We are on a crowdsourcing site for citizen science and we make tons of mistakes! But no one knows who we are so we care only a little. Perfectionism bites us (looking at you, PJ) some.

    We tend not to follow crowds and are actually more suspicious of them than of lesser visited/liked nooks and niches, irl especially when we used to participate in society. An empty bookstore or quiet library used to be a dream spot

  8. I’d be interested to know how many times Sebastian has been mentioned in a post, and the irony would be if he liked it ๐Ÿ™‚ Can you actually block someone from liking posts?

    1. You can’t block someone from liking. And I doubt he even opens a post to read them; he likes too many for that, so I’m guessing he just does it from the Reader. I’m curious how many people have noticed Sebastian, and of that group, how many noticed he’s a serial liker.

  9. Well researched and written Ashley.

    Thank you

    I guess, Social proof and marketing got lot to do with human psychology which tends to be confusing and many times funny and even weird to some extent.

    I remember one particular X , who always is the first person to leave a comment on those popular blog posts which receive not less than 100 comments.

    My guess is that this particular X might be wishing to increase his/her visibility to the rest of people who comment on these popular posts.

    As far as the ‘number’ of likes…..I simply put it as a ‘ feel good’ factor.

    I am also a bit curious about a particular category.
    What do you namethis category Ashley, which likes your ( I mean our) posts but never ever leaves a comment in life’s time?

    And many newbies proudly mention the various blog awards received…sure to attract other newbies.

    Is social proofing anything to do with sheep mentality? I don’t know.

    My question is….
    Is it necessary to get approval and have social proof? Is this a life and death matter in blogosphere? ( I am avoiding bussiness angle)

    All of us are grateful to this particular Sebastian because he brought smiles on my face for being mentioned constantly in the comment section.

    A great chap indeed!

    My apologies for this lengthy comment and the points you mentioned in your post are worth remembering.

    1. I don’t think approval or social proof are necessary, and I think it helps when bloggers recognize that there’s an element of a game to some of it. Taking likes and follows and those kinds of things too seriously can get very frustrating, but being able to laugh at the Sebastians of the blogging world can be quite fun.

  10. I never really thought about this… I started writing to clear my busy mind, to share my experiences, to try and make a dent in health stigmas and make mental and physical health issues open to discussion…
    I do enjoy getting likes and the genuine reactions to my writings I will always try to answer as soon as I can. I always try to add the right category and tags, hopeful that people who are looking for certain topics, may be able to find my posts (and maybe get something out of them….๐Ÿ˜Š).
    I occasionally search for new blogs to follow. I never really go for the numbers that I see, like followers and likes. I basically check out the topics and style of writing. If they appeal, I’ll click the follow button and read several more posts.
    I always struggle a bit with commenting on others, always afraid I may have not understood the topic right or scared that my choice of words may offend anyone… That’s unfortunately a bit of what my autism/social struggles do with me when I may want to leave a response…
    But I really enjoyed this information social proof, thanks for sharing! ๐Ÿ˜Š

    1. I think that’s common for a lot of bloggers with mental health and related issues. The blogging itself tends to have a purpose beyond simply stats. Where I think social proof can make a positive difference is that it sometimes makes it easier for people to leave a comment if it’s clear from comments that have already been left that both the blogger and other readers who’ve commented are friendly and receptive to other people’s ideas.

      1. I agree with you on that for sure! If I see people responding kindly to comments below their piece, it’s easier to engage for sure.. ๐Ÿ˜Š

  11. This is really interesting, Ashley. Definitely causing some self reflecting here. Itโ€™s always interesting to consider the influence of things like this on human behavior.

      1. Thatโ€™s what I find particularly interesting about this. I donโ€™t have an immediate awareness about my tendencies here, but itโ€™s sure causing some attention and thought now.

  12. Really interesting post!

    Iโ€™ve never really given the idea of social proof much thought, since I always believed the general consensus is that people will always listen to the person with more followers and likes and fame. Isnโ€™t the only way of gathering social proof just through patience and by consistently delivering value?

    Also, I think Iโ€™m out of the loop with this Sebastian guy ๐Ÿ™ƒ

    1. I think patience and delivering value is the genuine way to gather social proof, but I’ve definitely seen people use non-genuine strategies that seem to be pretty successful in terms of generating numbers.

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