The Burden of Social Proof Makes Many Of Us Social Media Idiots

Yeah, yeah, I know that social proof is important. Someone is more likely to retweet something that already has a bunch of retweets, verses an article with a big, fat zero.

But I think the whole thing is hooey.

No, not that I believe that concept is wrong. I just think the idea of it, and our desire to capitalize on it, makes us do stupid things.

But first, some stats to give some perspective:

The world population might reach 7 BILLION in calendar 2011.

There are over 165 MILLION public blogs in 2011, according to Wikipedia…although it seems more than that.

Over 750 MILLION people on Facebook… give or take a few million.

Around 200 MILLION people on Twitter, according to someone on Twitter.

Already 25 MILLION people on Google+, which just launched a few months ago.

So when I do a quick scan of Seth Godin’s blog, which is arguably the BEST business and marketing blog on the planet, and the best posts show only 900+ retweets…

[disclaimer: I only reviewed the last three to four dozen posts on Seth's site...]

…there are a lot of people on the earth NOT retweeting his content.

So, the purpose here is to beg you…

Please, please, please don’t get hung up on how many retweets, shares, likes, etc. that you and your content receive from your audience.

Remember. Almost 7 BILLION people on the planet. And the best blogger doesn’t normally get over 1,000 retweets.

Get over yourself.

All that matters is that your content speaks to the small audience it is really intended for.

I saw a promotion on LinkedIn recently. “Get your blog post seen by ONE MILLION people…. in less than 10 minutes.”



Hey look…if getting ONE MILLION hits to your blog matters, subscribe to this service. If getting nearly 1,000 retweets helps you feel like you matter in the universe…

Do it.

But I have got to say…that promotion felt way schwarmy to me. Didn’t seem honest. And more importantly, it didn’t seem realistic to me.

I have a wee small blog. Geared towards a very small audience of both potential customers and informing current customers. Yeah, I would love 1,000 true fans. But I will be happy if I achieve 100.

And honestly…that makes me feel good. Because what I say matters to those people. And that makes for a good day.

Now, my two businesses are growing. Intrepid is a one-man shop. There is only so much work I can achieve, on behalf of my clients, on a given day. Dreamland is a three-man shop. There is only so much work the three of us can achieve on a given day.

I couldn’t possibly handle the workload if ONE MILLION people came to my blog in ten minutes, and a small percentage of them wanted to do business…

I guess I am saying that while lots of traffic, lots of subscriptions, lots of comments and lots of retweets would be nice, not having that isn’t negatively impacting my business. I have more than enough prospects, thank you very much.

But just what does trying to maximize social proof make us do? Well, a few examples:

1. We offer programs to people promising ONE MILLION blog hits in ten minutes.

2. We use the social web to blast content one-way instead of using it to engage with real people one-on-one.

3. We stuff our content with relevant – and mostly irrelevant – keywords to overtly influence the search engines, diluting the message to the people who need it most.

4. We ask people to retweet, who don’t really want to retweet.

5. We obsess over stats – instead of engaging with people, or doing real work.

6. We worry more about building giant counts of subscribers, followers, connections…than worrying about mindfully connecting with a few people that matter.

Hey look, I get it. If your goal is to sell ONE MILLION copies of a book, sure, you need a larger audience. For me? I am looking for a handful of GREAT clients to do some meaningful work. The goals are different.

But let’s be honest. Most of us aren’t trying to sell ONE MILLION copies of our book. We are trying to run a small enterprise, earn a comfortable living, and enjoy and be challenged by the work that we do.

Most of us won’t die if a recent blog post doesn’t get very many retweets. I used to worry about it. A lot. I used to endlessly refresh the browser to see if people were retweeting my latest post.

Thankfully, I realized it was a waste of time. And in the end, it didn’t matter to my business. So now, I enjoy my interaction with the few people that matter. I try to write meaningful content that serves that small, important, and relevant audience.

And that’s still resulting in growing my two businesses.

That’s what matters.

What do you think?


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[cartoon by hugh macleod]

  • Mike Brown

    You’ve gotten to a healthy place, Todd. I’ve been to that place, on vacation, even been able to stay there a few weeks. But it always seems something will prompt me to stop my vacation and flee back home to the fretting over numbers, why a certain post didn’t get RT’d, and how in the world to get more comments. I look your place a lot better!

  • Todd Schnick

    ha. yeah, well it is a best practice to analyze why some content impacts people more than others… always good to continually improve the content that you deliver….

  • Pritchard

    Brilliant observations, from a great thought leader…..where do you find the time?

  • Todd Schnick

    Thanks pritch – hope you had a good birthday!

    Sent from Todd’s Blackberry. If you need him, call him at 404.931.0969. Or send him a tweet at @toddschnick

  • Jeff Wolfe

    Well said.

  • Todd Schnick

    thanks jeff…

    sent from todd schnick’s iPad…
    find him at, call him at 404.931.0969, or send him a tweet at @toddschnick

  • Anonymous

    Amen Brother!  I have to admit when I go to comment on a great post on someone’s blog and then have to scroll through 100′s of comments, I often hesitate because I don’t think I will really get the attention of the blogger much less engage in a meaningful (short) dialogue.  
    SO, Bravo! to those that get their post in front of 1 Million fans in 10 minutes – I hope that works for them! 

  • Todd Schnick

    yeah, that’s why i am optimistic that Google+ might latch on. i do like the way you can engage in a conversation stream. much easier to follow and engage….