In June, I found myself meeting new people at the #SocialShakeUp social media marketing conference in Atlanta. Rather than collect business cards at events, I have a habit of pulling up my mobile and adding people to a Twitter list made for the event. Before long, one individual in particular caught my attention, for he had more than 300 thousand Twitter followers. Which of course, quickly became a topic of discussion.
My positive reaction to his follower count got me thinking about two topics that I've been preoccupied with lately: vanity metrics and social proof. Specifically, about the way they intersect, and the assumptions we make when we see that a person, product, or brand appears to be popular (or at least, more popular than ourselves).
For all I knew before seeing his followers, he was just another attendee. But after?
Sure, it was entirely possible that he had bought that following, or that someone had done it on his behalf, and that he knew no more than the next person about Twitter. But, that idea didn't even occur to me until later. In the heat of the moment, logic left my mind and the "big numbers" equated with "big credibility."
Isn't that what all of us do on a daily basis? And what does it mean to us as marketers?
I think there are a few things we can agree on...
1. Big Numbers Get Attention
Vanity metrics (like page or article views, likes, etc.) are essentially soft indicators of engagement or lead generation potential. But that's not the same as saying they have no value at all. Just as I was immediately impressed by a stranger's large Twitter following, so too might your readers and prospects think more of your ideas when they are supported by others. In fact, one prospect recently noted than I had received more than 100 shares on one of my blog posts, looking forward to the day they could achieve that as well. Everything's relative.
That comes down to the simple psychology of social proof, meaning that we take the accounts of other people - and especially influential people - into consideration when deciding who or what to trust. In fact, it's that social proof that often drives some types of social activity forward to the point where they become self-sustaining.
2. Impressive Metrics Create Positive Momentum
The psychology of social proof can make vanity metrics work in an exponential way. That is, the more people who see and like your content (or social profiles, etc.), the more additional people are likely to do the same.
On one level, this occurs because vanity metrics are reported - a person's contacts may see when they view something, like it, or comment on it. On a deeper level, though, we are all subconsciously programmed to respond to attention. When we see a lineup, we wonder what it's for; when we see a crowd, we are likely to join in to find out what everyone else thinks is so special.
So the key to generating positive momentum is really just getting it started. From there, the process can be self-fueling. That doesn't mean that we should all go out there creating clickbait, though, because...
3. Views and Likes Alone Won't Sustain Your Reputation
As impressive as big metrics can be, it's really just a first step. Having huge views creates a sense of credibility in the same way that wearing a new suit does. Wearing it to the office on your first day is a great way to start a new job, but it isn't going to sustain you for all of the meaningful interactions that will need to come next.
It's also important to note that big numbers can just as easily generate backlash and skepticism. In this age of digital marketing, few of us believe everything we see at first glance... especially if it appears too impressive to be true.
So what does it all mean? You can't say that vanity metrics don't matter when they clearly influence us as forms of social proof. But at the same time, relying on lots of views and followers to carry you through to real-world marketing results just isn't a going to be the best idea.
This post originally appeared on the Kayak Online Marketing blog