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Study of Social Proof: Likes, Beget More Likes


Have you heard about the herd?

A scientific study out of MIT proves that the more likes, votes or shares a piece of given content receives, the more likely it is to get more. In social media, people will follow the boss cow.

The study doesn’t appear account for Facebook’s algorithm — the algorithm formerly known as EdgeRank.  The algorithm formerly known as EdgeRank means Facebook filters content based on what it thinks it’s users are interested in, based on preferences and history.  Therefore the more people that “like” an update, the more people that are likely to even have a chance of seeing an update, let alone the opportunity to like it.

Therefore the more people that “like” an update, the more people that are likely to even have a chance of seeing an update, let alone the opportunity to like it.

In other words, if you manage a fan page, not everyone sees your status updates.

In a study published in the journal Science, titled: Social Influence Bias: A Randomized Experiment, the authors

“…examined the effect of collective information via a randomized experiment, which involved collaboration with a social news aggregation Web site on which readers could vote and comment on posted comments. Data were collected and analyzed after the Web site administrators arbitrarily voted positively or negatively (or not at all) as the first comment on more than 100,000 posts. False positive entries led to inflated subsequent scores, whereas false negative initial votes had small long-term effects.”

Bloomberg, reporting on the study, breaks down the study findings this way:

“Researchers during the five-month study randomly altered the ratings of 101,000 comments. Those manipulated to be more positive were about one-third more likely than unaltered comments to receive a positive rating from the next viewer, and 30 percent more likely to achieve a high favorable rating.”

Certainly the herd mentality is something we’ve long suspected – which is why if you want your content shared, one key aspect is to make it as easy to share as possible – but this study definitively quantifies the findings.  The difference can be nearly one-third higher.

Less Concern for Negative Comments

There’s also a scientific reason to be less concerned about a few negative comments. While a number of studies have pointed out review sites that are entirely positive are less credible than those with at least a few negative reviews, the research also finds people were, “more likely to cancel out a negative vote with a positive vote.”

Bloomberg quotes Matthew O. Jackson, a Stanford University economics professor, who offers analysis, but did not work on the study:

“One possibility is that seeing something positive makes you feel better about seeing something positive, and if you see something negative, you react to try to bring it back to zero.”

Notes: One of the study’s authors, Sinan Aral, is a prominent speaker and can be found on Twitter.  His Tedx talk on Influence In Social Media is posted nearby.


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Photo credit:  Flickr, Stacy, Herding Sheep at Lough Mask (CC BY-SA 2.0)

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