The Social Proof Paradox: Need Fans to Get Fans

The social media version of the “chicken or egg” has finally come…and nobody wants to talk about it. The paradox is simple, but most paradoxes are, aren’t they.  It starts like this:

  1. You want to join the social media industry, and you’re very good at digital marketing.  You know that fans and followers don’t matter and you’re prepared to tell your clients that.
  2. Your potential clients want to see that you have fans/followers before they trust you with their brand management..

When I usually present this question to industry professionals they say things like:, “You have to educate the client on what’s appropriate .  You have to change their desire for ‘fans/followers/friends’.”

There’s nothing wrong with that answer.  Nothing at all…unless you’re the client.  At the end of your amazingly (and completely correct) educational workshop/webinar/video blog…they still want numbers.

We call that, “Social Proof” (We didn’t make it up, but we use it a lot, so we’re claiming it until someone else does), and Social Proof is the only thing taught to the masses about social media.  Well, that, and the fact that you can tell everyone that you’re having pizza for dinner!

The problem is that we have an amazing industry, full of professionals that know exactly how the industry works, yet ignore a single dizzying fact.  How many times have you heard a social media consultant say the phrase, “you can’t control the conversation”?  It’s true.  You can just join, or not join.  The problem is, our industry believes that you can’t control the conversation…unless we’re talking about Social Proof.  When it comes to Social Proof, we can ignore the conversation, and reframe it entirely around quality metrics like conversations and connections.

Well…that’s only half right (and by definition, half wrong).  You can re-educate those who want to be re-educated, and you can shape the context of those who are open to having their context re-shaped, but we all know that that’s a small percentage of our potential market.  80% of the people we talk to are NOT going to allow the conversation to change…and they will find what they really want.  And, unfortunately, that’s more friends/fans/followers.

So What Do We Do?

You have two popular choices.  And they’re both deceptively difficult.

  1. You can ignore social proof, and continue to only work with clients who have their context shaped by your re-education.  The good news is that you will only work with clients who are ready and open to re-education.  These will be the BEST clients with the BEST results if they continue to be open to change over time.  The bad news, however, is that you are making a decision that those who are not yet open to your way of thinking are not your customer and will not be your customer as long as they have that line of thought.  Your market will only grow as the number of people jump to your way of thinking about online marketing, or become open to other ways of thinking.  This is completely fine, and from a business standpoint, awesome and very disciplined.
  2. You can cave into social proof and offer the service that the clients want.  You can offer fans/followers/friends to your clients, and if you deliver, you can make them very happy.  The good news is that your market will be much larger than those with a segregated viewpoint.  You will enjoy a much easier service to fulfill, and your clients will be generally happy (for a time).  The bad news is that you’re, for the lack of a better term, selling your soul for the money.  You’re abandoning your core beliefs about how this medium is supposed to work, and caving to mass perception when you think mass perception is wrong.  (On a related note, there are some who think that this IS how the medium is supposed to work, so this model works well for them and their soul is not sold.) Also, you’ll probably create a brand that acts in a way that many think is counter-intuitive to the way the medium is “supposed” to work.  People will hate you…babies will cry…etc, etc.

Why am I talking about this?  It’s obvious that option #1 is the way to go, right?  Well I am actually a fan of a third (and unpopular) viewpoint.  I can’t imagine waiting for a population to come into an epiphany and realize I’ve been right all along (my life as an only child has been filled with this type of waiting, and it’s not a fun time…trust me).  I also am not naïve enough to believe that I can recondition the entire planet to my way of thinking…yet.  My solution is, “Pre-Education Pacification”.

Why Not Both?

Cop out?  Maybe.  Effective? Every time.  Whether we agree with it or not, numbers are important to our clients…even if they mean nothing to our calculations.  If a client tells me that they want 1000 followers, then what’s the harm in getting them?  Your numbers are off by 1000?  Who cares?  I’ll just adjust my calculations.  It’s never worth it to let your ideology get in the way of client satisfaction, and I can never tell a client that they don’t deserve my help because they don’t, “think the right way”.

A happy client, is a referring client.  Also, happy clients will listen to anything that you say if you’ve filled their most urgent desire.  Most social campaigns are not short term campaigns, so filling the most urgent need of the client is a small victory in keeping them until you can show them the jaw-dropping proof that this industry can work for their business.  I call it a compromise.

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