There’s a Reason We Call it the Burden of Social Proof

The other day, I heard someone refer to the “burden of social proof,” and I thought the word “burden” was so fitting. See, social proof as a standalone term refers really to herd mentality. It means “the influence the actions and attitudes of the people around us have on our own behavior.”

But social proof, as it is used in the world of marketing, means that your peers or customers are verifying your claims or actions through words of praise. For authors, like me, you need good reviews in order to have social proof, or testimonials, or awards. It also refers to the size of your network: how many followers you have on social media, or sign-ups on your newsletter, or “claps” for your published article. I can get social proof on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, YouTube, LinkedIn, Medium, etc. etc. till the cows come home.

And, of course, the best way to get social proof is to ask for it. To beg, cajole, and bribe your friends, fans, and followers to praise your work in various ways. For the more underhanded among us, it might also involve threatening, guilt-tripping, or arm-twisting for those results.

It’s not that seeking good reviews of our products or services is anything new, and it’s not necessarily bad, it’s just that it’s become nearly impossible to keep up on all the places where we’re supposed to seek those words of affirmation. It’s a full-time job just trying to get people to notice our work in an ever-louder world.

Some gurus tell us not to worry about social proof but rather to do good work and trust the cream will rise to the top. I agree that the bulk of our time should be spent creating good art (whatever art means to you), because nothing that is bad will stand the test of time. But we are under increasing pressure to spend much of our day seeking attention for our good work rather than making it.

It does very much feel like a burden these days to keep up with the platforms we are already on. And every day, new ones pop up. I could actually feel the look on my face when I met with an internet strategist the other day. I could feel my expression of hope and intrigue mixed with overwhelm. We’re all doing so much. How can you ask us to do more?

You can read a million articles or sit in a million lectures and hear different pieces of advice. Some experts will say to pick one or two platforms and maximize your efforts there, others will say to share to as many platforms as possible. Some will emphasize keywords, others will talk about audience. Some will hype ads, others will hype free choices.

In the end, all you can do is what you can do. Rather than obsessing about amassing more social proof, obsess about doing the work you were called to do. The only thing that is truly within your control is where you choose to put your energy.

And I hope you put your energy first and foremost on your art. Create with no thought about all that comes after. Create because the work matters. Create from your heart. Then, and only then, decide how much energy you have left for taking that art out into the world. You’ll find the balance if you keep the focus on finding your own identity first before you ask other people to tell you and the whole world who you are.

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