Social media has become a digital religion. Or perhaps a cult in some ways. This is absolutely true on Twitter, where the number of followers someone has is seemingly tied to their credibility – rather than what the actual message says.
People who make good points can be dismissed easily because they don’t have enough followers. On the flip side, those who “work it” and try to get followers – akin to digital apostles – can be declared more credible because so many people follow them.
But is this possible? Credible?
Dr. Leilani CARVER, director of Graduate Strategic Communication and Leadership at Maryville University, explained that a large number of followers could indicate credibility through a persuasive strategy known as’social proof. “Social proof, popularized by professor of influence Dr. Cialdini, is the idea that if someone is unsure about what they should do – e.g., should I buy this widget? – they will look to others to see what they do – e.g., how many people bought the widget and what review was it given?. If many people believe in something or take an action, they are more likely to do so.
This can lead to a large following on social networks. Some users may assume that someone with a large following is worthy of being followed.
“One problem with granting this credibility based upon numbers is that there are ways to cheat the system and inflate your numbers – e.g., buying followers – so follower engagement is actually a much better read of influence regarding marketing strategy. Carver said that the bigger problem may be that the person who has a large following is not credible.
Simply put, simply because you have followers does not make your an expert. Even if you have followers, it does not necessarily make you an expert on a topic.
“If there is a relationship between credibility and the number of followers a person has on social media, it is probably an inverse relationship. According to Josh Crandall, a Netpop Research analyst in the technology industry, “The more followers someone has, the less credible they are.”
“There are some who have a lot of integrity for facts and science and amass a sizable following online such as Neil deGrasse Tyson (~14.2M Twitter) and Richard Dawkins (~2.9M), but the vast majority of popular influencers are building their followers through the cult of celebrity – Kylie Jenner (~39.2M) or the power of bombastic rhetoric – Joe Rogan (~7.6M),” Crandall noted. “In fact more than half the top 50 twitter accounts are celebrities, musicians, or sports figures. I don’t know if these people are credible other than sharing their opinions. And based on what we have seen in the recent past – think Gina Carano – those opinions can be highly subjective and suspect at times.”
Carver also mentioned that Kylie Jenner’s half sibling, Khloe Kardashian, has around 192 million Instagram followers.
Carver stated that Khloe is known to promote waist trainers via Instagram. Dr. Alok Patel, a respected physician and wellness expert, says that waist trainers are not scientifically supported, they may be ineffective and even harmful. Dr. Patel, who is a vocal advocate of health, has only 22,400 Instagram fans, compared to Khole’s 292 million. Dr. Patel is a reliable source for information on waist trainers and other health topics, but has significantly fewer followers. Dr. Patel does employ the persuasive strategy of authority (e.g. credibility through a title/degree). The truth is that falsehoods spread quicker and more widely than the truth.
Accent on Numbers and Not Content
The problem is that too much attention is placed on the credibility of the influence and followers. The popular and beautiful immediately have an advantage.
This shouldn’t be surprising considering the increase in social media use, especially among youth.
Lon Sakfo is a technology entrepreneur who wrote “Today’s first thing an individual checks prior to doing business with you” in his book, Technology Entrepreneur Lon Sakfo. The Social Media Bible.“Your ‘digital footprint’ was known as your digital footprint several years ago, prior to the maturity of the social network.
Safko pointed out that, in the past, if someone searched him online, his Google digital footprint had approximately 185,000 pages that mentioned him for various works.
“Now that Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn are all established, my digital footprint will be heavily influenced by these three,” he stated.
Safko is a published author and has written multiple books. His credibility index could be compared to those who have lots of friends, followers, or LinkedIn connections.
Reliance upon Metrics
All of this would not be a serious problem except for the emphasis on followers, shares, likes, etc. This can impact the roles actors play, impact whether journalists take stories seriously, and most importantly, it can impact our political future.
The world moves increasingly based on likes and followers, and the potential impact it could have
James R. Bailey, professor of Leadership at the George Washington University School of Business, stated that “impact” means being able to effect meaningful and lasting change.
Bailey said that Charles Dickens didn’t have an Instagram account. However, he almost single-handedly altered Britain’s labor laws. “Donna Tartt is America’s greatest living author. She has a Twitter account, but she has never posted on it.” Congressman Dr. Michael Burgess from Texas – a fair-minded conservative who has had a substantial impact on US health care policy – has exactly 784 Twitter followers.”
Safko stated that publishing a book today is difficult because publishers are so caught up in their followers and likes. It must be large enough to allow them to assume that you can sell 10,000 copies of your book with this following. If you don’t have the following, then you are not considered.”
Although it is true that a person with a lot of followers will be more successful, could Potentially, you have a better chance of your book becoming a best-seller. Too often, likes don’t translate to sales. This is a problem in and of itself.
It all comes down to the fact we have become fixated and obsessive over social media metrics. They should be seen as meaningless when compared with other measures of one’s efforts.
Bailey asked, “Can sales be a measure of success for a salesperson?” “Yes. “Sure. Yes. Can the number of books published measure a professor’s contribution? Perhaps. But, can social media followers measure someone’s impact? No. Nope. Never.