Why are Social Media Platforms so Popular?

John Hope-Johnstone

Although I have no empirical proof, I don’t believe social media would have been the phenom back in the 1950s as it is today, even if we had the technology.

The reason is simple, we were a different society back then. We were closer geographically to our families and friends. We were working more in manufacturing and most expected to stay with the same company for a long time.

Today 38% of Americans believe they are their own brand and hold no allegiance to any employer, as their employers have show little allegiance to them.

We have become a nation of small businesses, mostly service industry, and we have become our own personal brands. We search for that 15 minutes of fame to help promote our brand, and gossip seems to rule the day.

Steve Rubel, EVP of Edelman stated duruing a recent presentation at the Mashable Connect 2011 as reported by Erica Swallow, that we are entering an era on the Internet, where users are looking to find “validated” sources within the mist of the information overload that we all experience.

I agree with Mr Rubel. In our HPR Social Media Marketing Seminars we offer two sociological reasons why people respond to social media marketing:

1) Social Validation: Social Validation occurs when consumers do not have enough information to make independent opinions and so hunt for external clues such as; popularity, trust, rankings, etc.

2) Social Badging: Social Badging occurs when people validate their persona through the purchase of brands, or by the organizations with which they align. (40% of people who join a facebook business page do it for Social Badging. Exact Target and CoTweet Study 2010).

As Mr. Rubel stated in his speech: “The reality is, there’s too much content and not enough time.”  He related a startling fact “more content is created in one day in 2011 than existed in entirety prior to 2003. It’s no wonder that people are looking for “validation”.

Edelman publishes an annual “Trust Barometer” which gauges attitudes towards business, governement, NGOs and media across 23 countries.

In 2006 their study found that people trusted their peers the most when forming opinions about brands. Rubel points out the rise of social media to explain this finding.

In 2011, the Trust Barometer showed a dynamic shift, with academics, experts and technicians becoming the most trusted sources. The trust in comments by peers has declined by 4% since 2009.

This shift in authority Rubel proposes that people in 2011 are searching for validation or authority in content, through a cloverleaf of different media:

  1. Traditional media which encompass the big media companies that have survived and thrived in the digital era
  2. Tradigital Media, which include digitally native media companies that are often niche-focused blogs and have high social amplification.
  3. Owned Media, this is content created by the brand themselves.
  4. Social Media Platforms such as Facebook and Twitter, driving increased engagement between consumers and brands and by pushing consumers to other trusted media spheres.

Rubel points out that there are five steps to using this new “validation” or “trust” clover leaf:

  1. Elevate your Experts: Those that have street-cred and have followers who respect their opinions already.
  2. Curate to Connect:  The word “curate,” lofty and once rarely spoken outside exhibition corridors or British parishes, has become a fashionable code word among the aesthetically minded, who seem to paste it onto any activity that involves culling and selecting. So in this aspect it means to search, obtain and code the most valid and important content in your field. Hence, becoming a trusted thought leader.
  3. Dazzle with Data: “People on the Internet do not read” Rubel says. They will read 20% of a Web page before moving on;  57% never come back to that page. “We are a blobal planet of fruit flies.” Data and informational must become more visually entertaining.
  4. Put Pubs on Hubs: Publish your company’s content where the fish are, rather than expecting the fish to find you.
  5. Ask & Answer: Be a thought leader, be a source of good information. Empower all of your staff to be thought leaders and encourage them to ask and answer as much as possible. It builds staff knowledge and respect.



  1. Great article! Thanks for sharing your research findings. My business associate and I are both higher education professors. We recently began including the “Professor” title in our business signature lines. We have both seen a noticeable level of shift in trust / respect from those we collaborate with as a result. Fascinating.

    • buzzmaster says:

      Professor Hilker (see respect immediately), thanks for your comment. I think it is a very valid observation, I am not sure where it is taking us but it will be an interesting ride. Thanks for taking the time to write. John

  2. Thanks for the food for thought.

    I can certainly understand why people may have turned from trusting their peers to experts. Peers may not have the best advice, especially for topics that concern modern folks. If you have to fend for yourself, you may be more likely to seek out what actually works. And now expert opinion is more easily available.

    Interesting to see how this effects word-of-mouth type marketing

    I wonder, as we become more self-reliant, and have more folks to choose from, we may pick experts that agree with us, confirmation bias.

    • buzzmaster says:

      Thanks for your comment John. I think you are right when you wonder if we might pick experts that agree with our view point. Hopefully we will still have been educated a little by reading the viewpoints of others, and in some instances maybe swayed. Cheers.

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