It takes a pretty rare person to be a complete trailblazer and go against the wisdom of the crowds. The overwhelming majority of people aren't completely individualistic in most aspects of their lives, but they use the wisdom of the crowds in some way to shape their decision making process about which books to read, which restaurants to go eat out at, and which Facebook pages to follow.
Every day in the real world
Wikipedia defines social proof as the following.
Social proof, also known as informational social influence, is a psychological phenomenon where people assume the actions of others in an attempt to reflect correct behavior for a given situation. This effect is prominent in ambiguous social situations where people are unable to determine the appropriate mode of behavior, and is driven by the assumption that surrounding people possess more knowledge about the situation.
In a very broad nutshell, what this convoluted definitions means is that pretty much every day in the real world and in business, people try and use various indirect means to enhance how the public perceives them. Sometimes people think of these as growth hacks. Some simple examples of how this is done follows.
- Jam-packed nightclubs in trendy areas don't just magically spawn from fairy dust. Tactics like roping off crowds and making them stand in front of the club and waiting out in the cold is one marketing tactic that they use to enhance how popular they appear.
- Some businessmen buy fancy clothing that they cannot afford and rent luxury cars they don't need just before they meet with a venture capitalist firm in order to present themselves as larger than life and already successful.
- A large nationally known brand shells out stock options or big cash for a well-known celebrity spokesman to go and pitch for them. George Foreman made much of his money selling grills, not beating other guys up. The legendary William Shatner entered the hundred-million dollar club not by being the Captain of the Enterprise or talking funny, but by being the Priceline Negotiator.
- Single-person owner and operated small businesses litter their websites with references to "we" and "our team" to misrepresent the size of their business and earn more respect.
In many respects, the social arena on the internet is similar.
How the internet works
You could live to be a thousand years old and get glued in front of the fastest internet connection imaginable and still not have enough time to learn about and fully appreciate the incredible amount of great content, social media posts, discussion board debates, and other interesting things going on in online culture. Part of the way that you personally distinguish between what's interesting enough for you to spend time learning about is social proof.
Think about it. When you do a search on Facebook for interesting music pages or bands to check out, you have no way to at a glance compare them and see which of their pages you might like best. But what you can compare is the total number of likes that they have. You're much more likely to click on a page that has a large number of likes than a business that doesn't have enough fans on its page. This is a huge part of the reason why there are so many brands that are looking to get more Facebook likes and companies that can provide Facebook likes. More social proof in this respect is something that can help you sell yourself to the media, potential customers, and anybody who visits your page. Everything from Twitter to other social networks works in a similar way - you use some of these popularity stats to easily compare and contrast. Google's page rank algorithm can even be thought of a giant social proof algorithm, for what it's worth.