Credibility and Social Capital

Is social media more persuasive than mass media? Do we spend social capital when we persuade?

Branding Social change

I’ve been thinking a lot about social proof, defined as the tendency for people to adopt the behaviors of everyone else when the appropriate thing to do seems ambiguous. (wikipedia)

Social media has a unique advantage over traditional media in garnering persuasive positioning though social proof because the audience has an immediate understanding of how fast an idea is moving or how many people are willing to get behind it through numbers of Fans, Followers or viewers listed beside the media piece. As Fogg (2008) suggests, “when an experience gains momentum, people take notice and are more likely to join in, even without an explicit invitation from friends.” (p. 9) This viral momentum is much harder to understand in traditional media where one can’t immediately determine how many people consumed and reacted either positively or negatively to a situation, unless the media outlet initiates feedback from the audience through call-ins, letters to the editor or polls.

However there are some interesting examples where traditional media is able to get their arms around social proof, quite eloquently, specifically with respect to political campaigns.

An eloquent example of social proof in action with traditional media is the coverage of live electoral polls, indicating which candidate has the most voter support in specific regions. In swing states such as Ohio, with a large number of independent voters, it would be interesting to see how much social proof dictated their final votes.

Do we run the risk of spending social capital if we use it to persuade? Possibly, depending on the context. If persuasion is defined as the act of trying to get someone to do something, it’s very possible to push your social capital to the point of tuning you out. Wellman et. al (2001) suggest that people who are online a great deal have greater exposure to annoying behavior (such has repeated messages of persuasion) and therefore “[e]xperiencing such distasteful computer-mediated communication will weaken commitment to online community”. (p. 448) This is situation is ramped in the small business community where people join groups to “sell their stuff” rather than to contribute to the conversation. It’s amazing to see how quickly they loose their social capital as well as any credibility they may have come with.

· Fogg, B. J. (2008). Mass Interpersonal Persuasion: An Early View of a New Phenomenon. Paper presented at the Third International Conference on Persuasion, Berlin.

· Ellison, N., Steinfield, C., & Lampe, C. (2007). The Benefits of Facebook ‘‘Friends:’’ Social Capital and College Students’ Use of Online Social Network Sites. Journal of Computer Mediated Communication, 12 (4), 1143-1168.

· Steinfield, C. (2009). Bowling Online: Social Networking and Social Capital within the Organization. Paper presented at the C&T, University Park, PA.

· Wellman, B., Haase, A. Q., Witte, J., & Keith, H. (2001). Does the Internet Increase, Decrease, or Supplement Social Capital?: Social Networks, Participation, and Community Commitment. American Behavioral Scientist, 45(3), 436-455. doi:

· Social proof – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. (n.d.). . Retrieved April 9, 2010, from

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