Social Actions Beat Social Proof

Over the last week or so I thought I would try a little experiment … after all, social media and its immediacy allows us to test and learn simply and easily, right?

I wanted to test whether different phrasings would impact click through rates from social media sites to destination addresses.

Now, usually I either share a link without introduction, or explain that I was “reading” an article with its link.

Now we know that 90% of people visiting your website will just “read” or “lurk”, that 9% will modify, comment or add to your content and that only 1% will drive activity. The 90-9-1 Principle is what Jakob Nielsen calls Participation Inequality.

So, in effect, announcing that I was “reading” an article planted me firmly in the world of the “lurker”.

But the concept of social proof – whereby one’s actions shapes the actions of those around us – suggests that my “reading” of an article would open the door to others who were also of the “lurking mindset”. So what happens if we re-shape that interaction? What if I was “commenting on” rather than simply “reading”? What if I was “pre-ordering”? How are these “social actions” playing out and are they a different order of magnitude?

Based on the analytics coming out of it seems that there is an impact – and it is in the 20%-25% range. Taking out the spikes for particularly hot topics I normally average about 150-180 clicks per link. But using the “commenting on” prefix I am regularly hitting higher levels of between 200-230 clicks. Over the coming days I will try variations on this theme:

  • Tweeting at different times of day
  • Re-tweeting the same link at different times
  • Using different social actions

The cool thing is, that a little attention to your choice of language and the framing of an outcome can have a positive impact. And I have a feeling that it may well have an impact on the types of audiences (participants rather than lurkers) that you are reaching. Now, THAT would be brilliant.


  1. Love this. It”s always been true that explicitly stating an action is more likely to prompt that action in the reader – hence why calls to action are the cornerstone of copy writing. Even the much derided “please retweet” appended to a tweet has been shown to increase retweets.

  2. It’s a fun experiment … and one that you can do “at home” ;)

  3. I think that there is a “range of credibilities” associated with whether you give your attention and time to just reading, or reading and commenting or buying, and that’s why it attracts people who may otherwise have just scanned your tweet. Nice experiment, and as Kimota says it’s funny how those most basic calls to action still actually work, and drive some action.
    Walter @adamson

  4. Thank you very much for writing this article. I had not really considered my lurking behaviours prior to reading this. I have decided to try and actively consume on a more regular basis and leave behind the lurker me. I have referenced you in my blog post “Social Proof” on my site.
    Many thanks once again,
    Nephthys Nile.

  5. Excellent! Adding to the online conversation can be hugely rewarding (for everyone). Glad to see you stepping out of the shadows!

  6. Very informative and useful post. This will help a lot to me as a new one in blogging. This idea enhances my capability. . Thanks for sharing this and its a very big help for me..

  7. I heard a while back that Facebook were going to leverage social actions by introducing new “verbs” to their like button. This clearly hasn’t happened yet, but think it will certainly be the next big thing to hit the Opengraph.
    Ps. I really enjoyed the 90-9-1 theory, seems totally plausible.

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