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The Psychology of Social Media Voting

I’ve been thinking a lot recently about what motivates people to vote of social news sites like Digg & Sphinn. Common sense suggests it’s just that the users appreciate the quality of the content they are voting on. But there’s a lot more too it than that.

While I’m no psychology expert, but I’ve spent some time reading the opinions of some. I won’t bore you with the details of the long winded dissertations and papers because in true social media style I’ve summarised there findings into six reasons people vote for content. So you can create content that people can’t help but vote for.

Further an Agenda – its true people vote on content they want other people to come into contact with so they can convince them of their point of view.

Those who use Digg or Sphinn regularly will appreciate there are certain people who want to talk people into their point of view, so they vote up content which shares that opinion and down content that doesn’t.

Whether it’s the Anti-SEOmoz contingent on Sphinn or the Apple Fanboys on digg they have similar purposes.

You have a couple of options when creating content for these communities take a similar tact or dodge the topic completely.

To Network – there is plenty of evidence that deliberate reciprocal voting takes place, but many people participate in a far more subtle form of collusion where their aim is to network with other users.

We’ve all been there, it might be you vote on certain users submissions because you’d like them to visit your blog or vote up a submission of someone who has voted on your work in the past.

As a genuine member of the community you’ll over time build up this good will, though if you are encouraging favours, don’t ask to often, people will quickly get bored. It’ll harm your reputation and if a pattern does develop you won’t seem the same rewards.

To Get Good Content in Return – With social news sites the idea is everyone benefits from the shared workload. Many people will feel compelled to vote to do there bit to receive high quality content. If you can appeal to this community spirit when producing content you’re bound to benefit.

Feeling of Control – the reason people love voting sites is because they set the agenda, even the owners can’t really control the sites output completely. The Digg cracked code is a good example of people using their control.

While you might be able to benefit from jumping on a bandwagon like this once in a while there are ways you can appeal to users desire to feel in control, whether its voicing a common feeling or just bending the rules a little there’s always an opportunity to take advantage of this motivation to vote.

To Feel Part of Community – have you ever wondered why post with lot’s of votes quickly accumulate even more. It’s partially because people like show there are part of the community. It’s the same reason Sphinn posts about Sphinn do well and Digg posts about Digg. It’s always worth considering appealing to social news sites’ vanity

Enjoy Content – you can over mystify why people vote (I’ve done a fair bit above) but you’ve got to remember their voting cause they like what you’ve written. Do you best job at producing something amazing and the voting ‘should’ take care of itself.

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  • Chris Kilvington on January 15, 2008

    Hmm, not altogether sure about posting criticisms just for links. Seems like a risky business to me. A bit like selling your soul to the SEO Devil. I think he exists.

    That said, if you’ve got a beef… why not? Get your criticism out there and you might get some backing from some fellow consumers. There’s nothing worse than ringing a call centre to complain, just to spend £9 in phone charges listening to Michael Bolton on repeat.

    I think opinions matter when it comes to business too. So, perhaps it’s more about what you say than the link itself?

  • john andrews on January 15, 2008

    It’s easy to label something an “attack hook” in hindsight and build a case of circumstantial evidence to support the label — like “look, he got links!”. Typical conspiracy theory stuff. Often that’s all these “attack hook” claims are – weak attempts to distract from the core (often valid) criticism. And that often works. I’m sure some of the slicker marketing folks actually practice something they call “The Attack Hook”, as your link suggests, but I doubt it is as common as some imaginations would like to believe.

    Without valid critical thinking, many “authorities” would successfully bend issues in their favor far beyond reasonable. And correcting things at that point would be very costly to society. So some “checks and balances” are required.

    This is a perfect example – left unchecked, that Search Engine Land post could have led to the destruction of the wired wiki, which in turn would dampen innovation (as others realize it is a waste of time to try something new because the spammers will kill it). Once checked by criticism (including mine), the article was adjusted, issues were debated and clarified, and apologies were delivered.

    You are completely right to suggest there are avenues to pursue concerns, often more appropriate than posting in public.

  • Kelvin on January 15, 2008

    Chris, I def wouldn’t rec anyone beef-ing for beef’s sake, but if your problem is genuine and heartfelt it can be worth venting the spleen, but you’ve got to be aware of the consequences

    John, I didn’t mean to imply you were being critical purely to attract links, I think your motivations are honourable.

    But a search marketing professional like yourself is likely to understand how an individual can benefit from being the one to keep authorities in check.

    The point of the blog post was really to point how and when it’s okay to create a critical item (like both dannys original post and yours)

  • Danny Sullivan on January 22, 2008

    It is a perfect example, but also on how you don’t necessarily have to do a post to get action at all.

    Wired called me after our article was posted (and I’m pretty sure before John did his post). They were concerned about the issues we’d raised, but as I explained in my subsequent apology, I became concerned about the trouble we’d caused in talking with them. That’s what prompted the change to the article and the initial apology within it.

    Wired could have come out with an attack on us. They didn’t. Any anyone who thought our article was wrong could have commented within it to bring it to our attention (a few did) or dropped us a private email saying “What’s up with that” (no one did).

    The point is this, I guess. It’s fair to publicly criticize any company if you feel you need to spread the word to correct a problem you perceive. You can even do that without actually contacting the company, though you will be on more solid ground if you’ve actually done that.

    But if you’re trying to correct a problem, you don’t always have to take the public route.

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