I’d love to be writing about my brand’s tremendous social media success, but the story hasn’t quite gone that way. It would feel great to spruik the strategy behind amassing an online tribe, or even to share how exciting it was to become an ‘accidental’ social darling, one of those brands discovered globally, when worn by the Duchess of Sussex or Kim Kardashian. Who doesn’t wish for immediate website melt-down as the world competes to purchase and be seen wearing the same garment or accessory?

Turns out, my start-up is not famous and certainly not Instafamous. It doesn’t even have enough followers to demonstrate ‘social proof’. Apparently that’s a thing. Business folk get unsolicited sales emails and EDMs every day, but not all those emails will deliver a cracking backhander. “We love your content and product. We think it’s a winner. But to be taken seriously, you need us to help take you further so that you can demonstrate social proof”. Burn.

When you’re trying to manoeveur around the notorious algorithms of social platforms to grow your digital presence, being told that you haven’t made the grade shreds your confidence. Basically that email told me exactly what I suspected, Instagram’s algorithm has outsmarted me and I’m never going to win without employing the kind of tactics that as a parent you’d actively discourage your kids from using either at school or on a sporting field.

Demonstrating ‘social proof’ was a term new to me. But it was easy to understand, you’re a total loser. Perhaps it’s less about me, the receiver of the email from a US marketing agency and more about human nature, that people are, as one of my friends likes to say, lemmings. Social proof is a concept that means unless a ton of people are doing the same thing or following you, then it’s not worth doing or following.

There’s a thing known in psychology as “the lemming effect.” Lemmings, rather than other rodents are used to illustrate this, because apparently they follow each other to the brink. Like over a cliff to their deaths. Or where ever the mob goes. A trait observable in humans – from regular Joes to sophisticated and educated elites. It’s not a class or cultural phenomenon. Where one lemming goes, others go, too. Think trending on Twitter or Giphy. Basically, humans want to be there, be seen to be doing what the cool kids are doing. Like following fashions – from linguistics (e.g. latest buzz words and jargon) to fashion (yellow, so very 2018). ‘To a human lemming, the logic behind an opinion doesn’t count as much as the power and popularity behind it’.

You don’t have to be Inspector Clouseau to see a lemming effect in social media. The rise of influencers is changing the landscape of otherwise benign and truly ‘social’ democratic channels to mini fiefdoms. There is a tipping point, a certain number of followers means that more will follow.

Just because there’s a queue waiting around the block doesn’t mean it’s the only cool nightclub in town. But, how are you going to prove it? It seems to be a big challenge for many start-ups, it’s a conundrum of visibility.

In one week recently, an industry colleague advised me to buy followers and  someone admitted they’d engaged a marketing consultancy to implement a ‘follow – unfollow’ strategy to grow followers. It worked. Personally, I’ve experienced the dejection of having new followers almost immediately unfollow. It’s not something you’d do in the ‘real’ world to friends and other connections, so why do it on Instagram? Churn isn’t always good for the soul.

Perhaps I just don’t get it, maybe I suck at social media. But I do understand that in trying to build your business, you need to think about your values and what’s at the heart of your brand. Actions and activities that aren’t aligned with that core value just don’t feel right.