New research has tried to answer the complicated question: Is something popular because it’s good or because it’s just popular? The answer, especially in relation to social media, may surprise you: If you click “Like” on something you read online then it’ll make everyone who reads it just a little more positively disposed toward it no matter the actual quality of the article itself.
This is a sort of herd behavior, perhaps of the same type that sees groups of people follow each other through a single door in the front of a big department store, but it’s not symmetrical. The research also found that negative reactions expressed online won’t persuade other readers to dislike the content in question, and may actually prompt people to add positive feelings to counterbalance the negativity.
The study was carried out with the help of an unnamed online site that allowed the researchers (led by Sinan K. Aral of MIT, and researchers from NYU and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem) to slightly change the ratings of comments on-site, with an arbitrary up or down voting the moment after the comment was filed. The figures revealed that a person reading the comment was 32% more likely to add an up-vote if it had already been artificially voted up, although there was no corresponding adjustment to negative voting.
What we may draw from the study is that hype is an effective marketing tool, which may not be a surprise to companies like Apple that sprinkle its PR campaigns with words like “magical.” Maybe Steve Jobs’s famous “reality distortion field” actually wasn’t such a distortion after all, and that’s why Tim Cook‘s still keeping the habit up.