06/08/2015 03:56 pm ET Updated Jun 08, 2016

Social Proof: What Your Facebook 'Like' Numbers Really Mean

At a very early age, people generally want to be a part of the majority mindset. Children often use the less-than-persuasive argument of "but all my friends are doing it" to which mom's generally quip "if all your friends jumped off the bridge would you jump too?" Mom's' lesson of "think for yourself" is a good one. Until you grow up and become a consumer.

While thinking for yourself is always your best option there is also the need to make informed decisions.

That's where social proof comes into play. Nowadays, people are consistently turning to reviews, testimonies, and the endorsement of others when making a decision buy a product or utilize a service. From buying a $70k automobile to getting Chinese takeout; we want to know what others think and what experiences they have had in the past.

There are many types of social proof.

Celebrity endorsements are a huge business and a way of winning the trust of consumers who may have zero knowledge about a brand. Think about the impact William Shatner's thumbs-up had on Won't it be interesting to see what happens to sales at Lincoln now that Matthew McConaughey has made it one of the sexiest vehicles out there?

Social proof is nothing new. McDonald's knew about the psychology long before it became a buzzword and used it as a great marketing strategy. In 1962, McDonald's introduced the Golden Arches logo. Depending on your age, you may remember a social proof number under their logo; from 1 million back in the 1960s to the "Billions and Billions Served" that you see today.

Is social proof on social media really proof at all?

Instagram hearts, Twitter follows and Facebook likes are all considered forms of social proof, however are they as accurate as people would like to believe?

Remember when Ashton Kutcher and his million Twitter followers were all the buzz. Even if they weren't fans, people began to follow Kutcher so they could be a part of history in the making. Everyone else was doing it, so why not?

On Facebook, businesses use a fan page which allows consumer to "like" the page as a stamp of approval and to engage with the brand. Sounds great but there is a downside. Not everyone who "likes" a page does it with the intention of actually engaging. Giveaways, favor for a friend, peer pressure, and "just because" are just a few reasons that people will like a page they have no interest in at all. This action creates an inflated number of "likes" and therefore an inaccuracy in social proof.

So how do you know which brands have a true consumer stamp of approval on Facebook?

Look beyond the numbers. When looking at brands on Facebook, the "likes" that the fan page has received is not the only thing to take into consideration. Take a peek at:
  • How often the company shares content?
  • Do you consider the content to be worthy of your time or is it fluff?
  • Are people engaging with the content via shares, comments, and likes?

A business Facebook Fan page should not be there simply to chase the numbers. It is there to be a quality go-to resource in the niche/industry that they represent.

As a consumer, do businesses a favor and don't "like" them just for the sake of liking them. Like them if you truly endorse their product or service and want to get their updates in your timeline.

As a business, provide quality and consistent information on your fan page. Engage with your followers. Don't let artificial numbers inflate your ego. 200 engaged fans is far more valuable than 5,000 disingenuous "likes" from people who will never like, comment, or share any of your content.

Social media is an extremely powerful marketing tool. Used incorrectly, it will be a waste of time, energy, and financial resources. Used properly, it can be as influential as a billboard in Times Square.