Don’t just talk about power — show it.

Next time you’re waiting to cross a busy road, take a look at the people waiting to cross with you. More often than not, if one person risks a dash across the oncoming traffic, a few more will follow. This is what psychologists call “social proof”, and it’s the power behind every successful social platform.

Social proof is a psychological phenomenon where people look to the actions of others for assurance, or “proof”, that the decision they intend to make is the correct one.

Social platforms feature things like retweets, likes and followers, because these are metrics that demonstrate social proof. They’re responsible for encouraging and perpetuating consistent social interaction.

But in recent years, a curious trend has begun. Social metrics are becoming increasingly popular outside social media.

GeoCities — home of the visitor counter. And the animated mail box.

Consider the counter. Gone are the days when “visitor counters” (along with animated mail boxes) were the sole preserve of GeoCities pages — counters are now mainstream, and increasingly abstract.

Visit any content-heavy website (we’re looking at you Buzzfeed) and you’ll see abstract counters everywhere — measuring everything from an article’s “social heat”, to the number of loops completed by a Vine. The counter has become the standard unit of social proof, and brands are using them to perpetuate user engagement.

With counters having a moment, we started to consider the power of social proof. Could we develop a website totally designed around real-time feedback?

The counter's popularity, illustrated.

Recently we were asked to propose a digital strategy that “expressed power”, so we took the opportunity push our thoughts on social metrics to their logical extreme.

We considered website governed by two different sets of social metrics: “contextual feedback” (membership, traffic, followers etc.) — figures that gave visitors a broad overview of the organisation’s power, and “user feedback” (petition signatures, likes, retweets etc.) — figures that helped users understand the organisation’s influence.

With conspicuous social metrics, the website could present every user with immediate social proof — assurance that their actions with the organisation were not in vain. For the first time users could see how their individual actions affirmed an organisation’s collective goal. Instead of talking about power, influence and action, social metrics gave us the power to show it.

Judging by the effectiveness of this model, we’ll bet you’ll be seeing social metrics increasingly dictate the development of the web — better dust off that animated counter!