Likes, Retweets, Comments & the Rise of the Validation Society

Not too long ago, my co-founder and I were deep in investor prep and product design (announcements coming soon) when we started talking about the emotional appeal and “stickiness” of our product. When you’re building a consumer-oriented product, creating an emotional connection with the user is central to success.

We were fascinated by the fantastic Plancast post-mortem by founder Mark Hendrickson. While the entire thing is worth a read, this is the paragraph that stuck out to me:

“Most social networks feed primarily on vanity, in that they allow people to share and tailor online content that makes them look good. They can help people communicate to others that they’ve attended impressive schools, built amazing careers, attended cool parties, dated attractive people, thought deep thoughts, or reared cute kids. The top-level goal for most people is to convince others they are the individuals they want to be, whether that includes being happy, attractive, smart, fun or anything else.”

Hendrickson nails it. Social networks cater to our emotional desire need for validation. It’s why, as my follows argue, that we strive to get As on our report cards, go to church or value trophies so highly.

I argue that modern society’s emphasis on validation has skyrocketed though, thanks to the rise of social media. We have entered the Age of the Validation Society.

Why do post photos on Facebook? Why do you tweet? Why do you check out your Klout score, even though you claim you never check it? The answer is simple: we get an emotional high every time somebody likes, retweets or comments on the things we post.

We always want another hit. Validation is the crack, Internet is the crack pipe and Facebook & Twitter are the dealers. Yes, I just compared Facebook and Twitter to drug dealers.

You can argue that you post on Facebook to keep your family up-to-date about your life. You can argue that you tweet to build up your personal brand. But in the end, you’re just like every other person on a planet: you love it when people start sharing one of your blog posts like mad, and you’re disappointed when nobody comments on that witty thing you just posted to your friends.

Whether the rise of the Validation Society is a good thing… I don’t know. But it’s real, and great consumer products need to keep this trend in mind. It’s something my co-founder and I are going to have to nail if we’re going to succeed as startup founders.

Additional thought: One of my followers raised a good point: validation is more valued in America than it is in most other cultures. Or perhaps it’s a different type of validation. I’d be curious to hear why the Japanese love Twitter so much, or why Facebook is HUGE in Indonesia.