Recently, Well Done rolled out a redesigned version of our literary webzine Punchnel’s. The new site features a nifty plug-in that aggregates the number of “shares” each post gets. I recently wrote a piece that got a whole lot of shares—so many that I began to doubt the number. Were that many people really sharing my post?

Turns out that they weren’t. Not technically, anyway.

The Punchnel’s plug-in labels Facebook Shares, Likes and Comments, Tweets, and Google +1s all as “shares.” As of this writing, my post has 3248 shares. But in reality, it breaks down like this:

Facebook:

  • Likes: 1850
  • Shares: 791
  • Comments: 563

Tweets: 34

Google +1: 10

To my mind, that’s only 835 actual shares. I don’t think of a like as a share. I definitely don’t think of a comment as a share. So I brought it up to our digital team. They saw my point, but they said that in the vernacular of internet marketing it was perfectly acceptable to lump all of these actions under the term share.

But the issue kept bugging me. And it especially bugged me after a local radio station blogged about my article making a big deal of its share count. Weren’t we using the term share loosely—maybe so loosely that it was a little deceptive? I posed the question to a couple of my friends who work in the tech industry. Their take, in a nutshell: Yes, it’s kind of deceptive. It’s probably OK, though, because nobody probably cares.

But I care. And according to Isla McKetta, who writes about this stuff for Moz, I should listen to my gut. “As much as our internet marketing culture is data driven, there are so many ways to lie with statistics,” McKetta said. “If something feels deceptive to you, then that’s a good measure, and I support as much transparency and openness about the source of presented numbers as possible.”

I also support transparency and openness, especially in marketing. And make no mistake: a share counter is a marketing tool—one that’s designed to drive traffic through social proof.

Thirty years ago, Robert Cialdini famously applied the theory social proof to marketing. His argument was that you could persuade people to take a desired action by exposing them to other people taking that same action. Today, Cialdini’s thinking around social proof is enjoying a revival of sorts. TechCrunch has coined it “the new marketing.” Forbes says it’s a key way to increase online sales, noting that, “the number of Facebook Likes shown on a landing page has been positively linked to an increased conversion rate when all the other landing page elements were identical.”

Share counters set the wheels of social proof in motion. When people see a piece of content that has been read or shared a lot, they’re more likely to read or share it, too. That’s why using a verb like share (which denotes a very specific action) to describe all social media activity around your post—even negative comments—is wrong. Whether intentional or not, it comes off as an attempt to manipulate your audience into valuing your content more than they otherwise might.

So we’ve removed the word from the Punchnel’s social media counter. We all agree that share has a very specific meaning to most people. And our audience is comprised of most people, not just internet marketers. We want to be honest and transparent with them, even if, as my friends suggested, they don’t care all that much.

We are, however, sticking with one big number that aggregates all of the social media activity around a post. But we’re going to call that number “Social Buzz.” After all, what we’re really measuring is the level of attention a post is receiving from readers—not shares. Buzz is a short, snappy word that conveys that.

It’s a small thing, sure. But it’s a matter of principle, and principles matter. We aren’t shy about sharing ours. And we believe that our actions, however small, should support them.