Why Is Positive Social Proof Important?
You’re walking down a busy city street and turn the corner only to see a small crowd of people all looking up in the air, at a point across and above the street. What are the odds you’ll be able to stop yourself before looking up to see what they’re all staring it? I know for me, it’s almost impossible…and I’ve tried!
Similarly, in movies and TV shows, it’s easier to laugh along when we hear the show’s laugh-track. I once watched a funny old movie with no laugh-track, and the child I was watching with didn’t know what was funny. We take our cues from others.
It’s the same online. One of the main reasons that people make a choice is because they have “social proof” that others have done so before. It’s a strong motivator.
Whether you are a business, a blogger, or an individual with career aspirations, you should be harnessing the power of positive social proof. The concept is not a new one, but its importance continues to grow both for businesses and individuals.
Wikipedia defines it this way: “Social proof is a psychological phenomenon where people assume the actions of others in an attempt to reflect correct behavior for a given situation.”
Dr. Robert Cialdini’s famous work on persuasion called this phenomenon out as a particularly effective marketing tactic. His book Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion is a must-read classic.
We tend to adopt as correct the behavior of others around us.
Positive social proof:
Helps you stand out. Competition isn’t slowing down, isn’t letting up, and isn’t taking a break. If you want your business to get noticed, then social proof is one way to do it. With more sources competing for our attention every day, it’s vital to differentiate your offering from everything else.
Improves your success metrics. Studies show that we are more likely to share something that others are also sharing. We watch what we see others are watching. Visit a new town and you see two restaurants side-by-side. One has an empty lot and the other has a line wrapped around the block. Which one appeals to you?
Builds credibility. Unless you are already an established expert, a bestselling author, or a of host a worldwide talk show, it helps to build credibility. In Nashville, I see many up and coming music artists using quotes from famous musicians. Authors routinely ask for endorsements for book jacket quotes. Businesses include testimonials from others. All of these are ways to differentiate and add credibility.
YOU Need Social Proof
Some of you may say, “Sure, I can see that building social proof matters for a business. But it’s not something I need to think about.”
If you want to increase your chances of promotion, see higher raises, or reduce your chances of getting let go from your organization, you should use some elements of social proof. Do you have a marketing plan for YOU? Today, you must promote yourself.
You don’t need to blatantly self-promote. No one likes an egotistical, self-centered know-it-all. But, if I want the boss to choose me for a new project, how do I keep my name out there? How do I stand out? It may not be a blog, but it may be that you wrote an article in your company newsletter or an industry publication. It may be that you are speaking at a customer event. And there is nothing better than the word of mouth social proof because you delivered a key project or pitched in to help when it wasn’t even your responsibility. When your colleagues are buzzing about your performance, that is the best social proof possible. There are many ways to build your social proof as an individual.
Your Website Benefits From Social Proof
Recently, one marketer sent me a list of the ways I have used positive social proof on this blog. Here is what she shared (with my explanation).
Shares. On the top of each post, you can see the number of shares. Here’s where I ran into a problem last week. Because I have preferred Twitter to other social media, my Twitter shares are higher than others like LinkedIn or Facebook. Recently, Twitter made a strange, surprising, and I think wrong move by removing counts from everyone’s websites. That turns some posts that were shared by the thousands to showing nothing overnight. Why they did this is answered in a strange post, but I still don’t quite understand it. And, for the record, it alienated a large community of content creators who are now rethinking strategies for Facebook and LinkedIn over Twitter.
Does it matter? Adele recently smashed records with the release of 25, becoming the best-selling album in the US of any single week. Large numbers create even more numbers. What would have happened if just as her sales took off Nielsen made a decision like Twitter and just zeroed out the sales?
Awards. These are listed on the right side. I haven’t included all of the kind awards, but I did include many of them. They are a form of social proof.
Interviews. I didn’t think about this before, but the interviews I post here are a form of social proof. This consultant pointed out prominent, in-person interviews with a range of people (especially celebrities, politicians, best-selling authors, platform experts, and sports stars) are all a part of social proof. It’s called celebrity social proof.
Comments. This is an interesting one. I love comments and have written about why it’s important to comment on your favorite blogs. I enjoy the comments because it lets me see what’s working and what’s not. Many prominent bloggers have eliminated comments in the last year. I continue to leave them up, though am considering dropping them. One reason they are dropped? Since most people stopped commenting on websites some time ago, then you send negative social proof by leaving them up.
Alexa. This one is mainly for other bloggers, who track Alexa scores. Alexa ranks traffic based on traffic estimates. Many “top” lists are generated by using Alexa scores. The only problem is that these scores are based only on those who have downloaded the Alexa toolbar into their browser. Maybe an indicator, but certainly not definitive.
Followers. How many followers you have on various platforms is a strong indicator of social proof. I’m always amused when someone sends me an email, claiming to be an expert on social media and pitching services to help my company. And then the credibility is destroyed when you see that they have 32 followers. In that case, social proof of follower numbers matter. In many other instances, it doesn’t.
I love this quote by, I think, Tom Peters:
That is so true.
This consultant’s top 3, free, unasked for recommendations for this blog?
- Add endorsements throughout the blog.
- Increase my engagement on Facebook.
- Add the main media outlets I have been interviewed in.
And then, of course, she had a number of ways I should immediately monetize the traffic, adding ads, etc. All of which she would handle if I would become a client. Clever strategy, but no thanks, not now.
Positive social proof is important to individuals, to organizations, to blogs like this one. It can be a powerful tool when used correctly. At the same time, let’s keep this in perspective.
Our life is not measured by follower counts, Alexa rankings, Klout scores, number of shares, or any of these other social metrics. Our success in life isn’t measured by traffic.
Similarly, we aren’t measured by our titles, our job descriptions, or our LinkedIn profiles.
We are measured by our impact. We are measured by our influence. We are measured by the positive change we create in the world.
And so Twitter may have caused a stir with their strange decision to eliminate share counts. Facebook may play with their sharing algorithms. Follower counts go up and down. Traffic spikes and disappears.
But our impact on others endures. Let’s make sure it doesn’t waver or wane. Here’s to your positive social proof.