Are you an independent thinker?
Do you like to make up your own mind?
I like to see myself as a rebel. My ex-boss regularly accused me of insubordination.
I enjoy going against the grain. While most businesses pick blue or red as a corporate color, I decided to go for purple and orange. I know it’s not what everyone likes. But it does make my site stand out.
Enough of my bravado about not following the norm. Of course when I’m uncertain, I look for clues to indicate what I am supposed to do.
Ever considered why they use silly canned laughter on TV?
It’s the power of social proof. We think that jokes are funnier when other people laugh about them. Even if that laughter is clearly artificial we still tend to appreciate jokes more. Research has proven it.
In his book Influence Robert Cialdini describes social proof as the tendency to see an action as more appropriate when others are doing it. He also argues that social proof is more powerful when we’re uncertain what to do.
Have you heard stories about accidents where a group of bystanders does nothing? It’s sometimes referred to as bystander apathy. Everyone is looking for social proof to tell them what they’re supposed to do, because nobody is quite sure whether it’s an emergency or not. If nobody else is acting, then everyone assumes they don’t need to do anything.
On the web we often deal with uncertainty.
What should we read? What should we buy?
Design has a big impact on first impressions and whether we trust a site. But often we look for other clues – we read the posts highlighted as popular, and we browse the popular books on Amazon.
How to use social proof (even if your blog isn’t popular)
It’s often said that you should quote your reader numbers to encourage people to sign up for your blog updates. But that advice is nonsense if you have a low number of readers.
Your subscriber numbers need to be pretty high before they act as social proof. Derek Halpern tested various email sign-up forms and found that a form that stated join 14,752 others performed worse than a form without a number. I would have thought that 10k+ is a pretty high number, but it doesn’t appear to work.
Comments and social shares are of course another oft-quoted source of social proof. But what if you don’t get social shares or comments?
You might be blogging about a topic that people aren’t interested in sharing. You might not have promoted your blog that much. You might have just started a new blog. Can you still use social proof?
Firstly, you need to avoid the kind of social proof that leads to bystander apathy. Secondly, you need to find creative ways to show social proof. A few ideas:
- Consider using a social sharing plug-in that doesn’t show the number of tweets, likes, and plusses on your posts. Or don’t display social sharing buttons at all. Why do you need to? People don’t need buttons to share your posts.
- Don’t show social media buttons on pages that don’t get shared like your about page.
- Show how many social media followers you have to encourage people to connect. Be careful not to clutter your sidebar. You might want to show your social media connections only on your about page.
- Display popular posts in your sidebar. You can either use a plug-in or just decide which “popular” posts you want people to read. Sharon Tanton suggests that most popular posts attract more clicks than new posts.
- Show positive tweets as testimonials. Kristi Hines explains how to here.
- Display logos of websites you’ve written guest posts for, newspapers you’ve been quoted in, or of industry events you’ve spoken at. Or mention well-known customers. Always ask permission before displaying logos.
- Interview other experts in podcasts or videos. Ask smart questions and their expertise will rub off on you.
- Use the power of testimonials. Ask readers for feedback, and turn their answers into powerful testimonials.
- Use a quote from a reader to promote your newsletter. Laura Roeder has a “nameless” quote on her sign-up form: Yours is the only newsletter that I actually read. Read how Laura came up with this headline in this case study by VWO.
The crazy power of social proof
Let’s not forget: Social proof should not be your focus.
Don’t tweet your own posts twenty or thirty times to artificially boost your tweet count. Don’t worry so much about comments and shares.
Worrying about social proof can make you forget what blogging is about: sharing your knowledge, inspiring other people, building your authority, and gaining leads for your business.
Focus on helping and inspiring your audience because that’s how you engage potential customers and that’s how you earn their business.