You’re walking down the street and the shop in the corner has a big glowing sign that says, “Marketing geniuses. We can pack any business with customers, leverage cutting-edge technology, make the world talk about you and get customers to run screaming to hand over their life-savings.”
Wow, nice promise. Global domination in a day.
Then, you peer in the window and see a dimly lit office, beat up furniture, a single person behind a desk, an IBM 386 on the desktop, a rotary phone, dust all over the place and the guy behind the desk kicked back reading a newspaper, drinking coffee and having a leisurely lunch at 2pm.
You bet. All the subtle cues, both what’s there and what’s not there, are screaming that the claims made in the window sign are more smoke and mirrors than guaranteed marketing magic.
- If they’re so good, why is there only one guy?
- Why is he having coffee and reading the paper in the middle of the afternoon?
- Why is the computer off and the phone not ringing?
- Why is his computer from the dark-ages?
- Where are the testimonials, reviews and clippings that line the windows of successful shops?
- Why have I never heard about them in marketing-circles?
Where’s the proof?
There’s an old saying in personal-development and even in business…fake it until you make it. And, there are times where that’s appropriate.
Problem is, there are other times where the substantial volume of direct, indirect and social proof strongly contradict your claims, undermine your credibility and, rather than bolstering your authority and appeal, make you look downright silly and untrustworthy. They reveal you as a fake.
I’ve been seeing this happen more and more in the world of blogging and social-media lately.
Don’t get me wrong, I still consider myself very much a newbie blogger and social-media user, but I DO know a thing or two about direct-marketing, PR, small business and the psychology of persuasion and sales.
And, it wouldn’t hurt for anyone who gets into online business, marketing or platform-building to learn a bit about a little topic called…
Social proof–the DNA of belief.
Social proof is the combined effect of the many indirect elements or circumstances that lead people, especially prospects, to believe that what you are saying is not total B.S. If you work it really well, social proof can even make people believe you’re worth MORE than the blah, blah, blah that appears in your materials. This is true for business-owners, pundits, professionals and, yes, even social-medialites and bloggers.
What are major types of social proof in the online/blogging world?
- RSS/Feedcount – how many subscribers do you have? Depending on your niche, this number can either support or shred claims of value and expertise. For example, ProBlogger.net posts and boasts more than 45,000 RSS subscribers. This makes you think, “if so many people subscribe, they must know something about blogging.”
- Traffic – If you’re traffic is huge, you are probably happy to disclose it, but, if not, people can still get a good beat on it by using the Alexa Toolbar and browser add-ons. For the first year, the popular bloggers’ blog, DoshDosh.com, did not post its RSS count, but it’s Alexa rank revealed a high level of traffic. And, traffic is social proof of perceived-value.
- Google Page Rank – Google assigns every indexed web page a relevance rank called Page Rank (PR). Does your PR validate your claims or popularity or expertise?
- Google organic search – Does your blog/website pull up near the top or on the front page of organic search results for your most important keywords?
- Comment volume & quality – how many comments do you get, how in-depth are they? Successful-blog.com’s Liz Strauss is legendary for posts that lead to hundreds of comments.
- Design – is your theme/design custom, attractive or is it either unattractive, unprofessional or one that everyone else uses, leaving it completely undifferentiated?
- Testimonials – Yes, if I say I am great, I am just being an idiot, but if a dozen others say it, it’s gospel. Remarkablogger.com’s Michael Martine features testimonials for his blog-consulting services right on the front page.
- Press/Media/Big Bloggers – These are like testimonials on steroids, if the press or other major bloggers say it, it simply must be true (or at least you’re important enough to be on their radar). So, when Lifehacker’s Gina Trapani says take a look or Guy Kawasaki says go play at Penelope Trunk’s Brazen Careerist, people say, “wow, Guy and Gina approve and they’re pretty smart, busy people.”
- Content quality – Is your content high-value or rambling nonsense? Is your blog a go-to resource, like Brian Clark’s Copyblogger, Naomi Dunford’s IttyBiz.com, Anita Campbell’s SmalBizTrends.com or James Chartrand’s MenWithPens.ca? Your information doesn’t have to be long, it just has to deliver value, like Seth Godin’s short, yet insightful riffs. Enough value to get people talking, that’s where the social aspect comes in.
- Content/ad ratio – do you have substantially more content than advertising? This suggests you may be more interested in how much money you can take from the community than how much value you can add. It reads as spammy.
- Technorati rank/backlinks – What is your technorati rank, how many other sites have recently linked to yours and are they popular or not? These days, too, being listed in AllTop.com is emerging as in interesting source for social proof.
- Social media tags – Some bloggers place social media tags/buttons that show how many votes a particular article has received as a way to facilitate voting. Digg and Sphinn buttons that show vote counts are pretty common. This may help, during a post’s “hot period.” And, if it hits the frontpage or gets a ton of votes, the high vote-count can serve as social proof of popularity. But, if the article doesn’t make it or gets very few votes, it acts as negative social proof…take the tag down.
- Claim-specific validators – What other industry-specific factors might be used to prove value? For example, if you claim to be a social media expert, like Chris Brogan, Tamar Weinberg, Steve Rubel or Muhammad Saleem, how well-established is your presence and following on the major social media hubs? If you’re an SEO, do you rank well? if you teach tennis on your blog, have you ever won a match? Make sure the the claim-specific validators support your claims.
Some of these factors are easily quantified by tools and considered in a conscious way. Others compound to create a sense of credibility and importance on a subtler, more sub-conscious way. Regardless of the level of consideration…
Social proof can strongly bolster your reputation and perceived value.
The more the elements of social proof either sync with the claims you make or, even better, make the claims for you, the more effective it is as a tool for persuasion. In fact, it’s often equally, if not more effective when it comes to selling, because people want to work with people who are perceived to be respected and sought-after by others.
BUT, social media can also strongly lessen your appeal and, even worse, if the available social proof contradicts your claims, it can make you look like a newbie, a liar or, worse, a con-artist.
And, I’ve been seeing this very phenomenon increasingly in the world of blogging and social media. Everywhere I look, it seems people are launching blogs and websites, calling themselves social media consultants, experts or gurus, traffic and conversion masters and online-money-making mavens. But, then you start looking at the social proof and their claims fall apart.
I recently visited the blog of a social media consultant and found the following social proof warring with the person’s claims of expertise.
- The blog’s Alexa rank was over 1 million, showing very little traffic. This tells me either they are very new to the field or they don’t know how to drive traffic.
- There was an average of only 2 comments for every 5 posts and most were not comments that added significantly to the conversation. That shows an inability to effectively engage readers.
- The RSS Feedcount showed under 50 subscribers. Is that okay for a newish blogger? Sure. But, for a social media consultant, no way. It belies their ability to not only drive traffic, but offer enough value to inspire commitment or regular social ineraction.
- The design was a commonly used stock-theme. Alone, this is not a huge problem, but added to the mounting wave of social proof, it doesn’t look good.
- There were no testimonials, no media or press quotes and the Technorati rank was in the teens with fewer than 25 back-links.
- The content was short, which, if high-value, is fine. But, in this case, it was not. It was more about riffing on the day’s news, repeating what was being said on other more authoritative blogs and linking to other stories that had already gone popular on the major social media hubs or been in the news. And…
- The person’s followings at the major social-media hubs were not compelling.
So, here, were have someone trying to leverage a blog to position themselves as a social media expert, trying to fake it until they make it, but a mountain of social proof strongly contradicts any claim of expertise. What’s the big take-away?
Understand the importance of social-proof in the online world.
When it supports your efforts, leverage it. When it doesn’t, don’t. And, when it strongly contradicts claims you’d like to make, especially if the proof is something outside your immediate control…you’d be well-advised to reconsider making those claims until you’ve got the ability to put-up or shut-up.
So, what do you think? Do you agree? Disagree? What’d I leave out?
I am also especially interested in your thoughts on the intentional inclusion of on-blog social-proof devices, like RSS feed-counts.
Fire away gang…
And, hey why stop at commenting? Let’s get everyone talking about social proof. Spread the word on Twitter, just click the “Tweet This” link below and share this article with your followers.
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