The social proof imperative
Traditional endorsements are specific and direct; I ask for a quote from my best customers, or I pay a celebrity to pretend they like what I sell. Or when I’m looking for a job, I ask my former colleagues for references (this has been updated with the advent of LinkedIn recommendations, but it’s the same practice).
Endorsements can also be tacit and subtle, too. This is the kind of social proof that typically exists in the social Web, and it’s critical to opening up side doors. After all, an endorsement doesn’t have to be explicit.
Some of the social proof signals that people rely on for mental shortcuts—whether they admit it or not—include:
- Number of social connections (Twitter followers, Facebook friends, etc.)
- Mentions and links in social content (tweets, blog posts, comments, etc.)
- Evidence of high traffic to blog or website
- List and RSS subscribers
- Klout score
All of these things are signals that convey information. Someone having a high number of Twitter followers or blog subscribers means, on the face of it, a lot of people care to listen to them. Social proof is the mechanism that kicks in once we see this, the feeling that we should give them our attention as well. If we were to evaluate whether or not to pay attention to someone by sifting through every social signal they emit, our social circle would necessarily be tiny.
Although they do make impressions on people, raw numbers aren’t the best indicators of importance. Subscribers, links, friends and followers can all be gamed. So can the algorithms that suck in disparate information and spit out Klout scores. The strongest signal when it comes to social proof is influence by association. This happens when someone that is already an influencer publicly engages with you. Maybe they retweet something you posted, mention you on their blog, or “love” your Instagram photo. In doing so, they pass on influence to you. Their audience is now aware of you, and aware of the fact that someone that influences them is taking the time to engage with you. If you’re on the influencer’s radar, so the mental math goes, you should be on their audience’s radar, too.