One Vital Ingredient That Your Blog May Be Missing

Social Proof

Social proof is a blogger’s best friend. For those of you who are not familiar with the term, it’s time to educate yourself:

Social proof is a psychological phenomenon that occurs in social situations when people are unable to determine the appropriate mode of behavior. Making the assumption that surrounding people possess more knowledge about the situation, they will deem the behavior of others as appropriate or better informed. (TimeLineSelling)

You will all be familiar with this phenomenon. You will certainly have acted upon social proof countless times in the past, and in a multitude of different situations.

For instance, picture the last time you walked into an empty restaurant. What was the first thing that ran through your head? Probably something along the lines of, “I wonder why this place is empty?”, shortly followed by, “The food must not be very good”. That’s the power of social proof in action. The mere presence of people can play a huge role in dictating your initial opinion of something.

For a very entertaining example of social proof in action, check out this video by Derek Sivers:

But I’m A Blogger, Not A Dancing Nutter…

Fair point. So why is social proof important for bloggers? Two reasons:

  1. Human nature
  2. The internet is a crowded mess

When someone hits your blog, one of the first things they will look for (probably subconsciously) is proof that your site has been of use to others. That is human nature – generally speaking, people would much rather follow in the footsteps of others than blaze their own trail. In addition to that, the internet is a crowded mess of useful content and horrible misinformation. Trust levels are not particularly high amongst savvy browsers, so they’ll want to see who else likes your blog before they invest their precious time.

If your blog shows no evidence of being “lived in” and liked by others, new visitors will be far less likely to hang around. Picture that empty restaurant again. You might just turn around and walk back out rather than risk a dodgy meal, right? The principle is the same.

Displaying Social Proof

If you are already a well-established blog, you probably have quite a few options. The best forms of social proof in the online world are “endorsements”, typically in the form of:

  • RSS subscribers
  • Newsletter subscribers
  • Facebook “likers”
  • Twitter followers
  • Testimonials
  • Share statistics
  • Traffic figures
  • Comments

Let’s take a look at some blogs that get social proof right:

Virtual Business Lifestyle
This guy seems to be everywhere! He must be good...
Copyblogger
155,000 people? That's like a whole city! I must be missing out on something...
SEOmoz
Why wouldn't I want to join such a popular community?
Social Triggers
Endorsed by a NYT best-selling author? Hell yes!
Passive Panda
This post is being shared like crazy...it must be good!
Think Traffic
24,000 people can't be wrong...
SteveScottSite
51 comments? This article must really be getting people engaged...

If you have the kind of social proof that is demonstrated above, you absolutely should have it advertised on your blog, front and center.

How Much Is Enough?

Perhaps the most obvious question when considering social proof for your blog is, “how much is enough?” There is no doubting the fact that displaying poor social proof can in fact be damaging to your blog, rather than beneficial.

If you hit a site with no social proof, you have no immediate way of knowing whether or not it is worth reading – your reaction is relatively neutral. If however it is demonstrated that the blog isn’t popular, you might click away immediately.

So in terms of your blog’s popularity, there is a line you must cross before you start proudly showing your stats. Unfortunately, determining when you have crossed the line is akin to asking how long a piece of string is.

I personally am a fan of four figures. Once you have reached 1,000 subscribers, followers, likers, visitors (per day), or whatever it may be, you are ready to show it.

In terms of comments, it is really up to you. You may choose to hide comments whilst your blog is small, and only activate them when you have a considerable following. Alternatively, you may simply choose to have them up and running from the get go (as I did).

Fake It ‘Til You Make It – 3 Methods

Using social proof as a means of boosting your blog’s popularity is a catch 22 situation when it is relatively young. You want to boost your traffic figures, and social proof is a great way of doing so. Unfortunately, you don’t have any.

But fear not! There are ways and means of displaying validation that can help visitors’ perceptions of how popular your blog is. I say “fake it ’til you make it” in a facetious manner, as I am not suggesting that you should somehow “trick” visitors into thinking your blog is good, when it is not. I am assuming that you actually have something of worth.

1. Testimonials

Beyonce
Another WPMU gold star for anyone who can make the connection... (this one is probably near-impossible)

Even if your blog is brand new, I’m sure someone likes it. Preferably, that someone would have some sort of online presence. All you need to do is ask them to write a complimentary snippet that can be displayed on your site.

If you don’t know any established bloggers, you can resort to the power of volume. Get positive testimonials from a number of people (friends and family if you must!), and list them in your blog’s sidebar. Shazam – social proof.

2. Traffic

Even if your traffic figures are fairly modest, there are ways in which you can present them in a positive light. Even if you get just 200 visitors a week, that’s enough to say “100s of people are loving [myblogname] every single week!” Use your imagination!

3. As Seen/Featured On…

Leaving Work BehindI use this one myself, as you can see from the image on the right (pulled straight from my blog). I really should get that updated now actually, what with me being a worldwide rock star and whatnot (kidding).

If you’re a blogger, you can guest post. In fact, I wrote a three part series on it recently, so you have no excuse at all:

Once your guest post has been published, you can consider yourself to have been “featured” on that blog. Try to pick out some authoritative blogs in your niche. It’ll work a treat – visitors will hit your site, see that you have been featured in blogs they recognize, and will immediately feel warm and fuzzy about your blog.

No Excuses

Even if your blog is brand new, you can be working on social proof.  Do not underestimate the positive impact it can have on your blog.

What’s stopping you from getting started right now?

Creative Commons photo courtesy of William J