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Using Social Proof To Succeed Online

If Everyone Is Looking Up….. Do You?

The world around you affects every action you take. The collective influence of society contributes much to your decisions, often without your knowledge. What you buy is your decision, but why you buy it is less decision than you might believe. Wikipedia defines this influence as social proof.

Human beings crave interaction. The instinct to congregate is why families flourish and why governments exist. Your subconscious takes shortcuts based on these instincts to make ‘microdecisions’. Driving for instance, involves countless snap decisions based on cues from the people around you. While driving with the flow of traffic, going over the speed limit is quite easy. Even the most lawful drivers sometimes find themselves at 5 – 10 mph over while in a group. Keeping up with traffic is a “natural response to your surroundings”. This subtle shift in perception is social proof at work.

What is Social Proof?

“The tendency to see an action as more acceptable when others are doing it.” -Robert CialdiniInfluence

We tend to choose with the wisdom of the crowd – it frees the brain to focus on bigger and better things. Alone, you look twice before crossing the street, but crowds cross together. Someone in the crowd had begun to cross, and so must have seen the walk signal. The instinct to trust the wisdom of the crowd can even alter an individual’s course of action.

Simon Asch’s experiment in 1962 explored the impact of social proof. Without a word, paid actors would load into an elevator with a single subject and turn around. Each time, the subject would mimic the actions of the group. In one clip, the subject even joined the actors in turning several times over the course of the elevator ride.

Social proof exists outside of experiments, though. Smart bartenders realized that people are more likely to tip well if others have done so before. They observed that priming the tip jar with cash results in higher tips.

The Asch experiment and the tip jar example prove how crucial perception is. To the subject, at the time, facing backward was the correct way to ride the elevator. To the first bar patron, tipping well was not only encouraged, but deserved. Neither the subject nor the bar patron was ‘objectively’ correct in their original perceptions. By leveraging perception, the researcher/bartender created an environment where the ‘correct’ decision was instinctual.

In truth, neither of these presuppositions were true. Facing backward in an elevator is far from ‘normal’, and the bar had just opened – no one could have tipped yet! The manufactured situation shifted the perceptions of the subject/patron to the researcher/bartender’s favor. As a result, the subject/patron chose to align their behavior with what was now expected.

Do you feel this person deserves tips, even before being served?

Leveraging social proof scales beyond bartenders and social experiments, though. Businesses have been quick to catch on. The clothing company Triangl launched their brand by creating organic buzz. Their now-famous ‘bikini a day‘ clothing contest created a trending brand overnight. The minor cost of the contest was more than repaid by the priceless word of mouth advertising. Triangl understood one of the basic principles of social proof; trusted recommendations win.

Creating Digital Social Proof

The advent of the Internet has created a ‘digital world’ where social proof is a form of currency. Investing in positive social proof here impacts every other aspect of your business.

“More than 78% of people consult the internet before making a purchase decision.” – Nielsen Research

Trendsetters like KickStarter have experimented and succeeded at using social proof online, to the point of revolutionizing fundraising in the 21st century. Combining social media and investing allows the direct monetization of social networks. This social fundraising, or ‘Crowdfunding’, is a concept reliant on the currency of social proof. KickStarter campaigns start with nothing but an idea, a description, and hope. Each dollar pledged increases the campaigns’ legitimacy – because KickStarter leverages social proof for their users’ campaigns.

Kickstarter displays stats for each campaign including: the number of backers, amounts funded and total amount requested. The bigger these numbers, the ‘better’ the campaign, and the better Kickstarter appears.

Kickstarter has a ‘Staff Picks’ section, where they periodically promote a specific campaign. The company understands that their client’s success is also their success – every campaign that is successfully funded reflects well on them. They feature the “best” opportunities to invest in on the homepage. By vouching for a campaign, Kickstarter ‘loans’ the featured campaign some of their social proof as a currency.

When the campaign becomes funded, the ‘loan’ is repaid – and with interest, as many of those featured campaigns have gone on to incredible success.

Kickstarter is rich in social proof, and with social proof as a currency, the rich only get richer.

Establishing Success

As discussed earlier, the bartender’s tip jar is a prime example of establishing perceived success. When a dozen people have already tipped the bartender, he becomes someone worth tipping. A bartender with no tips gets fewer tips than a bartender whom ‘starts with’ tips. The digital version of a tip jar is different, but the concept is the same. Just like how no one wants to put the first dollar in the tip jar, no one wants to be the first fan.

Your First Fans

Success requires a group of core fans who engage with the content in a positive manner. Your first fans are crucial, as they show the world ‘signals of success’. These ‘signals’ are what the rest of the world expects to see from and rewards with success.

“Every crowd has a silver lining.” -P.T. Barnum

Investing time into digital reputation management is a slow and laborious method of growth, though it’s proven to work. Many experts believe that organic growth comes from existing social signals. Incorporating social proof leads to explosive natural growth – Gilad Lotan experienced this as a side effect of his Twitter experiment. He ‘primed’ the tip jar of his account by purchasing Twitter followers, and was surprised with the natural success he began to experience. Gilad’s article illustrates the importance of perception. By having users already following, engaging or otherwise investing their time in you, you generate signs of success and trust, which others use to view you in a better light. This makes it easier to grow naturally.

The Snowball Effect On Social Media

Social media growth can be compared to a snowball rolling down a mountain – the larger it is, the faster it grows.

The appearance of popularity, success and establishment on social media will rapidly boost your outreach efforts. The bigger your following, the more pronounced this begins to feel.

In the same way, social media is comparable to a global sport. No one wants to support a team with a losing record, but the moment that team pulls off a win, the fans are back! Avoiding the impression of newness, inexperience, or failure is important. Focus on cultivating a positive image that will resonate with other users – to be successful, establish the perception of previous success.

This comparison is often more accurate than not. Besides the organic impact that digital social proof has, each social platform is impacted differently. Social networks like Twitter, YouTube and SoundCloud naturally refer traffic to popular content and trending topics. They make their money by keeping visitors on their site interacting with each other. By recommending popular, high-quality content to their visitors, they keep users engaged. If your is content ‘popular’, they will go out of their way to promote it – which is good for you.

Leveraging Social Proof On Twitter

Twitter is one of the most popular social media platforms in existence. As an authority, it’s also one of the first places people will look to when determining your social worth. Twitter has evolved into the de facto place to get immediate information about current events, people and businesses. People use twitter to communicate small, but important pieces of information throughout the world. The expectation of Twitter users is instant gratification of information requests. Twitter is used to base, at least a educated guess, if you are deserved to be interacted with. Developing a successful presence or brand involves creating an active and engaged Twitter profile. Check out this example of what you DON’T want.

What about this page inspires confidence in StockNews’ services? A potential follower is going to see this Twitter account and notice a serious lack of engagement and a very small follower count. StockNews’ account is a perfect example of social proof having a negative effect. You don’t want your potential users to write you off just because of your sub-par Twitter account.

Instead, when someone lands on your Twitter page THIS is what they should see.

MarketWatch’s account has almost 2 million followers, 124k tweets, and a rich history of user engagement. A discerning user is going to see this page and want to engage – and that’s what you’re after.

A strong Twitter presence will grab a potential user and focus them on your success. Your well-designed profile, amplified with the power of social proof, inspires confidence and increases your social credibility. When a majority supports you, you’re doing something right!

Having more followers than your competitors on Twitter is more than an ego boost. Being “better” is as simple as interacting with more people than everyone else on a regular basis. Gaining Twitter followers gives you the advantage by staging the situation in your favor, and as your reputation grows, the effects of social proof make it easier and faster to gain new followers.

Influencing YouTube Success

YouTube has experienced astronomical success since its creation. The advent of video sharing has created an entire industry of entertainers and content providers. Succeeding on YouTube involves integrating social proof alongside great content.

People enjoy sharing good videos with their friends and family across social media. Each time a person shares, comments or likes your video, it’s considered an “engagement”. Having large amounts of engagements (social proof) enables people to naturally join the crowd of people that have enjoyed and shared before them. This opens up whole new audiences for exposure to your content, and lets you engage these new users through personal recommendations from someone in their social circle.

Aside from the effects of social proof, YouTube also uses views and engagements in identify which videos to suggest and rank higher on their search engine. Your video is judged based on total engagements and average view time against other videos in the niche. Higher rankings on search results and placement on their ‘Suggested Videos’ section can give your video the boost it needs to attract more viewers. YouTube also includes view count information in both of these areas, further widening the gap between those videos with social proof and those without. These factors combine into an incredible growth engine that can propel your video far above your competitors.

Which Video Would You Want To Watch?

Lewis’s video has every hallmark of a successful YouTube video. People are active – they like the video, have commented on and shared it. Now everyone in their social circle has seen it, and its popularity continues to grow.

Crystal’s video has the opposite effect. Despite being similar content, her video has experienced the negative effects of social proof. Crystal does not manage expectations of the viewer by showing a different person in her thumbnail than in the video. This coupled with a low view count and an abysmal like/dislike ratio discourage users from engaging. Few people would want to watch this video – let alone share it.

social proof on youtube bad example

Avoid this trap. Good content and high engagement reflect well on your videos and your channel – the proof is displayed publicly for all to see. Producing quality content will boost your growth rate, and building a loyal following will allow your success to snowball. Learn to combine them both, and you’ll experience explosive growth.

Maximizing SoundCloud Fame

SoundCloud represents an incredible opportunity for budding artists and podcasters alike. Much like YouTube, smart use of social proof is going to be critical to success. Getting noticed by a record label, collab artist, or an army of fans is a dream come true for many, and SoundCloud provides the platform for that to happen. Even major players use SoundCloud to share their music.

169 Million People Can’t Be Wrong!

Octobersveryown’s track has all the elements of a successful track launch. People prejudge the track based on the 169 million plays and the 2.26 million likes. When a listener can see that you’ve accumulated some popularity, they will expect quality. By pre-conditioning your listeners, you can increase the growth of your track, podcast or career. It’s important to realize that some careers can be made with a single hit track. Investing your creativity and time into producing that track by far is the best use of your time, and you can do that by using social proof to your advantage.

When others find and engage with you naturally, the pressure to prioritize growth is eased. That peace of mind alone could be what enables a budding artist to create the next hit single.

The need for a core group of initial fans on SoundCloud is particularly pronounced. Assembling them is difficult, though. Much of the traffic through SoundCloud has ‘niche taste’. Convincing them to support your music is like fighting an uphill battle, but once you’ve assembled your initial following, these converts become your biggest advocates.

Take Advantage Of Your Social Proof

Whether in the real world or digital, achieving success isn’t always easy. You’re usually competing against countless others in your industry, niche or genre. Your competition may already be popular or established – an imposing challenge. Realize, though, that the greatest successes have all incorporated social proof. Taylor Swift seems to gain a hundred thousand followers a day without effort, and Psy’s Gangnam Style still attracts countless views each day. These examples each incorporate massive social proof that continues to power their success.

Utilizing the power of social proof is simple. The mere appearance of popularity or success will attract more users, customers, and fans. Social proof is a powerful natural phenomenon on its own. When integrated into a ‘growth hacking’ or marketing campaign, it becomes even more effective.

Success attracts success. It’s that simple.

Shawn David

View posts by Shawn David
Shawn has been developing websites since 2001 and professionally since 2008. He has over 1,000 builds in his career and is always looking to further his knowledge through experience and education. Currently working on his MBA and will follow with a pHD in systems engineering.

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