Have you read the classic post from the Copyblogger archives explaining why you need to leverage social proof on your blog? If so, then I don’t need to convince you how important social proof is for online success.
Social proof is pretty simple. It’s just the human instinct that if someone else is doing something (buying a product, reading a blog, jumping off the Brooklyn Bridge) then it’s probably a good thing to do.
It’s not right and it’s not wrong — it’s just how we human beings are wired.
Social proof can give a blog great momentum. Once you have lots of readers, you’ll find new people purely because you have lots of readers.
But how can you pull it off when you’re just starting out and don’t have much social proof to leverage?
For example, new readers to Copyblogger glance over at the left-hand side of the site and see that more than 129,000 people already subscribe. The most common line of thinking is “Hm, maybe I should do that, too. 129,328 subscribers can’t be wrong, right?”
But when you’re just getting your blog off the ground, this kind of social proof simply doesn’t help. It took me a year to get 1000 subscribers on my blog, and when I did I proudly displayed my subscriber count for all to see — only to take it down a few months later because Feedburner was unreliable about displaying the right number.
You may not be able to use the same specific social proof techniques that the big blogs do. But there are at least four reliable ways I know to use social proof when your blog is still in the beginner stages.
1. Encourage comments
In the early days, a blog post that has no comments is like a party without people: no one wants to be the first one to show up.
A lively comment discussion shows new readers that your blog has an engaged community to interact with — that other cool people are at this party. The problem is, nobody wants to be first to comment, even if plenty of people are comfortable being second, third, and fourth.
One way to get readers over the hurdle is to specifically ask for comments. You can also end every post with a great question that encourages response. Some blogs even offer prizes for the best commenters.
But if you’re still having a hard time getting comments going on your posts, there’s an easy way to break the ice.
Get yourself a blog buddy who will comment on every post you write (you can do the same for them). Reply to each of their comments promptly.
When you respond to comments, others are encouraged to join in. Now that your blog buddy has broken the ice, others will be more comfortable about joining the conversation.
You may want to extend this to a small blog pack, a group of bloggers in a related topic who support one another’s work. It’s a great way to boost your traffic and subscriptions.
2. Tell stories
Social proof doesn’t always have to be about big numbers. You can also share stories that show how you’ve benefited others.
When I set up my web design company in 1998, I ran across many business owners who were skeptical about the need for a website. I started telling the skeptics a true story about one of my clients who shared their fears. That client took the plunge and cancelled his yellow pages ad so he could test the waters with a website instead.
He never looked back. His website was able to generate new leads for a smaller investment. And while his costly yellow pages ads ended up in the recycling bin the next year, his website is a great investment for years to come.
That story helped a lot of people find their courage and set up their own sites. Engage your blog readers by telling compelling stories that show how someone else has benefited from taking your advice.
You don’t have to go overboard — bragging will often chase readers away. Instead, tell the story like you would to a friend over lunch and you’ll hit the right note.
3. Get testimonials
In the early days of my blog I put up a raving readers page to let people know that yes, this blog did have some readers. And better yet, those readers were interesting, engaged, and global.
There are lots of ways to make testimonials work for you — but first you have to collect some.
When you start a new business or blog you may not have any clients who can vouch for you yet. Try giving a few people something for nothing and ask for a testimonial if they like it. Start with your friends and branch out from there. If you can’t outright give your product away, at least give out some free trials or samples.
Make it easy for people to give you testimonials. Try asking specific questions. You can also write up any compliments you get by email or over the phone, then ask for your fan’s approval to use it as a testimonial on your website.
(I hope it goes without saying, never write fake testimonials. You’re aiming to build credibility and trust here, not destroy it.)
If you offer a high-quality service or product, your customers will want to help you promote it. Include the name of the person and that person’s occupation or company if it’s relevant. Pictures can also improve your testimonials’ credibility and enhance the element of proof.
4. Incorporate media
Being mentioned in the media is another great way to leverage social proof. It’s surprisingly effective to add, “As mentioned/recommended in the Smalltown Weekly” to your blog’s About page, even if the media outlet is a minor one. Gather a few mentions and you might decide to create a dedicated media page. And while you’re at it, remember that a mention on a big blog can be at least as powerful as a print publication.
Two of my friends have a half-serious competition to get the most mentions in local papers this year. If the prize is a more successful business and bigger client list, I’d say they’re both going to win.
Spend some time brainstorming ways your business might be mentioned in the press, on social media, or on TV. Can you make a friendly call to journalists or bloggers who write about your topic, tell them what you do, and ask them if they’d like a free sample or a free consultation to offer to readers? Could you speak free of charge at an event to get your name out there and establish your expertise? What story can you tell that would interest your local paper or favorite blog?
Have fun and be creative. Even when your blog is brand-new, you can start leveraging social proof today while you wait for your RSS subscriber count to grow.
And of course, as your subscriber count grows, you’ll have even more options.