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Why Social Proof Matters for Content Marketers

ImageIf you write a blog post and no one shares it, does it really exist?

We live in an information age where ideas act as currency. As writers, we seek validation of our ideas and today the validation data is right in front of us. We can see in a matter of hours how many page views and call-to-action clicks a brand new post gets, which gives us an immediate sense of what’s resonating with blog visitors – and what’s not. 

But there’s something special about the immediate validation of social shares on Twitter or Facebook. These networks are ubiquitous and we assume the number of shares always has a strong correlation with the quality of a post. But is that really true? 

Everyone is writing today about Social Proof, but many neglect to explain its origin. I’ll explain where it came from and how you can take advantage of the principle in your content marketing. 

Not the only one starin' at the sun

Social proof is a type of conformity where we look to the actions of others to discern the correct behavior for a given situation. Psychologists have been studying the phenomena for decades, especially as it relates to how groups of people will conform to choices that are mistaken or just strange. (You’ve probably heard about the experiments when a person stares up into the sky and other passersby start imitating the behavior.) 

Robert Cialdini, who has spent decades research the science of influence, listed Social Proof as one of the six “Weapons of Influence” (along with things like Commitment/Consistency and Reciprocity) that we can wield to significantly affect others’ behavior. 

In his book Influence: Science and Practice, Cialdini writes that: 

We view a behavior as correct in a given situation to the degree that we see others performing it. 

Cialdini proceeds to describe how everyone hates laugh tracks, although it’s been proven effective in making us think that a TV show is funnier; just the sound of canned laughter makes people more likely to think something is funny. He also relates how advertisers often describe a product as the “fastest-growing” or “largest-selling” because the simple fact that others like a product seems proof enough that we should buy it ourselves. If it's good enough for the Joneses...

“The New Marketing” 

Much has been written in recent years about the marketing applications of Social Proof. A 2011 TechCrunch article, in fact, went so far as to declare “Social Proof is the New Marketing.” 

Others’ opinions certainly have a profound effect on many of our purchase decisions from laptops to automobiles. Some 70% of Americans now look at product reviews before making a purchase and the average shopper used 10.4 sources of information to make a decision in 2011, according to Google’s Zero Moment of Truth research

So what does that mean for you as a content marketer? As this great post from HubSpot points out, marketing applications of Social Proof include:

  • Social media mentions

  • Embedded tweets

  • Social plugins

  • Social media sharing/follow buttons

  • Case studies and testimonials

  • User-generated content 

  • Reviews and ratings 

  • Social advertising on networks like Facebook and Twitter 

  • User Statistics 

  • PR coverage 

This isn't just happening at the organizational level. Networks like Klout and LinkedIn are serving as social barometers for our personal branding. (Those skill endorsements some of us love to hate are a great example of social proof at a personal level; if enough people endorse you for something, you must be an expert.)

Okay, so Social Proof has tons of marketing applications. How do you make your messages stand out in a time of mushrooming content?

Monitor, write, analyze, repeat 

When it comes to blogging, pay close attention to your metrics – both those of individual posts and longer-term trends. Marketing software like HubSpot allows you to sort your posts by Views, CTA Clicks and Click Rate; analyze which posts people are reading the most and which posts are actually getting the most clicks and social shares. 

Call-to-action clicks and social shares indicate a higher level of interest than views as you are actually inspiring people to take action. Here are a few ways to get more clicks and shares: 

  • Make your content easy to share by adding social buttons on your blog and other appropriate pages. Which buttons you should add will vary somewhat by industry; that's why you've got to understand your audience and where they like to hang out online.

  • Make sure you call-to-actions match your content. If you’ve written a post about social media, you want a social media CTA, not one about branding. 

  • Create and follow a plan to promote your blog posts. Share your editorial calendar internally, mention your authors when your share posts on social networks and use hashtags appropriately.

Don't get deterred when a post you were excited about doesn't gain the social validation you expected. Not all awesome posts are going to get a ton of shares and not all posts that get a ton of shares are truly awesome.

Monitor your metrics and figure out what really engages your audience. Then go back to the drawing board and write something better.

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