Why Social Proof is the Key to Building Your Brand Online

Dan BlankI like to think that if someone creates a great piece of work, that the world discovers and spreads it simply because the quality of the work cannot go unnoticed. That greatness is an end unto itself.

But this usually isn’t the case. Great bands are not all discovered. Great paintings sit in attics, unappreciated. Great writing goes unread. Great blogs languish.

So when you approach your goals, sure, you need to create great content, a great product or a great service. But you also to know how to spread the word, and how to ensure it serves a community.

For a long time, we called this “marketing.” I put it in quotes because it tends to refer to traditional broadcast marketing – one person shouting at the crowd. And then shouting again. Then shouting again.

Sure, hat still works and to some degree, that will always work. But it tends to be expensive; And it tends to be hit or miss; And it tends to be annoying.

Oddly enough, Google works in a similar way to how real people work. Let’s consider how Google ranks search results. It doesn’t judge what’s best strictly in terms of ‘quality’ and send people to those web pages. Instead, Google measures a variety of factors, and it gives more credence to what’s popular – what has gained STATUS.

Google doesn’t have time to judge content based strictly on the quality of the content alone. And let’s face it, neither do most people. It’s too much effort and too subjective. So we look for social guideposts to trust. Google does this. People do this.

For example, we don’t all use Facebook because we each individually reviewed their feature set and judged it to be a superior social network. We simply went where our friends were. Likely, each and every one of us were holdouts in some way or another, unconvinced of Facebook’s value until ENOUGH social proof was there to bother joining.

When you create your blog, when you become active on Twitter, when you build your online brand (be it personal or business), consider the social proof that exists on the web pointing to your value.

How do you create your social proof? Well, it’s all about sharing, caring and helping.

Sounds silly, I know.

Some people feel that social proof is a numbers game. So they follow 20,000 people on Twitter, hoping that 20,000 people follow them back. They connect to anyone in the world on LinkedIn to show that they have 500+ connections. They feed the echo chamber of the blogosphere by posting the same news as everyone else.

But there are other ways that value REAL connection, REAL trust, REAL meaning that has little to do with numbers. Do you sleep soundly at night because you know you have 200 ‘friends,’ or because you know you have ONE friend that you can call anytime and who understands you?HUGE difference.

How do you build social proof? Well, you share, care and help. Here are some easy ways to consider:

  • Guest blogging: Offer to share your insights & value on someone else’s blog.
  • ReTweeting great content on Twitter.
  • Book speaking engagements & workshops at local & industry events.
  • Comment on people’s Facebook updates.
  • Become active on LinkedIn Answers (and similar forums).

So inherently, building your own social proof is all about building OTHER PEOPLE’S social proof. Funny how that works. I suppose it’s the whole karma thing.

So if you want to create a great blog, you don’t just show up everyday for your OWN blog, but you also show up for others all over the web. This is what services like StumbleUpon and Digg are created on also. Facebook’s new ‘like’ feature is based on this. The web is increasingly based on this.

When you are trying to build your brand and competencies online, consider the social proof you are building, not just the content alone.

So many writers don’t succeed because they banked on the quality of the writing alone – in isolation. The theory is that one day, SOMEONE will read their work, discover the value, and it will spread like wildfire.

And sure, some artists weren’t appreciated in their own time, but are now hailed as the great masters, whose work trades for millions of dollars. But don’t bank on that happening to you. Build your social proof by matching your great content with the ability to helping and sharing with others.