social media how toDid you know you can use social media to influence website visitors to stick around, read your content, become a subscriber or even tell their network about you or your business?

You can, and social media can be more effective than other forms of influence, as you’ll see in a minute.

First, let’s talk about the phenomenon I’m referring to. Influencing people you don’t know (in this case, new web visitors) by using information is known as social proof.

The Growth of Social Proof

Social proof isn’t a new concept, or one that only applies to social media. It’s a psychological phenomenon.

Marketers have used social proof as a fundamental principle for years. Blogs have used it recently by displaying the number of RSS subscribers prominently (usually through FeedBurner). Then, when new visitors stop by, they think, “Hey, this site looks pretty popular. 2,000 people already subscribe. It must be worth following, so I’ll do the same.”

Social proof gives your site an advantage over other sites that don’t use it, and social proof can help you grow faster by turning more people into repeat visitors.

And now, with social media, social proof doesn’t have to be restricted to just displaying RSS subscriber counts. Your social media profiles and activity on Facebook, Twitter, etc., can serve as social proof too, and sometimes are even more effective than just RSS counts or traffic numbers.

How Effective Is Social Media as Social Proof?

I reached out to Lisa Barone from Outspoken Media, a respected Internet marketing company, to ask her exactly that question. Here’s what Lisa had to say about the effectiveness of social media as social proof for a blog or website:

It’s highly effective, especially for an entrepreneur or small business owner. Developing a presence on the social web adds credibility to your blog/website because it allows people to see you engaging with other people. They see their social media friends talking to you and it serves as a sign that you’re trusted and not going to swindle them.

It also gives another indicator that you’re committed to building your presence, and that as a customer, they’ll be able to get in touch with you if they have a question, concern or complaint. Creating a social media presence is another way of letting customers know you’ve left a light on for them.

Social media actually enhances social proof because it can involve the specific friends, colleagues or associates of the people you’re trying to influence.

How to Use Facebook, Twitter and Others as Social Proof

Let’s look at a specific example of what I’m talking about. Facebook has all kinds of social widgets you can install on your website. These widgets can show lots of things, including how many people “like” your site (if you have a Facebook Fan page), or how many people have recently shared your content on Facebook.

And Facebook is smart about it. They tailor the widgets to whoever is visiting your web page. In the example below, Social Media Examiner uses the Facebook “Like Box” in the right sidebar. It says 10,530 people like SME on Facebook at the time of this writing (wow). If some of my friends are in that group that “likes” the site, their pretty little faces will appear for me to see:

social media examiner on facebook

Facebook makes it easy to use your Fan page as social proof with widgets.

In either case, the social proof makes it more likely that I’ll keep reading this site, or even subscribe to or “like” it. In one case, I’ll see that lots of strangers already like the site; in another case, I’ll see that some of my specific friends like it.

Facebook isn’t the only form of social media that can serve as social proof, either.

Twitter can be used in a similar way (by displaying follower countsactivity feeds or the number of times content has been retweeted). Digg and other social networks/bookmarking sites also have widgets. Check your favorite social media hangouts for things you can use for social proof.

Below is a unique and creative way that the blog Engadget uses Twitter as social proof (as well as a great way to direct visitors to popular content):


Engadget uses the number of times a story has been shared on Twitter in this unique display of social proof.

Get Creative With Your Site’s Social Proof

Don’t forget that blogs are a form of social media as well. If your blog attracts lots of comments, displaying your comment counts prominently can serve as an effective form of social proof.

I asked Lisa Barone how she and Outspoken Media have used social media as social proof on their sites. Her methods include displaying FeedBurner subscriber numbers, rotating testimonials from respected industry colleagues and displaying media logos on their home page to show visitors where they’ve been mentioned.

As for tips on using social media as social proof, Lisa likes to focus on making your site/blog look bigger than you are. Borrowing logos from other sites where you’ve been featured and letting people know about interviews or podcasts you’ve been a part of are a great way to show visitors that your site is worth paying attention to, according to Lisa. “If social proof tells us that we like what our friends like and that experts hang with experts, then you want to make it look like your community has a line wrapped around the corner waiting for entrance. Fake it till you make it, and when you’ve made it, show your badges,” she recommended to me.

Consider using any points of interaction you have with your tribe on the social web as social proof for your site. People will see that you’re active, that you’re providing value, and that crowds of other people (possibly even their friends) think your content is the bee’s knees.

How do you use social media as social proof?

What is your experience with influencing people on the web with social media? What could you do to improve your use of social media on your website? Please share your thoughts in the comments box below.

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  • Although not exactly the same thing, a number of publishers have done well using Digg widgets to create awareness of upcoming and popular content from their site on Digg: This is more about straightforward content promotion but I think it works as social proof too.

  • Adam, that is a perfect example! I just interviewed Emily Crume from Digg last night and we discussed that very point you brought up

  • Good dead, but we are currently at the point where social proof may be hurting us more than helping us. Our subscriber numbers and facebook followers are currently low. Do you recommend hiding them from our site until we get larger numbers, or should we display them anyways to create an opportunity to increase our numbers. We aren’t a large site, we don’t break 1,000 uniques per month yet, but I am working my SEO-fu on the site and our incoming google traffic is trending upward at a good rate, how can I use that to create a good base for social proof?

  • I always thought it would be cool if Twitter buttons could be programmed not to show a tweet number until a certain predefined number was reached. Because you are right, in some cases low numbers can create a negative perception.

  • Great post on social proof! To me this is a huge phenomenon that many still do not take advantage on, despite the great tools that social media have set forward for doing so.

    One suggestion I have stems from considering the reverse, which holds that negative social proof can be damaging. As a relatively new blogger, a key piece of advice that I have found to be very helpful is to ensure that comments are disabled or on a timer if you do not regularly receive them. Essentially, it is like revealing to those that stop by that your content is not worth reading.

  • I started my blog in March of this year and I love it. I don’t have the high retweets and facebook shares that I would like and thought about removing those buttons. What do you think about using the sexy bookmark plug in instead?

    Golda Smith

  • spharrin

    Excellent article – your points are spot on! Just like the author said, these techniques aren’t that difficult to implement. It’s just a matter of doing it.

  • The SexyBookmarks plugin is popular and is a good way to jazz up the usual collection of buttons you see at the bottom of many posts (it looks like Social Media Examiner is using it too). But personally I’d treat that as a supplement to more prominent Twitter and/or Facebook like buttons, not a replacement for them.

  • Thank you so much for sharing such great information. I just got the code for the LIKE Box on facebook, I installed the code on my home page. I hope it works.

  • Hi Leticia
    I’ve just tried out your facebook page, so I hope that this works for us both. Thanks for these interesting comments about social media Corbett. I’ve noticed that my numbers are slowly improving to my online site with doing more social media involvement. I just need to make it a regular daily habit and I’m sure that the results will speak for themselves. I need to add my facebook and twitter links to my site.

  • I completely agree about the importance of social proof and I think there are a few ways you can “harness” it..One thing we did recently was to embed a facebook recommend button onto our site ( and to “herald” it’s arrival..When we embedded it we asked our twitter followers and facebook likers to go and give it a click which resulted in a flurry of recommends..Each recommend then gets broadcast to the recommenders friends which may have induced more..

    Also, with regards to the retweet button on blogs I think it is key to have it, even if there are little or not retweets..If the button isn’t there the likelihood of your blog obtaining an RT is slim to none..Try to encourage RT’s at the end of some paragraphs when you drop the main point of the blog..”I hope this insight has you moving towards that fancy RT button on the top right” sorta lines…also, at the end of the post, try wrap it up with a “ah sure, go on, give it an RT or share on Facebook, it’ll make us smile” as well as the sexy share buttons..On top of that, when you see some retweets are starting to happen change your twitter broadcast strategy to acknowledge that fact “it’s all ready got a lot of RT’s – have you seen it yet? —>link”..with some luck it’ll get some more traffic and social proof..

    I think it is getting to the stage where even those who aren’t “involved” with social media are becoming quickly aware of the nature of the beast as a result of friends who are “involved”…Sometimes the extra encouragement can get the extra RT which all adds to the coveted social proof..

  • It seems to me that people are hung up in numbers of fans, followers and likes. You can have as many as 5000 fans on your facebookpage. That´s a good number, but if noone is committed in what you do, then that number is worthless.
    When someone follows us on twitter, or ask me to like a fanpage on facebook, I´m not interested in how many fans they have, but WHO and what they write about. I would rather have 50 devoted fans than 10 000 who don´t care. If you want to connect with the sneezers/early adopters, and you do want that, then showing off how many followers you have wont work.

  • aboutcanada

    I went to the site and like the way you have integrated social media, as a retailer its interesting to see how people outside the social media business are doing it. We need to do more at our site (

    The comments about trying to engage the readers in retweeting and sharing is a great idea. We are now fans.

  • Robert Rowe

    The information given about how to enhance website using social media as social proof is invaluable and certainly add a new dimension to marketing ones site or blog.

  • Glad you liked the idea and hope it helps you out…cheers for the “liking”…

  • An excellent post about an important subject. How does this relate to NetworkedBlogs? I have a much larger following of my blog ( on NetworkedBlogs than I do RSS subscribers. Someone following the blog through NetworkedBlogs is treating it as an extension of Facebook. Which is more desireable, a high following count on NetworkedBlogs, or a high RSS subscriber list?

  • This article spoke to my marketing soul 🙂

  • Hpearson141

    I find all this talk about social marketing so overwhelming! I’m not tech savvy at all. I have a lot to offer but don’t feel like I’ll ever get noticed because all this is way over my head. My project was too small for anyone on elance to be interested and I can’t afford anything expensive at the moment.

    Any suggestions how someone starting out can get noticed without spending all day, every day (as I’m already doing) trying to learn how to market, leaving myself no time to actually work on my business?


  • Take a look at the “Getting Started” link at the very top of our page 🙂

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  • WadeHarman

    Love this & Corbett Barr!

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