Take Advantage of Social Proof for Fun and Profit

Social Proof [image credit : michelini @ stock.xchng]Social proof is an easy way to bump your traffic figures a little bit and make yourself look more authoritative. Today I’ll show you five simple ways to apply it to your WordPress blog.


The essence of “social proof” is simple : when people don’t have a lot of information about something, they will usually look at what other people think or do in a similar situation and act accordingly. This can happen both subconsciously (see e.g. the halo effect) and very explicitly, like when people check IMDB ratings before deciding which movie to see. You can use this behaviour to your advantage by presenting your visitors with positive social proof about your site or product.

And one last note before we go ahead with specific examples : obviously, social proof is only useful when it says something good about your offerings. If you don’t have much to show in the way of RSS subscribers (for example), just don’t display that number on your site.

Five Glorious (Yet Subtle) Techniques

1. “Popular posts”

This is one of the easiest approaches – simply put up a sidebar widget listing the most popular posts on your site. You can use a plugin like Popularity Contest or Popular Posts to generate it based on view count, or just write the list yourself. This is especially useful for converting first-time visitors into returning readers as they will be more likely to see your best content and become properly impressed. As an added benefit, it also subtly shows that your site is popular enough to have a “Popular posts” list.

2. Ratings

Ratings are a double-edged sword. They’re easy to set up with a plugin like WP-PostRatings and a 5-star rating on an article serves an obvious sign of quality for new visitors. However, you will need a sufficiently popular site to even get any ratings in the first place, and not all of them will be favorable. Also, the first few voters can have a huge influence on the eventual outcome because the later voters will take the current average rating into account when posting their own. There are, of course, ways to abuse this effect…

3. Download count

Do you offer downloads on your site? If yes, set up a download monitor and display the number of downloads to the visitors. Users are more likely to download something when they can see that a lot of other people have already done it. Basically, a download is also an indirect vote. You can use WordPress Download Monitor or WP-DownloadManager to add download monitoring to your site.

(Hmm, I really should take my own advice on this one.)

4. Comment count

Got an impressive number comments? Show it off with a stylish badge. This will show your visitors that discussion is welcomed on your site and encourage them to leave a comment of their own. As with visitor/download count, the amount of comments can also inform the user how obscenely popular your site is.

5. Social bookmarking badges

At least for the purposes of this post, social bookmarking is an off-site ratings system and should be treated appropriately. It’s also relatively niche, so, compared to on-site ratings, you will need considerably more visitors to get any number of votes. On the other hand, social bookmarking is the supreme example of social proof at work, so it would be unforgivenable not to include it in this post.

I won’t list any specific plugins for this one – you can find the relevant widget(s) on each particular site.

The Closing Rant

The above tips won’t make you an Internet celebrity overnight. However, little details like these can be what makes a potential reader/customer choose to trust your site over the myriad other sites in your niche. The success of social bookmarking, social marketing, and other “social-whatever” sites is a clear indication that people trust social proof works, often better than other types of advertising and PR.

It’s also an indication that we are sliding pleasantly towards the modes of communication popular with our honorable ancestors, the tribes-folk of the Hunter-Gatherer Town 😛

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2 Responses to “Take Advantage of Social Proof for Fun and Profit”

  1. R.W. Jackson says:

    These are good tips. You are right about everything and in particular the double edged nature of ratings. One thing to avoid is going off point on your blog posts. It’s always tempting to start talking about something not related to your blog, but it rarely ever helps you.

    Thanks for all the good advice.

  2. Web 2.0 Keyword Finder says:

    Niche research can really be a pain, especially after doing so much work and nothing comes from it.

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