The concept of “social proof” has been explored extensively through research conducted by Dr. Robert Cialdini, author of several best-selling books, including Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion.
In short, social proof means that people do what they see others doing.
For example, in a social experiment, one or more (anonymous) researchers looked up at the sky, causing bystanders to stop and look up to see what the first person was looking at. At one point in the experiment, so many people paused to look up that they stopped traffic and the researchers were forced to stop the experiment. [Source: Robert Cialdini, Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, Harper Paperbacks, 2006.]
As it applies to everyday life, an example of social proof is when a man who walks into a party with several friends and/or a beautiful woman. He attracts more people—especially more women—to him throughout the evening. This is because he has provided social proof that he’s cool, intriguing, or engaging enough to have already attracted the people with whom he’s currently engaged. He has effectively proven he has value—higher value, in fact, than the man who walks in alone and stands silently in the corner or the guy at the bar delivering a pick-up line to an unknown woman. [Resource: Neil Strauss, The Game: Penetrating the Secret Society of Pick Up Artists, It Books, 2005]
So, why should you care about the concept of social proof?
Well, look at your online presence – what do people see when they Google your name? Human nature dictates they will make initial assumptions about you and your skills based on the social proof provided to them via their most convenient reference tool – that first search result page.
Technology can and will be used both to your advantage and disadvantage, so it’s important to stay abreast of what people find when they search for you. High-authority sites, such as LinkedIn, Twitter and Google +, will show up high on that first results page. If you have any negative or non-positive results, create some content and publish it on a higher-authority site, such as a high-traffic blog, in order to push the other material down under the fold.
It’s true – Google never forgets, but, with a little effort, you can leverage what appears in search results, improve your overall online presence and increase your social proof of expertise.