12 Ways to Build Social Proof (From Scratch): A Sumo-Sized Guide

The ultimate guide on building social proof from scratch for more conversions.

Fun fact:

A lot of your behavior can be explained by an interesting psychological phenomenon that marketers use constantly.

It's the psychological preference for doing what other people are doing, because if other people are doing it, it proves that it must be worthwhile.

It's not just you, though. We all have this tendency, and the good news is you can use it in your business to increase conversions, credibility and ultimately sales.

We call this social proof. It's what is at play when you open Yelp to choose a place to eat, when you buy something that is "limited edition", and likely even the last time you signed up for an email list.

And in this guide, I'm going to show you exactly how to use social proof in your own business to build social proof from scratch. Yes, that means with:

  • NO previous following
  • NO connections, and even
  • NO prior knowledge on how to do it

But first, I want to address something…

The Growth Curve of Social Proof

Social proof is tricky, because it’s easy to get discouraged when building it.

That’s because social proof growth is not linear. It’s exponential. Once you get to a certain point, it begins to grow much faster and without you having to do anything for it.

For example, it’s easier to go from 20,000 Instagram followers to 50,000 than it is to go from 0 to 1,000. Take a look at what the growth curve looks like for Sumo’s Instagram account:

total instagram followers for sumo

If I had become discouraged in January or even early February with the rate of our growth, we wouldn’t have been able to build a following of over 30,000 in just six weeks. (Learn more about using Instagram for sales from these ecommerce entrepreneurs.)

Behold - the Instagram queen.

sarah the social queen

The reason you see exponential growth in social proof is that social proof acts as social proof… for social proof.

confused meme

So next time you think to yourself that some numbers seem almost impossible to reach, or wonder how people manage to get such solid social proof, just remember that they started off with zero, too.

How to Make Your Social Proof Work Harder For You

In the quest for social proof, there is some low hanging fruit you can put into place to make it work just a little harder for you…

Or at least make it so nothing is working against you.

Display Your Highest Numbers

As you go through this guide, remember to always display the highest numbers you have. Do not bother with the lower numbers.

When building social proof, less is more.

For example, if you have 900 Twitter followers but only 100 Facebook fans, display your Twitter followers on your website, but leave out the Facebook fans (or lack thereof!).

When in doubt, leave it out.

Get Rid of Numbers if They Aren’t Impressive

There’s social proof…

And then there’s anti-social proof. And I’m not talking about proof that won’t get out of the house.

I’m talking about forces that drive people away - indicators that people don’t follow you. Anti-social proof repels. It’s like wanting to go to a new restaurant in town, and then when you do finally get there, it’s empty. This doesn’t make you want to eat at the restaurant, does it?

So you want to get rid of all evidence of anti-social proof:

  • If you have comments enabled, but you get no more than a couple of comments per post, either disable the comments, or at least remove the “0 Comments” link.
  • If you have widgets on your website that display your social media follower account numbers, yet you don’t have many followers, remove them. I don’t know about you but this does not make me want to follow:

    social proof types

  • If you have fewer than a few hundred email subscribers, don’t ask visitors to “join 300 other people and subscribe”.

Numbers aren’t mandatory and when you’re just starting with building social proof, you don’t want anything working against you.

Now you’re primed and ready to start building that social proof, right?

There are 13 different types of social proof you can use to boost conversions, and I’m going to show you how to kickstart each of them:

  1. Raw Quantity
  2. Celebrity & Expert Endorsements
  3. Testimonials and Quotes
  4. Where You’ve Been Featured
  5. Certifications
  6. Referrals
  7. Gazing
  8. Ratings and Reviews
  9. Case Studies and Proof of Concept
  10. FOMO: The Fear of Missing Out
  11. Social (Media) Proof
  12. Rankings

Let’s jump into it.

social proof

1. Raw Quantity

In our last article about social proof, our Marketing Sumo, Nat started with raw quantity…

Which is perfect, because that’s one of the lowest hanging fruit you can cash in when you’re starting with social proof.

Don’t you love it when things work out that way?

As humans, we want to know that we’re not the only one home. And luckily, most of us have some sort of number we can boast.

When you’re starting off with social proof, these numbers can kick it off. Start looking at your numbers to see what you can use as bragging rights:

  • If you have a physical or digital product, how many sales have you made?
  • If you have a blog or podcast, how many countries do people listen or read from? How many comments have been left on your updates?
  • If you have a social media presence, how many followers do you have? How many posts have you posted?
  • If you have an app or a SAAS product, how many people have come in contact with your product? How many customers have your customers helped with your product?

These are just examples - don’t be afraid to expand and look elsewhere.

GetGymBag.com does this well with their counters for boxes shipped, servings supplied and of course customer satisfaction.


display social stats

Bonus: they’re also doing a lot right with their “What People are Saying” section.

The service Help a Reporter Out (which we’ll be talking about later on in this guide) also does a great job displaying their Raw Quantity social proof:

social proof

Nobody wants to be the first to buy, read or consume something, because none of us want to be the guinea pig. This is reassuring to customers and members of your target audience.

Social Sharing Numbers

If you’ve been creating content and getting even a bit of traffic, chances are people have been sharing at least some of it.

To kickstart social proof, take a three step approach:

  1. Make it super simple to share your content
  2. Use a call to action in your content to share on a specific platform
  3. Start collecting those shares.

Of course, to make it simple to share, use the Sumo Share App (which you already have installed… RIGHT?!). Make it float to the left of the content so your audience doesn’t have to scroll to share (because, again, they won’t).

Disable the counters if you get fewer than 50 shares on your content.

When you’re first starting out, it will probably be difficult to accumulate more than a few shares on each channel, so instead, just include the total number. That number is more impressive, because it will be bigger.

You can do this in Sumo by pulling up Sumo Share app:

social sharing tool

Toggle off “Show Share Counts” but Toggle on “Show Total Share Counts”. Set your Show Share Counts Minimum to 50.

Remember that Twitter doesn’t allow you to show shares. So when you’re creating your call to action to boost the raw quantity numbers, you may want to leave Twitter out if it.

To make sure people are sharing your content so you have raw quantity to display as social proof, you just have to ask them.

  • Reach out to influencers who you mentioned in your content. If you reach out to the influencers and let them know you mentioned them in your content, they may share it. Which means they’ll share it with their audiences, which are likely much bigger than yours.
  • Include a call to action in your content to get people to share. Be as specific as possible - ask them to share with one friend on Facebook, or Pin it to Pinterest, and make sure that you give them everything they need to get it done.
  • Ask your email list. Send the same social sharing call to action to your email list. Remember, though: one email, one call to action. You don’t want to overwhelm your subscribers by giving them more than one thing to do.

Social sharing numbers are a great place to start with raw quantity social proof because there’s low barrier to entry and the numbers are relatively easy to build.

2. Celebrity & Expert Endorsements

It’s highly unlikely that you’ll be able to get your favorite celebrity to vouch for you.

Kim Kardashian has better things to do.

But that’s okay, because for you and your business, chances are celebrity endorsements, while cool, would be irrelevant.

Instead we’re going to focus on expert endorsements. Each industry has a group of people who are considered industry leaders or influential in some way. For example, in marketing and business, we have people like Seth Godin, Tim Ferriss, Marie Forleo and of course Noah Kagan.

Featuring an endorsement from these experts and industry celebrities boosts your credibility like nobody’s business.

Check out how Jeff Goins uses endorsements from Darren Rowse and Michael Hyatt on his homepage to land him some serious street cred (not that he needs it):

welcome mat example

But since you’re just starting out on your path to social proof, you’re probably feeling a little lost with this. How can you get an expert endorsement when experts have no idea who you are?

I’ve got you.

Here’s a step-by-step process to getting an expert to give you an endorsement to kickstart your social proof. First...

Make a List

First, you need to make a list of the experts and influencers in your industry that you want to get an endorsement from.

Brain dump everyone you can think of into a spreadsheet.

Pro-tip: You’ll be building a relationship with the expert in the rest of this section, so make sure that you can get behind what they do and believe. You want to actually like them.

Ya’ll know I love a good ranking system, so rank your experts:

  • Target #1: People who may already be familiar with you, or who you’ve interacted with before. These should also be people who are closely aligned to what you’re doing, and who you like and respect.
  • Target #2: People who hit all the criteria from Target #1 but who you’ve not had any previous interaction with.
  • Target #3: People who may be in slightly different industries from you but from whom an endorsement would still provide social proof.

Once you’ve sorted your targets this way, you know what you need to do. Go after your “Target #1” people first!

If you have more than one in that category, start with the person you’re most excited about. Then, move onto the next step...

Get on the Influencer’s Radar

First thing’s first…

You need to be on the influencer’s radar if you want to get an endorsement from them. You can’t build a relationship with somebody if they don’t know you exist.

Here are a few solid ways to get on an expert’s radar:

  • Use them as a (good) example in your content: People love to be used as an example, especially when they’re running a business. That’s because by using them as an example for something, you’re giving them social proof. Meta, right?

    This is how Noah stumbled across my work. I used him as an example in my article on Boost Blog Traffic about why blog ads are a bad idea to demonstrate what to do instead:

    social proof types

    He then emailed me.

    Pro-tip: Link to the expert or influencer within your articles on guest posts instead of your own website (bonus points if you do both). The influencer may not notice if you link within your own website or blog if you’re still growing, but they’ll appreciate a link from a larger publication.

    Most people have Google Alerts set up for themselves, but you still want to let them know that you mentioned them. We do this on Twitter when we mention people in our articles:


    You can also let them know via email, like I did when I reached out to Brian Dean from Backlinko after Assya mentioned him in her guide to going viral through challenges on Unsettle:

    social proof

    (Though I’ve since learned to keep my emails shorter).

    After you do this, you can and should continue on down this list to connect in a few different ways.

  • Buy something from them. Most of the influencers and experts you want endorsements from have products and services or a way to work with them. This is hands down one of the easiest ways to get on the radar of people with influence.


    Rather than grappling for their attention as a bystander, get on their radar as a customer instead.

    Chances are they even have a product or service you could benefit from.


  • Interview them. We’ll get into interviewing later on in this guide, because having interviewed an influencer provides social proof in and of itself.


    But for the sake of getting on the radar of an influencer, if you have a podcast, YouTube channel or even a blog, interview them. Send an email with a request to get on Skype or send them questions.

  • Give them a little love. Who doesn’t like a little ego stroke every once in awhile?


    We all like to know when we’re doing something that’s impacting somebody else in a positive way, and since you’re targeting people who you genuinely like and want to build relationships with, a great way to get on an influencer’s radar is to tell them how they’ve helped you!

    Don’t send a generic “I love your work” email. Influencers get a ton of these. Instead, send an email that is thoughtful, personal and specific. These stick.

  • Engage with their content. This is usually not enough to get on their radar alone, but if your target influencer creates content, engage with it. Share it on social media, tagging them in your post. Comment on the content. Respond to the emails in their autoresponder series. If you do this often enough, they’ll recognize your name (especially as you do the other suggestions as well).


  • Include them in an expert roundup. Along the same vein as interviewing the influencer, including the person in an expert roundup and asking for their opinion on the topic provides value to both of you.


Don’t just do one of these things once and forget about it.

Instead, choose a mix of these strategies that you’re comfortable with and begin to do this with all of your #1 and #2 targets. Even if you won’t reach out to them anytime soon, it still spreads goodwill.

After you’re officially on the radar of influencers, there are three ways you can go about getting an endorsement.

1) Provide Massive Value

Alright, so you’re on the radar of the influencer. The purpose of this exercise is to get expert endorsements, right? But they need to have something on which to base the endorsement you’ll be asking them for.

One of the best ways to do this is to be generous with your time and help an influencer with something they want or need.

How can you use your skills to provide value to somebody else?

Before I continue, I need to make a small disclaimer…

For the love of all that is holy, do not email the influencer and ask them what you can help them with!

grumpy no meme

This puts the onus back on them to think of something (with little prior knowledge of your skills) you can help them with. And as if they need more work, #ammirite?

Instead, come up with a list of things you can help them with. Start with listing your skills. What do you do or know more about than the average person? There are dozens of things you could do even if you don’t think you have any unique skills they don’t have (which is not true, by the way).

And don’t think that just because they are the influencer, you can’t possibly have anything to offer them. You do - just try to think of something that is related to your industry or business.

  • Are you a good writer or editor? Send them a message offering to edit their content. Or better yet, just do it and send it to them (in a non-offensive way).
  • Do you know your way around Canva or Illustrator? Create some graphics for their content and send it over to them.
  • Do you know somebody they might want to connect with? Offer to introduce them.

Your best bet by far is to not to offer - just do it, and send them the finished product.

2) Become a Success Story

One way you can get endorsements from influencers - or just generally get on their radar is to buy their products and become a case study.

Very few people take action on things and report back, so it’s new and novel when a customer or client actually does so.

This works so well because again, you’re providing the influencer with social proof - proof their product works.

This is how I got on Jon Morrow’s radar. I was a student in his Guest Blogging course, and I did something really crazy…

I actually followed the course.

And guess what?! This meant that I got results.

Those results - and sharing them with the instructors of the course - led to me becoming a moderator for Jon’s community Serious Bloggers Only, published on his blog Boost Blog Traffic (which is how Noah found me), and how I became a case study for his guide on how to be published on Fast Company:

how to get social proof

I can’t say for certain because I haven’t asked, but now that I’ve done the work, proven myself as at least sort of worthy, and provided Jon’s course with some serious social proof, I suspect he’d be happy to send me an endorsement.

3) Just Ask

Now, if you are very familiar with the expert or influencer you want a quote from, getting that endorsement isn’t rocket science…

Just ask.

Most of us know at least one or two people who can be considered influential. Now’s the time to put yourself out there with them.

This funny thing happens when we want a favor from our friends or network. We clam up. There is something inherently uncomfortable about asking those who are familiar to us for something.

But (and this is something I drill into my community’s minds on Unsettle all the time) your success in anything is a function of two things: how hard you work and how uncomfortable you make yourself. Momentary discomfort is a small price to pay for a kickstart to your social proof.

Send a quick, personal email to anybody you already know personally asking for a quote. Something like:

Hey man,

I’m working on my website and looking for endorsements for the homepage from people in the industry. Would love if you’d send one over. Just need a couple of sentences - here’s an example: http://exampleurl.com/example

I’d appreciate it.

[Your name]

People want to help you - especially your friends and network. Why not let them?

The only thing left to do is...

Ask for the Endorsement

You’ve already become familiar to the influencer, provided massive value to them or became a case study. Now all that’s left to do is ask for the endorsement.

Yes, it’s scary. And no, it’s not comfortable to ask for an endorsement from somebody. But people don’t hand out endorsements like candy for kicks, so you’ll have to ask.

Reach out and ask - and be specific with what you’re looking for. It’s helpful to them if you tell them exactly what it’s for, so they know how to structure it. If your industry is not one that usually uses endorsements, don’t be afraid to send over some examples with your ask.

You need to make this (and every call to action and request) super simple for them to follow through with. You don’t want to make them guess or fumble with it.

  • How long do you want the endorsement to be?
  • Are there any specific points you want included?
  • Where will you put the endorsement?
  • General themes it should follow?
  • Send examples of these types of quotes so they know what to provide you.

Most people expect that you’ll want to use their photo along with their endorsement, but it’s always polite to ask, even if you’re just asking whether you should pull their photo from their Twitter profile.

If you rinse and repeat this badassity a few times over, you’ll have social proof coming out of your ears.

Interview Experts

Interviews are a great way to establish social proof because they have a relatively low barrier to entry.

In our Sumo-Sized Guide teaching you how to drive massive traffic from Facebook, I told you about a study that showed that just by being near to a famous person, you’re perceived as more famous.

It’s called the “false fame effect,” and it is the reason why interviewing somebody famous in your industry (or at least well known), can put you on the map.

Luckily, interviewing people isn’t as difficult as it might seem. The well-known people in your industry often are still interested in expanding their reach, so being interviewed is part of most entrepreneurs growth strategy.

The bonus of this social proof building strategy is that you also get to connect with influencers in your industry. When you interview somebody, they tend to remember you.

Use this script:

Hey [Name]

[Something personal about their work/impact that their work has had on you].

I run the [podcast/blog] [name] and would love to interview you for it on [topic]. I have an audience of [number if comfortable sharing] and [something else you can offer them].

Are you free for [time period] on [suggested date]?

No problem if not. I’ll suggest some other times.

[Name]

As with any script you use from us or other websites, make it your own. Throw your personality into it and make it less generic.

Bonus tip: Create an image in Canva or PicMonkey with their image next to yours. This will provide another subconscious layer of social proof.

After you’ve whipped up some interviews and expert endorsements, you can move onto the next one: testimonials and quotes from people who aren’t necessarily “famous” in your field.

3. Testimonials and Quotes

Testimonials, quotes, and feedback are one of the most common forms of social proof out there.

You see them everywhere, and that’s because they work. I’ll show you how to use them in this section.

Quotes and Feedback

If you don’t know where to start with social proof, this is the lowest hanging fruit, because you only need one or two quotes or pieces of feedback to give you a boost of social proof.

If you’ve ever published content online, or helped somebody with something, or received even a nice email from a customer about your product or services, this is a great place to start.

Try to think of the last piece of feedback you received. Can you reach out to that person and ask them to provide a quote for your website?

Once you’ve found the perfect piece of feedback, throw it on the homepage of your website, like we’ve done on Sumo:

sumo client review

These are usually stronger if you can use an image of the person who left the quote with it.

“Hey [Name]

Thank you so much for the feedback. Seriously, means a lot. Would love to use this on [insert channel here]. Is that cool with you?

[Name]”

If they say yes, then you can go ahead and ask for their pictures (and suggest any changes you might want).

If you don’t like the raw quote, follow up with them and ask for another. Say something like:

“Hey [Name]

I saw your [Tweet/Email/Review] and would love to get a quote from you for our [insert channel here]. Are you willing to send a quote over? Just one or two sentences is fine! I’d really appreciate it.

Cheers,

[Name]”


Testimonials

In our guide about the different types of social proof, we shared with you that testimonials and quotes are a form of social proof.

Not only that, but they’re a crucial and powerful form of social proof, boosting conversions on sales pages by 34%.

Testimonials and quotes work so well because, as studies show, we humans tend to find things more believable and compelling when we can picture ourselves in the situation. It’s those mirror neurons, yo.

So for quotes and testimonials, if you’re able, use the ones from people who are closest to your target audience or avatar.

When you’re first starting out, you may not have a ton of testimonials - or customers to get testimonials from. So how do you get these little nuggets of gold? There are a few ways to get the testimonial magic started:

Make it Rain Free Stuff

Now normally we’re not proponents of free labour, but in the name of building up your first bit of social proof, free is fantastic.

  • Have a SAAS product? Give some influencers free access.
  • Have a course or program? Give access to members of your target market.
  • Offer a service? Do it for free (best bet is to not even ask - just deliver).
  • Have a physical product? Send some to your target market.

Do this for free, and without any expectation. Because you’re providing a ton of value to the recipients, chances are you’ll get feedback. When you do receive that feedback, reach out and ask for a more formal testimonial - or just ask to use their raw quote on your page.

Where can you find the people who are part of your target audience to give your product for free to?

  • Do you have an email list?


    Even if you only have a few people on it, those are real, live human beings (surprise!). The power of a smaller list is that you can build relationships with the people on it. They’re far more likely to respond and engage.

    A client of mine had an email list of 23 people and was able to not only get testimonials from 4-5 of them - but she was also paid to get those testimonials.

    Send out an email to your list - no matter how small - offering up free product for testimonials.

  • Where does your target audience hang out?


    In previous guides (like this one), I encouraged you to get to know your target audience intimately. Including where they hang out online. This knowledge will pay huge dividends over all of your marketing efforts, and this is the case, too.

    Your product or service (hopefully) adds value to your target audience, so find where they hang out and engage with them there. Try Facebook groups, reddit, and forums.

    Offer it for free to those people.

    Bonus tip: get on the phone with them to screen them. This builds a deeper relationship, helps you make your product better and even helps you with copywriting and marketing.

Give Discounts

If you don’t want to give anything away for free in exchange for testimonials, another way you can start collecting them is to give discounts or coupon codes for them.

This works best if you have a physical product or more than one product offering.

After a sale, set up an autoresponder email with an offer of a discount if a review or testimonial is left. When they’ve left a testimonial, send them the coupon code for their next purchase.

Pro-tip: If you’re collecting testimonials from more than one person, create a SurveyMonkey survey or a Google Form to capture the answers.

This way, you can capture the information you really want from them. Testimonials are more powerful when they communicate the change the user went through after using your product, and usually to get a good testimonial you have to ask specific questions. Questions like:

  1. What was your situation like before using [product/service]?
  2. What was the process like working with me/using [product]?
  3. What specific results have you had since using [product/service]? (Use numbers if possible)
  4. Would you recommend [product/service] to others? Why?

After you have locked down a few testimonials you can move onto the next one…

4. Where You’ve Been Featured

Being featured on popular publications or websites is a great way to demonstrate social proof.

Think about it - let’s say you were a man looking for some strength training resources. Which would be more credible:

A website that displayed that it had been featured in Men’s Health…

Or a website that hadn’t been?

I have a hunch that you would find the former more credible. That’s how social proof works - and luckily it’s not that hard to get featured in press and in larger publications.

Here are a few different ways to do just that - even when you’re starting from scratch.

Being Featured in Popular Publications

Being featured in popular publications does double duty:

It gives you a boost of credibility with social proof, allowing you to demonstrate that you’ve been featured or seen in industry leading publications. It also allows you to build up social proof in numbers from your email list and social media profiles if you do it right.

There are two ways you can do this without having previous press:

Guest Posting

One great way to build up social proof that almost anybody can do is through guest posting.

If you publish on large publications, you can use those publications as social proof. If you can say you’ve been seen in Forbes or even the Huffington Post, this adds a layer of credibility.

Most larger publications are starved for content, so are happy to take high quality content from guest posters.

This is one of the easiest ways to start building social proof because there little no barrier to entry, and it’s something you can take control of and do yourself. After you've been published on these larger publications, you can include their logos in your “featured in” or “seen in” section, like Steph Halligan from Art to Self has done on her website:

how to get social proof

Not only that, but a huge bonus is the email subscribers and traffic that can result from a guest post - like John Gannon’s 1,800 email subscribers from a single post.

To get a guest posting slot on a publication for social proof, follow these steps:

  1. Create a spreadsheet of targets that you want to guest post on. These can be single authored blogs or larger media websites like the Huffington Post.
  2. Choose which publication you’ll target first. Pitching more than one guest post at a time can be a bad idea - after all, what if they’re all accepted? Guest posts can take a lot of time to create.
  3. Find out whether the publication takes guest posts. Usually there will be guest posting guidelines, but you can Google the publication name + “guest post”, “write for us” or “contribute” to find guidelines. If they have no guidelines - and none of the content on the website looks like guest content in that there is no author bio - they probably don’t take guest posts, so move onto the next publication on your list.
  4. Choose a topic to pitch. If the publication does take guest posts, you can then find the perfect topic to pitch (unless they only take full articles as pitches, in which case you’ll have to write it first). The best way to do this is through BuzzSumo - find out what the most popular content on the blog is already and find common themes or a different angle to write about it.
  5. Write out some bomb dot com headlines. If the editor isn’t interested in your headlines, why would they be interested in the post? Just sayin’.
  6. Send the pitch email. Find the editor’s email address from either the guidelines page, or the “contact us” page. Send a personalized email (that isn’t too long!) with your top 3 headlines. If you have previously published work, include it as samples, but no problem if you don’t.

Once you’ve sent out your pitch, you just have to wait for them to get back to you - and then get writing when they do.

As soon as your post is live, that coveted badge of honor is yours. You can Google the publication’s logo and slap it up on your homepage like Steph did above…

Or just create a “Seen In” page and list links, like I’ve done:

how to create social proof

Either way, don’t forget to display this awesome social proof you’ve worked so hard to build.

Republishing

Republishing is a fabulous way to build up social proof because it allows you to use the content you already have to build social proof without any extra work.

First, you usually have to guest post with original content on the publication you’re publishing on, but this isn’t always the case.

For example, my content has been picked up by Entrepreneur and MSN Money without ever having been published on those websites before.

So before you write off republishing as a means of building up social proof, you may want to pitch your content to other publications. The best way to go about this if you haven’t already guest posted on your publication of choice is to pitch your other guest posts.

That’s why I put this section after the guest posting section. I’m a genius!

Take that guest post that you just pitched, wrote and published on a larger publication for social proof, and make it work harder for you by pitching it to be republished on other large publications.

Just make sure to ask the host publication if they allow other publications to republish their content.

I did this when I pitched my guest post from Fast Company:

how to get social proof


To Huffington Post for republishing:

huffpost healthy living article

Allowing me to cash in on the social proof for both.

See, larger publications are more likely to pay attention when they’re pitched content from other larger publications. Let’s say you had a post published on Huffington Post, and then you were to go pitch republication on MSN Money. If MSN Money republished it, you’d be able to show that you were featured both on Huffington Post, and MSN Money.

Two for one!

Use the republishing script I provided in our guide to republishing for driving traffic, and pitch your guest posts to other publications.

Social proof from being featured doesn’t stop there though.

Help a Reporter Out

Do you remember the frustration of graduating college?

You needed a job to get experience… but you needed experience to get a job. That’s sort of like what getting press coverage for your new business is like. It’s easier to get press coverage when you’ve already had press coverage, because you’re at the top of mind for journalists.

Luckily, it’s not impossible to get press coverage when you’re first starting.

There are services like Help a Reporter Out (HARO) which pairs reporters up with who are looking for experts, stories and angles. The reporters come from different industries and the calls for experts happen through email, like this one:

how to build social proof

It’s free for “source” (like you).

HARO emails come out a few times each day, and it’s a numbers game. When testing HARO out for my followers, I sent out 5 HARO responses and two of them went through.

If you set a goal for yourself every single day to answer at least one HARO inquiry, chances are you’ll see some success with it.

Some tips for getting picked up by HARO:

  • Don’t discriminate. Only targeted the huge publications will be a long and frustrating road for you. You’d be surprised what the smaller publications can do for you.
  • Follow directions. Look, I get it. I hate rules, too. But if you don’t follow directions in the HARO inquiries to a tee, you can’t expect the editors to choose you.
  • Stand out. Most editors who post on HARO get a ton of responses (especially the bigger publications). You need to stand out somehow. If they don’t have subject-line directions, come up with something eye-catching that interrupts the normal patterns we expect.

As you continue to pitch, it’s inevitable that you’ll get picked up by at least a few reporters. Make this part of your daily activities with your business.

Being Interviewed

The next awesome way to get featured on sources bigger than your own is to be interviewed.

Usually, people don’t interview those who they don’t see as leaders, or credible. So when we hear an interview with somebody, we tend to assume importance - or at least expertise.

That’s why being interviewed provides social proof - especially if you’re interviewed on a popular podcast or publication.

But Sarah, nobody knows about me! Why would they interview me?

Usually, you have to pitch yourself as a guest on popular podcasts and publications. Of course, we have a guide for that:

The Ultimate Guide to Getting Featured on Podcasts.

The same process goes for text and video interviews. As you continue to land interviews with publications larger than yours, include a page on your website about how to contact you for interviews.

On this page, include the other places you’ve been interviewed as well. This provides another layer of social proof that makes anybody who is mildly interested in interviewing you for their content far more interested.

5 Certifications

This one is pretty straight forward as far as kickstarting your social proof goes.

If you have any certifications in your industry that can be used as social proof, don’t be afraid to display them.

Because this is relatively easy, and short of going out and buying a certification on the black market you can’t do much to obtain more certifications right now, include any credentials you have on your website.

You can include them in your sidebar, on your homepage, or in your About page for the extra boost of social proof, like Josh from CPA On Fire does with his accounting certification:

great about us example

And Jeff Rose does with his CFP designation after his name on his website:

jeff rose cfp

And consider even including them in your social profiles.

This is not absolutely necessary in some industries. Credentials don’t typically matter so much to writers or artists, for example (though they can be helpful to provide some street cred), but they’re crucial for people in the medical field or in law.

6. Referrals

You learned in our guide to social proof that referrals from friends is the #1 trusted source of advertising - which makes sense because you trust that your friends aren't going to sell out and try to get you to buy something or engage with something they don’t love.

Or, at least, I hope they wouldn’t.

But when you’re just getting started with referrals, how do you encourage your customers to tell their contacts about you?

Create a Referral Program

One of the easiest ways to do this if you have a product or service is to create a referral program.

A referral program is anything that rewards a customer for referring another customer. The difference between a referral and affiliate program is that usually, a referral program gives discounts or non-monetary perks, whereas an affiliate program pays out the affiliate.

CoSchedule does this by giving customers who refer their friends 10% off of their service:

coschedule referral and review program

Of course, there are three things you can and should do to make sure that your customers want to share your product with their network:

  1. Make it a no-brainer to refer a friend. This should go without saying, but if your product isn’t exceptionally useful, helpful, or valuable for your users, you’re going to have a hard time getting those referrals.
  2. Make it super simple to refer friends. It should be so simple that it’s practically easier to refer a friend than to not. Okay, that might be going a bit far. But you get what I mean. Don’t make them jump through hoops to sign up for your referral program or prove that they referred a friend. Make it simple. I don’t need to tell you yet again that people are lazy, right?
  3. Give their friend a bonus too. We like to take care of our friends, right? So it’s even more enticing when the company we’re referring also offers your friend a bonus. Can you offer them a discount as well? Or a freebie or something extra just to sweeten the pot?

7. Gazing

Eye-tracking software has demonstrated that when we’re looking at an image of something or somebody, our eyes tend to be drawn to two things:

  1. Where the subject of an photograph is looking
  2. Where there are natural lines pointing toward something else.

I showed you how this works with your call to action in the last Sumo-Sized Guide, where we taught you every single method to driving traffic from Facebook.

In that guide, I used Dollar Shave Club as an awesome example for how line of sight works. It increases conversions like crazy - if done right. Dollar Shave Club used line of sight to look directly at their “Sign Up” button on their Facebook cover, because they’re smart.

great call to action example

What does this have to do with social proof?

Well, a lot.

We told you how gazing is a form of social proof in our guide to social proof - and luckily it’s one that you can get started with almost right away. You don’t have to rely on anybody taking action on anything to do this.

You just need to find an image you can use that provides line of sight to your call to action.

Not sure how to choose the image?

  • If you have a personal brand, choose an image of yourself looking off to one side. Don’t worry - it doesn’t need to be looking in the right direction. You can mirror the image if it’s pointing in the wrong direction. Just head over to any image editing program and find the mirror button. Then, set it up so your eyes are looking directly at the call to action. In Unsettle’s feature box, I’ve included an image where I’m looking down directly at the opt in button.
  • building social proof example
  • If you have more of a company brand, use an image of somebody who looks like your avatar. For example, if your avatar or target audience is a 20-something male, you’ll want to use an image like that. I already told you why - were you paying attention?

If you don’t want to use faces - maybe your brand isn’t conducive to it or you don’t want to display faces on your website - you can use arrows or other lines of sight instead.

Remember though that human faces are the most familiar and interesting to us. Perhaps this is because as babies, we recognize human faces far before we recognize other objects. #knowledgebomb

When you’re using this form of social proof, make sure that your line of sight is going exactly to whatever it is you want your visitor to take action on:

  • Want more emails? Make sure the line of sight is directly to a signup button or opt-in form.
  • Want social shares? Make sure the line of sight is directly to your share buttons or a call to action to share (bonus points - this will give you even more social proof, as you’ll find out soon).

As you begin to accumulate other social proof (like testimonials, endorsements, and case studies) you can leverage lines of sight and gazing from other images you collect, too.

For example, asking for an image of your customers who leave testimonials, looking directly at the testimonial they left adds another layer of legitimacy.

Even if it’s meta.

8. Ratings and Reviews

You know that ratings and reviews are one of the best forms of social proof out there.

You respond to them all the time. That’s why Yelp, TripAdvisor, and Amazon are so popular. We all like to know what other people like. We’re sheep.

But getting reviews can feel like pulling teeth sometimes. How can you get more of them when you’re just starting out?

Giveaways for Reviews

One of the best ways to get reviews for your podcast or product is to do a giveaway for reviews.

Have you seen this done on podcasts?

Amy Porterfield ran a giveaway in 2015 with her audience to get them to leave reviews for her podcast.

These reviews not only provide huge social proof for her podcast (when you’re scrolling through iTunes looking for a new podcast to listen to, you’re far more likely to listen to one with 100+ reviews than you are to listen to the one with 3), but also help her stand out in the iTunes rankings.

To get the most reviews for your giveaway dollar, here are a few guidelines:

  • Make sure the giveaway is valuable. The more valuable the giveaway, the more reviews you’ll rake in. That means giving something away that is worth $25 probably won’t benefit you as much as a $200+ product. And as always - communicate the value to the participants.
  • Give away something relevant. Maybe you run a giveaway to your customers for an upgrade to your product, or maybe you can giveaway something that compliments what you do. Keeping it relevant will give you the most relevant reviews.
  • Be specific for what you want in your reviews. Not all reviews are created equal. Always ask your reviewers to be honest (you don’t want to seem like you’re asking only for favorable reviews - that’s shady). Want specific stories about how they used your product? Be explicit.

Giveaways can be a great way to get more reviews - and fast.

Asking for Ratings and Reviews

People don't typically take initiative and give you a review on their own.

It’s not that they don’t want to spread the love and give you a review. It’s just that they don’t think of it. Because unless you’re an entrepreneur or a business owner and are searching for social proof, you don’t quite understand the importance.

  • If you have a podcast, include a call to action at the end (and the beginning) of each episode asking for the review. Also include the ask it in your show notes, like Shawn from The Model Health Show does:
  • great call to action example
  • If you have a digital product, send an email after you’ve given your customer some time with the product and ask for a review. This method of TripAdvisor’s has been successful in reminding me to review.
  • If you have a physical product, include a request for a review in the package when you send it.
  • If you have a service, just ask! Especially if you’ve been working one on one with clients, chances are they’ll be more than happy to leave you a review. Ask them in person or through a person email to get the best results.

All you have to do is ask sometimes.

Reward Ratings and Reviews

A great way to make sure that your customers are reviewing your products is to reward them for doing so.

Think of it like an ethical bribe. Give them a discount code or something free with the next order when somebody reviews your product.

Many Shopify and Etsy shops do this to increase their review count - and therefore social proof and credibility of their product.

For example, Maria from Colony Vintage gives her customers a discount on their next order when they leave a review.

9. Case Studies and Proof of Concept

Case studies are one of the most powerful form of social proof for getting people to take action and buy your product.

But if you haven’t had many customers or clients yet, how can you start collecting case studies?

Well let’s start with the two things you can do without having previous customers or clients to collect case studies from...

Lead by Example

Easiest way to jumpstart your social proof with case studies and proof of concept?

Using yourself as a case study.

Brandon and Dan from Zen Dude Fitness use themselves as a proof of concept for their coaching and programs:

weight loss before and after pictures

And they provide both of their transformation stories.

This doesn’t only work in the fitness industry. Tracy from The Love Vitamin, which is a skin care company does this, too:

acne transformation before and after

You can take your audience through your journey to achieving whatever outcome it is that you help your audience achieve. You can write the story out, provide before and after photos, even just tell your story through audio or video.

This is hands down the easiest way to demonstrate case studies and proof of concept social proof.

But if you can’t use yourself as a good example?

Use Other People’s Transformation Stories

You need to be careful with this: you don’t want anybody assuming that you’re responsible for other people’s transformations.

But using other people as an example as social proof - hopefully with their permission (unless they’re a well known case) if you know you can get similar results - is absolutely fine.

For example, let’s say you had a Montessori school.

And you wanted to build up social proof for your school to entice more parents to enroll their children and provide credibility to your brand.

You can use case studies of the Montessori method as social proof because that’s the method you use.

Another example is if you had a juice bar. On your website, you outline the transformations that others have gone through by drinking fresh juice.

Until you have your own case studies you can use, using other people’s transformation stories as case studies can act as social proof for the work you do.

10. FOMO: The Fear of Missing Out

Fear of missing out - or #FOMO - is real.

You’ve probably felt it before. You probably just didn’t know it…

We’ve all purchased something you were on the fence about because it was an “exclusive” offer or there was a countdown timer attached to it. When you’ve wanted something simply because there was a limited number available.

This is all FOMO at play.

The fear of missing out creates social proof just like an exclusive club does. People love exclusivity - especially when they are part of the exclusive club.

So how do you capitalize on FOMO for social proof?

Start with Deadlines

Deadlines are inherently motivating to us, which is why the marketing principle of scarcity works so well to increase sales and conversions.

Here are a few ways you can use deadlines to amp up your social proof:

  • Deadlines on your product offerings. If you have any limited edition products or offerings that you can put a time limit on by closing the cart, this increases conversions like mad, because it both triggers the feeling of FOMO through missing out on the product and also makes the product seem more exclusive.
  • Deadlines on discounts. Let’s say you have a product that you want to increase conversions for, but you don’t want to close the cart on it. One great way to incorporate deadlines is to put a deadline on a discount.
  • Deadlines on bonuses. If you don’t want to have to be responsible for relaunching every few months (because let’s be real: launches are a lot of work!), you could keep your product evergreen and put deadlines on the bonuses you offer instead. Maybe for a limited time you have an upgraded package or a bonus you don’t want to offer always.
  • Deadlines on opt-in offers. If you don’t have a product yet - or you don’t want to incorporate deadlines into your existing products - you could always create a deadline for your opt-in offer. Create a limited time offer to convert people to your email list and give you that extra boost of social proof.

You don’t have to limit yourself just to deadlines on your product offerings. You have plenty of opportunity to incorporate deadlines into your marketing to boost your social proof.

And if deadlines aren’t your jam...

Create Exclusivity

Remember how I mentioned earlier that people love exclusivity?

It’s true. Exclusivity triggers a fear of missing out, and provides social proof because when we think that something is exclusive, we assume that the creator of that thing has license or a reason to make it exclusive.

Cue social proof.

Even if you think there’s no opportunity for you to incorporate exclusivity into your brand as social proof, you may be surprised. Try one of these out.

  • Ruthlessly prioritize your audience. Incorporate exclusivity into your brand by communicating clearly exactly who your business or website is for - and don’t be afraid to make it seem like an exclusive club.


    In the worst case, you’ll repel the people who you aren’t for, and attract the people you are for - which is what marketing is all about.

    I do this right on my “About” page on Unsettle:

    building social proof example

    Turning people away provides a certain level of social proof, and also allows you to be far more targeted.

  • Create a member’s only area. Triggering FOMO is the same as triggering curiosity, and curiosity and FOMO are exactly why places that are invite only have so much social proof. You can create a members only area for your brand through a Facebook group, a private forum, or even making your email list seem private and exclusive.


    Don’t be afraid to use the language “members only”, either!

Triggering FOMO for social proof can be an easy way to start, and can be a low-hanging fruit for capturing more sales and email addresses.

11. Social (Media) Proof

Social proof from social media is a double edged sword.

Not only do mentions on social media provide some great social proof, but it also means that your audience is engaging with you off of your website, which is a good sign.

Unfortunately, you can’t really get people to shout you out on social media for social proof, but you can use a few different hacks to get started:

Curate Your Likes

On Twitter, don’t abuse your “Likes”.

By that, I mean don’t like everything you agree with, want to read later or find mildly amusing. Instead, just like the nice things people say about and to you. That way, you’ve curated social proof about you, your brand, and your business for either quick reference later…

Or for when a potential follower or client finds your page. See how I’ve done this with my Twitter:

petersonsar twitter

This makes for easy reference when you need a quote for your homepage, or even just want to display the raw Tweet.

Like I demonstrated in the Sumo guide to testimonials, social testimonials - testimonials found from their natural habitat - are powerful ways to demonstrating social proof.

Create Your Very Own Hashtag

Sometimes, people talk about our brands or businesses and we don’t even know it.

That’s because these mentions sometimes happen in the wild, right under our noses. One way to make sure you know about more of the conversions people are having about your brand is to create your very own hashtag.

Then, encourage your audience to use it in reference to your business.

Do this by using your hashtag yourself, and mentioning it in your content. We use our #Sumo hashtag on Instagram for as many posts as possible:

sumo instagram hashtags

Which encourages our followers to use it as well. When they mention us in an Instagram post, or repost one of our posts and hashtag us, we know more often.

12. Rankings

Last time you visited a new city and wanted to find something to eat, what did you do?

Chances are you went to Foursquare, Yelp or TripAdvisor and sorted the city’s restaurants by ranking.

So if you were in the mood for tacos (because who isn’t always in the mood for tacos), you would find the first or second top ranked place in the city and head for a taco smorgasbord.

You’re giving into social proof in this example. So how can you engineer ranking social proof into your own website?

Post on Launch Sites

Launching a product?

Get started with rankings by posting your product launch on sites like Product Hunt.

Many people will then get a group of people to upvote the product for them, creating a false ranking system. While this is a bit shady, this is one method of getting more upvotes for social proof on a website like Product Hunt (or even other websites that take upvotes, like reddit).


If you want your network to upvote for you, just let people know that it’s there if they want to check it out. Don’t blatantly ask for their upvotes - if websites like Product Hunt think something funny is going on, they can shut you down pretty quickly.

Promote Your Content

When your content is ranking well on a top website, that is a memorable and notable event - and not just for you. Have you ever had a discussion with somebody who brought up something they saw on the front page of reddit?

That’s a ranking.

But one thing most content creators don’t do enough of is content promotion, and if you’re not promoting your content, how can you expect that it will be ranked at all?

So to start with this type of social proof, make sure to submit your content to as many submission directories as possible every single time you publish.

Then, when and if you are featured or climb the ranks to one of the top spots, display that social proof on your website.

If you are a food blogger and manage to get on Food Gawker, for example, that’s ranking social proof.

Almost every industry has submission sites, and many of them allow for upvoting and rankings. Make sure you’re taking full advantage of the potential of these places to promote your content.

Start Using Social Proof NOW

I just gave you every method under the sun to kickstart your social proof and start increasing your conversions like crazy.

And some of them you can implement in 30 minutes or less.

  • Reaching out to your friends and family to help you? You can get the ball rolling in under half an hour.
  • Incorporating gazing into your calls to action? This will take you less than 10 minutes.
  • Making it super easy for people to share your content? Five minutes.

There’s no reason you can’t start taking advantage of the insane power of social proof TODAY.

Don’t just read this guide and move on with your life.

Not that you’d be able to. This is a Sumo-Sized Guide, after all. You just stepped into Wonderland…

Take action.

Start with the small things that you don’t need to spend too much time on.

Then, pick a type of social proof you want to focus on that makes the most sense for your brand.

Finally, start building that social proof. Focus on just one type of social proof until you’ve made significant progress with it.

And before long, you’ll be rolling in social proof, conversions, and sales.

And let me know in the comments section below: what type of social proof makes most sense for your brand? What are you going to start implementing?

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