Grow your readership with ‘social proof’

By Steve Outing

Lately I’ve been studying Internet marketing techniques, and there’s lots from that world that is relevant to news websites. One of the most powerful concepts in Internet marketing (well, all marketing, actually) is “social proof.” That simply means that you’ll get more people to buy something — or read something — if they know that lots of other people have bought or read it.

If you’ve got something to sell, a powerful statement to make to your potential audience of buyers is: “Wow! In the latest 24 hours we’ve sold 1,321 Widget 2.0’s!” The people who may be on the fence take note of this and are more likely to buy. That’s no different than driving by a restaurant with a mostly empty parking lot vs. one that’s full; most people will gravitate to the busy restaurant because they assume the food must be better. That’s social proof.

So think about applying social proof to your news website. There are many possibilities, but here’s a simple one. Look in the left column of this website, where I have a “Most e-mailed” block listing articles that readers have sent to friends or colleagues — with the exact number of e-mails sent. That’s a common feature on news sites, but most sites don’t include numbers, just a ranking. You don’t know if the most e-mailed story was sent to 5 people or 500,000. My block on the right shows the number of e-mails sent to friends.

Of course, this website is all of a day old so the numbers are minuscule. But imagine that on a major news website where the numbers are in the thousands. That’s great social proof that particular stories are worth reading. And if more people are enticed to e-mail stories to their friends, that grows your audience.

Deploying social proof strategies on a regular basis could be a great thing for your site.

Author: Steve Outing Steve Outing is a Boulder, Colorado-based media futurist, digital-news innovator, consultant, journalist, and educator. ... Need assistance with media-company future strategy? Get in touch with Steve!