Is It Ever Appropriate to “Buy” Social Proof for a New Business Website or Blog?

What’s your initial reaction after reading this post title? The truth is that taken from almost every angle, this topic is not so cut and dry. There are a lot of gray areas in between.

Social Proof Just Get’s Your Foot in the Door

Getting your first suscribersIt wasn’t so long ago that the mantra of doing business online was that the Internet has leveled the playing field. It lowered the barriers to entry, making it possible for almost anyone to establish a profitable niche.

But, I don’t think this so true today.

There is an unavoidable reality to conducting business or disseminating content online these days: if you don’t have an active social media presence and some kind of social proof, it’s very, very hard to get people to pay attention to you or your business. And, this applies even if you happen to have some really good and desirable products, services, and/or content.

This presents a very big challenge for small business owners, self-employed professionals, and online entrepreneurs (and the more “off-line” the business, the bigger this challenge): How do you get the ball rolling? Even if you invest time, and maybe even money, learning the best selling techniques online, you still have to give the process a significant amount of time and energy before you will be able to drum up any kind of significant activity and interest.

What is the Most Important Social Proof to Pay Attention To?

The kind of social proof that you need to successfully attract the right kind of interest and engagement will vary depending on your business model and the mediums you are choosing to use to interact with customers or peers and market your business.

In other words, if you are selling information-based products, such as ebooks or tutorials, and you’re maintaining a blog, then potential customers will be looking for the number and quality of your comments and the amount of social sharing your content is generating. They may also look to see if you are publishing your blog’s subscriber numbers.

If you are self-employed professional who does a lot of networking on LinkedIn, then seeing many connections and recommendations on your profile is another form of social proof.

Finally, if you are trying to sell a specific product or service, then seeing positive testimonials and reviews from well-known people online is social proof that your offerings are worth buying.

When and Where Might it Be Appropriate to “Buy” Initial Social Proof for Your Business Online?

Most people look down on services that promise to produce hundreds (or even thousands) of Twitter followers, Facebook likes, and website traffic. Even if the service actually delivers as promised (and few of them really do), they get a bad rap. Why? Because it’s obviously deceptive, it’s cheating, and it’s a kind of cop-out. Not only that, but, these kinds of “followers” are not the ones who will generate sales or really engage with you. So their value is very small.

That said, there are some gray areas…

What if you are genuinely trying to offer good content or a good product or service and your intention is to build up an engaged audience, but when visitors come to your site or check out your social media profile, you don’t want to make it look like you are starting at ground zero?

I recently had a guest poster on The Frugal Entrepreneur suggest using a crowdsourcing platform, such as a micro job site, to pay a group of people to share and interact with your content. With paid crowdsourcing, you get real people leaving comments and promoting your posts, videos, and images, and it may be an option to consider to get the get things moving for your readership.

Then, there are services like Justretweet.com. Here, you “pay” people to promote your content (or follow your Twitter account) with credits that they can use for their own promotional campaigns. I’ve yet to come across a bad review of the service or even a hint of disapproval. It’s widely accepted as a “clean” way to get paid promotion.

So, what do you think? There are definitely some pretty obvious benefits to “buying” a little social proof. But is it ethical? Are there lines that you shouldn’t cross, or is it fair game on the Internet?

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