What is Social Proof?
Also known as: informational social influence
The Social Proof Theory, popularized by psychologist Robert Cialdini, maintains that a person who does not know what the proper behavior for a certain situation is, will look to other people to imitate what they are doing and to provide guidance for his actions.
Simply put, social proof is** the endorsement for your business from someone with influence** (although with social media nowadays, everyone has influence).
In a startup, your endorsement will come from 5 different people: your customers, your mentors/advisors, your investors, the media or your teammates/co-founders. For example, social proof dictates that investors are more likely to invest in a company if others are already invested, or at least showing interest.
When it’s early in a startups journey, it’s important to make sure you have positive social proof with your customers to make sure that the word of mouth around your product or service is good (startups normally brag about this through the testimonials, or case studies on their site or pitch decks).
Some SaaS startups will give away their products to big companies (i.e. google, uber, etc) for free to get social proof. (word of caution: it’s easy to get carried away and put the logo of a large company when only one engineer or team is using your product. Do remember that it’s easy to get in touch with someone in the company to check if they use it, and when they have no idea about your product, that could be the end of your fundraising opportunity or worse, a multi million — multi year contract with the same company).
Your mentors and advisors is often the fastest way to get connected to investors and big companies (business development meetings). Often, a company’s advisors have secured investment in the past and bring that positive influence to the business. Their name is important to them, so their support really boosts credibility.
Your investors are good for your social proof as having a known investor means that you have the cash and the experience of the investor to back your startup. One of the easiest way to get more PR coverage is to mention your investors name as it draws more attention than just mentioning your product.
Being covered in a reputable media outlet speaks to credibility as well. It shows that at least somebody thinks you are newsworthy, and the more reputable the better. With social media, if you get mentions from big social influencers in your industry, it also adds more social proof to you. For example, if Elon Musk tweets about your startup, it adds massive credibility to your startup. (word of caution: This is considered as inferior to the other ways to get social proof as it’s easier to pay your way to get media mentions. With that said, it adds to your social credibility is it’s done right).
If you have a good CTO or CEO who have worked with a big established company, you get more social proof. Example: When Square started, the fact that Jack Dorsey (founder of Twitter) is the founder of Square is one of the biggest reason why everyone gave it attention.