Startup Journal: Social Proof & Seeing What You Preach

Social proof is a beautiful thing. It’s such a powerful phenomenon, where, because a few people shared positive experiences, we place validation on a product or destination. Everybody wants to feel validated, so when you see and hear people living out what you and your startup have been preaching for God only knows how long, it’s impossible not to feel some sense of pride.

This has happened to every member of our team at least once. I know when Mark Zuckerberg got up on stage at the 2016 F8 (Facebook Developer) Conference and said, “We think you should be able to message a business like you would message a friend,” we all gave ourselves a little pat on the back. We’ve been preaching that since November, 2014! When we got a couple of good reviews from our beta testers, that was big. We’ve had several of these moments since, and I’m sure everyone here could give you a different story that stands out for them. I had one of these social proof validation moments Mother’s Day weekend.

Tech Crunch covers F8

Our family was all together for the weekend, which was great. We spent Saturday afternoon sitting on the porch, drinking coffee, and just shooting the breeze. Reading and books are big deals in our family. My dad’s always reading something new and amazing (that’s what happens when you repeatedly read through the New York Times Bestseller List). I myself read a book a week for a year, and my sister and brother-in-law have a very respectable personal library going on. As always, a book reference came up in our conversation, to which my sister said something that made me smile.

“Can you text that to me?” What a beautiful moment! Something we continually preach is that texting is what people prefer. The stats and research show it, and you see it in everyday life all the time. In this case, my sister wanted to remember something my dad had told her for future benefit. She wanted a record that she could always have and not worry about losing.

She had other options. She could have fumbled around for a pen and a scrap piece of paper to write it on. She could have looked it up on Amazon right then and saved it. She could have asked for an email. She could have typed it into her phone’s Notes app. But what did she do? She said “Can you text that to me?” Why? Because it’s easy. Because that’s the way she chooses to save and process that kind of information. That’s what people prefer.

Now, my sister, I guarantee, was not thinking through her question in this much detail. But it was a fun experience watching someone do something, and then mentally elaborating on what they did. It’s like a psychologist with a patient. You see them do X or say Y, and even though they may be oblivious to its connotations and implications, you start playing through the research and case studies in your mind. You know what’s going on.

For me, these real life social proof validations are a somewhat common occurrence — maybe every other week. To tell you the truth, they might be what give me the encouragement to keep going in this startup environment. We might not be the single most talented group of individuals in the world, or have the most money backing us, but we do know what we’re talking about.

Engagement is what we know. Consumer-to-consumer, business-to-consumer, business-to-business, consumer-to-business — engagement between people and brands through mobile is our base. It’s not just something we read about, but something we live through, teach, and watch occur all the time. Whatever your profession is, there’s going to be times where it’s really tough to get through, to jump that next hurdle, and where you’ll struggle to reach stability. If you’ve been through that, you understand these social proof moments, and how wonderful the validation can feel. They can be just the pick-me-up you need!

When you’re an entrepreneur or any part of a fledgling business, this kind of stuff is your life. You know all these things are happening, so you provide a solution. You go about sharing that solution in every way imaginable, and eventually get discouraged when less people than you anticipated jump on board with you. Then you see what you’ve been saying all along actually happen, and you’re left with a renewed sense of conviction!

Before Text Request, I worked in insurance and financial planning. I was working with this one guy — married, two kids, successful career — and I was encouraging him to bite the bullet on disability insurance, because somethingis always going to happen to someone. He wasn’t entirely convinced at the time (something I still feel terrible about to this day), so I encouraged him to think it over. A week later, I followed up. He shared that the morning before, he’d been diagnosed with colon cancer. His world was shattered.

In the worst way imaginable, I was validated. We all get our social proof moments. Some of those moments stick with us. After that, I’ve never left the house without telling my wife I love her, because I really never know what’s going to happen. I can’t say I’m at all glad about that man’s situation, but it encouraged me to do my job better. It affirmed what I knew to be true, and helped me to keep going.

In a far less morbid sense, these are the kind of moments you live for as a startup. After all the wear and tear, after pitching your idea hundreds of times to people who don’t seem to get it, those brief moments of “you just proved my point” are everything! They renew your fervor to keep going. We all have our social proof validation moments. Some we’ll want to share publicly everywhere we can, including our website’s home page. Others we’ll mostly keep to ourselves. Either way, they keep us driving. What’s your social proof validation story? What real life examples keep you going?

— Kenneth Burke, Marketing