"No need to go into all that," said my potential client with a wave of his hand when we met for the first time. "I've already Googled you and know you have the street cred I'm looking for." No surprise. After all he had found me through a Google search, so it stands to follow he would do his due diligence online.
Street cred, also known as social proof, works like this: If the people I trust, or relate to, are buying or participating in something, it must be okay for me to do so as well.
Just how important is social proof to your competitive advantage? Consider a recent study from Nielsen in which 92 percent of consumers say they put their trust in recommendations from friends and family, above all other forms of advertising. In addition, 70 percent reported that online consumer reviews are their second most trusted source.
Here are five ways to strengthen your competitive advantage by building your social proof:
1. Find ways to connect with experts in your field. If there is an expert or authority in your field who is already well-known and trusted, being associated with that person can help transfer credibility to your brand. A few examples include: writing a guest blog on an expert's website, hosting a guest blog from them on your site or interviewing them for a webcast or podcast.
2. Ask customers for their written endorsement. Satisfied customers willing to provide endorsements and even serve as case studies will make potential clients feel more secure about working with you. Video and written testimonials on your website, LinkedIn recommendations and links to your site from your customer's website can help build this credibility. Along those lines, encourage customers to post reviews of your brand on sites like Yelp, Google Local or Amazon.
3. Use stats to your advantage. If your brand has had impressive, quantifiable results, featuring those figures on the home page of your website or your social media platforms will clue customers into the impact your brand is making. For example, one of my clients, HP2, a Spokane, Wash.-based management-consulting firm features their 600 percent average ROI figure on one of the sliders on their home page so that customers immediately see the kinds of results they get.
4. Be thankful for shout-outs. Set up a Google Alert on you and your business to monitor mentions online. Thanking others for their retweets, repins and reposts of your blogs increases your visibility and expands your social proof to audiences beyond your own.
5. Pay attention to your Klout. To see where you stand on Klout, the website that represents social influence on a scale of 1 to 100, connect using your Twitter or Facebook accounts. The average Klout score is 40, and users with a score of 63 or above are in the top five percent. Users with the highest Klout scores are offered all kinds of perks from free cameras to tickets to early screening of new movie releases. Even if you're a small single-person business, having a high Klout score will provide a comfort to your clients that you know enough to be an influencer.
While these strategies won't make you an industry leader overnight, taking a multifaceted approach to building your credibility means potential customers are just an online search away from being sold on your business.
The author is an Entrepreneur contributor. The opinions expressed are those of the writer.
Karen Leland is an author and president of Sterling Marketing Group, a marketing and brand-strategy firm based in San Rafael, Calif. Her book, Ultimate Guide to Pinterest for Business, is available at entrepreneurbookstore.com and other booksellers. Find Leland on Pinterest.