There’s this fascinating story about Pablo Picasso being able to produce a work of art in a few minutes.
Apparently, a woman once asked Picasso (who was either at a café or in a market) to do a drawing for her.
Picasso did what she asked, and then demanded some ridiculously high amount of money. Let’s say ten thousand dollars.
Of course, the woman protested, “But it only took you a couple of minutes to draw this.”
The old master corrected her, “It took me thirty years to learn how to draw this in a couple of minutes.”
Or so the story goes.
I’d like to use this story as a framework to discuss an often overlooked aspect of content creation.
It’s not just the skill, but also how that skill is perceived by others.
Blogging success is not just about years and years of practice, but about having an audience that’s aware of all those years of practice.
Let’s talk about the concept of social proof and how you can best use it to your advantage.
No One Cares How Good You Are Until They Know Who You Are
In 2007, actor and comedian Steve Martin stopped by the Charlie Rose show.
It was during this interview that Martin explained what would soon become one of the most persistent truisms of being a creative:
“Be so good they can’t ignore you.”
Simple, clever, and frustratingly obvious, this advice inspired many creatives on their way towards success. Cal Newport even wrote a book about this topic, further developing the idea that we must develop our skills in such a way that we become so good they can’t ignore us.
Well, the truth is that you can be the best, and they’ll still ignore you.
The same way it’s not always the best product on the market that is the best selling product, it’s not always the best creative who is also the most successful in their niche.
Picasso was able to demand a high price for a work of art that took a couple of minutes to complete not just because he had spent decades working on his craft, but because he had built such a reputation that the woman was the one who approached him.
Be so good that they will come to you.
This is a good rule.
99% of bloggers out there aren’t aware of this simple rule of blogging: you’ve got to balance the two fundamental forces of the blogging universe:
- The quality of your content.
- The quality of your interactions.
The sad truth is that there’s an awful lot of information readily available for free. A lot of it comes from reputable sources.
The average reader is not looking for quality when they stumble upon your blog. They are looking for proof of the quality of your work.
They might think in terms of:
- How many followers do they have?
- How many people have read this article? How many likes has this article received? How many people commented?
They will deploy a lot of mental shortcuts before deciding to invest their precious time and mental energy to read your article.
That’s why one of the best marketing tactics you can use is to get other bloggers to mention you. That’s why guest blogging and interviews are still around.
People don’t want to go through the trouble of having to figure out how good you are. They want to be told how good you are. They want to know that when they click on your article, you’re the Picasso of blogging.
And, yes, when this becomes a fact, that’s when people will more than gladly pay a premium.
You Have to Tell a Story About How Good You Are
One way to look at building your social proof is by telling a story.
When someone visits my blog, and they go on my about page, they see this:
There’s an awful lot of social proof there.
I have over 142,000 followers, which is a respectable number for any individual blog out there. There’s more social proof in the form of social media accounts, and then there’s the fact that I do stuff. Or, to a first-time visitor, it looks like I am doing stuff.
Maybe I am good, and odds are they’ll decide to read one of my most popular articles, all of which have been liked by over 2,000 people and have hundreds of comments.
That’s social proof.
As a side note, once they can’t ignore you anymore, you can get away with a lot of things. Just like the story about Pablo Picasso, you can demand more for your work, or get away with less than fantastic work.
I often say that the bottom is overcrowded, implying that the top is a better place to be in because of less competition, but that’s not all there is to it: there’s also the fact that no one goes hunting down the alpha of the pack.
People will be far less inclined to disagree with you, and they will be far more likely to act on your advice. That’s one benefit.
So, how do you build social proof?
Building Social Proof as a Beginner Blogger
Social proof is but the breadcrumbs that people can see when you build your online reputation. Everything you do, everything you write, every interaction, tends to leave a breadcrumb on the web.
The best tactic for a beginner blogger is to focus a disproportionate amount of energy and time towards getting those numbers up as fast as possible.
Going from 0 to 100 followers is the toughest battle a blogger ever has to fight, and it’s mostly because of lack of social proof.
First time visitors are reluctant to read your content (they don’t know how good you are), and they’re reluctant to subscribe (they don’t know if you’re going to be consistent, if you’ll keep blogging a year from now or not.)
These decisions take only seconds, but they have an emotional undertone we’re often unaware of.
In other words, no one wants to invest time and mental energy on a blogger who’s going to quit two months from now.
Everyone wants to read the best content on the web, and to do that, they deploy these mental shortcuts.
What you can do, however, is work on growing your audience.
That’s common sense advice, but I’d like to go a bit further and provide you with another piece of advice:
If you want them to be interested in you, first you’ve got to be interested in them.
No one cares how good you are until they know how much you care about them.
That’s why you need to invest more time and energy on the quality of the interactions you have with others.
Quality content is everywhere these days, but most people are willing to sacrifice a bit of quality, and maybe even spend a bit more time, if they are guaranteed an experience with someone who cares about their time and attention more than just about anyone else.
That’s why, as a networking tool, commenting on other blogs is so important.
That’s why it’s important to build genuine relationships with other bloggers, with whom you can collaborate on different projects, using each other’s social proof to further grow your audiences.
In today’s content-saturated world, it’s not enough to be “so good they can’t ignore you.”
They will ignore you because they’ll take a look at your follower count and decide you’re not worth their time.
As a side-note, when it comes to posting frequency, I often advise people to post as often as it takes to build social proof on their posts. What I mean by this?
In simple terms, you need to spread your blogs apart so each article gets the chance to develop a conversation in the comments section. I define a conversation as 10 comments or more.
Because people usually prefer to read and engage with the most recent article, and if the second most recent article doesn’t have any comments, odds are no one’s ever going to read it or engage with it.
There’s nothing that recommends it as interesting.
Okay, let’s get back to you being interested in your readers.
How do you get to 10 comments faster?
By replying to each and every single comment you receive.
How do you get people to comment in the first place, especially when you’re first starting out?
By engaging with and commenting on a lot of other people’s content.
As a beginner, no matter how good you are, you’ve got to do everything you can to capture people’s attention.
Once you capture their attention, once they decide to give you a chance, that’s when you need to be able to show them just how good you are, how good your content is.
In order to become so good they can’t ignore you, you must first capture their attention:
- Comment on articles
- Engage bloggers directly (e-mail, social media)
This is a game of little by little.
And it’s a bit paradoxical, I admit. No one cares who you are until they know how good you are, but they’re also not willing to put in the time and effort to find out by themselves.
To be honest, if you’re really good, you just need someone to give you a bit of their time and attention. One chance, that’s it.
You need to get them to click on one of your articles, and then they’re hooked forever.
This is what makes blogging an art. It’s all connected somehow. Quality content, being genuinely interested in your readers, providing value, writing killer headlines, properly formatting an article.
Everything matters when you’re trying to become so good they can’t ignore you.
Because it’s easy for them to ignore you. In a world of half a billion blogs, it’s easy to close the tab, and that’s it. They’ll never see or hear from you ever again.
If you want to become a successful blogger, yes, focus on quality, but also be so interested they can’t ignore you. And when they do give you a bit of their focus, show them that you are so good they shouldn’t have ignored you.