Social proof is one of the most important tools that a young and relatively unknown company can use to establish credibility. Since most startups aren’t founded by a former Google executive, or have the backing of a prestigious accelerator like Y Combinator, they must find other means of validating their services to the general public. Fortunately, more social proof indicators exist now than ever before, including content marketing opportunities, customer testimonials, and Twitter followers.

Given the large number of opportunities that exist for a company looking to establish credibility, many startups are often misled by prioritizing one over the other, or failing to take advantage of them all together. We spoke with a number of different startup founders and asked what their preferred methods are for establishing social proof. Here’s what they had to say.

“By far I believe customer testimonial offer the best credibility – those can come in the form or traditional case study, video as well as product review on other sites. People relate to review or case study and don’t treat it as a sales pitch (although obviously most companies will put their most friendly customers there and ask reviewers who, they believe will provide positive review to review that product). In fact, I’ve seen research showing how testimonials and word of mouth are driving force behind 20-50% of all purchasing decisions. While the numbers may vary in B2B vs. B2C, we, as a B2B business had number of customers saying that case studies on our site as well as customers reviews of our service on independent sites, helped them making the decision to give Stackify a try and eventually buying it.”

Irit Gillath, Stackify

“The most important social proof for early stage start-ups is customer enthusiasm, testimonials and on-going active engagement with the early products. The earliest customers are taking on a technology that is often new to the market, and quite possibly has some planned feature improvements. Customer testimonials that identify how the product materially improved their use-case are a critical element of traction. One mis-used sign of social proof is logos. Just because one engineer or team within a large company has used the product does not mean that the product is currently in use within that logo company.”

Chris Perret, Nacho Cove

“Social Media following is great, but it means nothing without engagements. I believe that is the most important credibility. How long someone stays on your webpage? In your app or playing your mobile game. That proves that you are doing something right.”

Saif Rahman, Mobile First Entertainment

“When it comes to B2B SaaS startups, winning and promoting credible reference customers and testimonials has to be at the top of the list. Not only does knowing that real businesses are using your product build confidence with prospects, stories from your users can help to articulate your value proposition and what makes you different and better in a much more impactful way.”

Ross Paul, Lemonstand

“If people are selling your product for you, you are doing a great job. You can check to see if people are selling your product for you by doing an easy Twitter search.”

Cory Levy, After School

“Establishing credibility can’t be addressed the same way wether you’re a B2B or B2C company. In B2B relationships, I strongly recommend to conduct customers interviews. All the feedback you get from customers can then be converted into testimonials you’ll share on your website or social media channels as a flagship. When benchmarking for a new service, businesses always try to identify themselves to a specific use case similar to their needs. Testimonials work on businesses like a “stamp” would on original products: it creates the confidence necessary to get the respect of your peers and get traction.”

Raphael Iscar, Agendize

“Social proof has always been and will always be essential to generating more leads and sales. ExactDrive has experienced great success with posting and sharing customer reviews/testimonials. The extra quality verification that customer testimonials provides has been a critical element to our social proofing strategy.”

Tim Nichols, ExactDrive

“I believe it is a mix of the different social media elements, consisting of a wider following on the main social media sites, a strong performance in relevant content on the web about the core areas the company is claiming expertise for and good testimonials from industry leaders.”

Rolf Ritter, People As A Service

“The best social proof of a B2B tech start-up is time in the game. This leads to an accumulation of all of the above and drives the only concrete metric on brand that I understand – What is the biggest cheque that a stranger will cut for you? I love waking up in the morning and finding out that a stranger trusted our website enough to wire $5,000.”

Ben O’Brien, StrechSense

“It all depends on the market. It is not the same for social vs. gaming vs. enterprise software. In enterprise software the customer case study is king. Nothing else compares. To sell your software to a bank in the UK for example, you need a case study not only of a bank but also of one in the UK. The case study must be both vertically and geographically focused to be useful.”

Brian Reale, ProcessMaker

“What we have found works really well is customer driven product reviews on third party sites. But they- can’t just be all “this product is great”, of course it is “great”, every product is “great” on the Internet. Internet customers are incredibly cyclical.

Rather, you need to be coaching your fans to follow a variation of this simple, three paragraph formula:
1) who you are, what is your business or what was the problem you were looking to solve
2) how did the product help, what does it do well or how do you use it
3) how could it be better, does the vendor listen to suggestions, is their customer support good

What this formula does is firstly leaves the reader in now doubt that this is a real, actual customer – there is too much actual detail for this review to be fake. Secondly the tangible detail of how the product is used has the reader already thinking in their mind how it could help them. Finally the last paragraph helps reinforce the authenticity of the review by highlighting some area that the product can improve on, whilst at the same time building confidence that the vendor actively helps it’s customers and listens to their ideas.”