Diving below the iceberg of testimonials and social proof

Hiring new staff or suppliers can be risky business at the best of times.  There are never any guarantees, but without discernment and due diligence the risks increase exponentially.  So diving below the  iceberg  of testimonials and social proof to minimise risk is essential.

Small businesses  are particularly vulnerable if a new hire or supplier is a dud and doesn’t deliver as anticipated or promised. The impact on reputation, time, revenue, morale and productivity can be immense. Yet many duds can be avoided by diving below the surface of the iceberg of social proof and testimonials.

What we see on the water surface is only 10% of an iceberg, the remaining 90% is below holding the structural foundation.  So diving below the  iceberg  of testimonials and social proof to minimise risk

Personality & Character

In metaphorical terms to this topic, let’s say the top 10% is the visible part of a person’s character and personality. . Whilst both are subjective, for the most part I think we can agree on the distinction between the two.  For example, some people display a strong business ethic, never being deceitful in any way but with a dullish personality.

Conversely there are others oozing vibrancy and confidence with the commercial ethics of an alley cat.  But of course neither combination exists in a vacuum so I am not suggesting good morals coincide with dull personalities, nor vice versa. Nor am I suggesting everything we see on the surface is going to be replicated below.

What I am suggesting is that the shinier personalities and digital social proof footprints   is a big factor in how we judge that surface 10% of the iceberg.  And therein is part of the reason so many poor decisions are made. No time is devoted to that 90%.

Know, Like & Trust is flawed

At the front end of decision making rhetoric is the cliché of buying and hiring people we ‘know, like& trust.   The idiom is overused and rarely thought through.  For a start we cannot like someone unless we know them. But you can know someone without liking them. So let’s just ditch the ‘know’ shall we.  And it is human nature to want to trust people we like as if a protection default for our ability to judge.

But trust is quite elusive and we see time and time again in business and relationships how trust has been totally unfounded.  And there are without doubt particular industry sectors that take duplicitous advantage of market demand and needs (esp. the financial and digital sectors to name a few)

Dr Simon Longstaff of The Ethics Centre was interviewed this week on the ABCs Q&A. He described that transparency was showing clearly everything you are doing without hiding.   Whereas trust was a belief that you will do what you say you will and actions will match your words even when unseen.

So when we are reviewing social proof and testimonials, the intersection of transparency and trust coupled with due diligence is vital to consider.

The intersection of transparency, trust and due diligence is the key to minimise risk. There are silver platters of data and information on Google and LinkedIn.   But you need to carefully and judicially navigate with a vigilant and open mind.

Many ‘ostensible’ influencers and questionable characters continue to ramp up their social proof illusion. And as time is an ongoing struggle for SMEs, most don’t dig below the surface.  And it goes without saying that if you cannot find anyone these days on LinkedIn or Google then it’s a big worry.  Below are a few pointers and tips:

Hiring Staff

Never be seduced by just the confident personality of a candidate.  Remember the biggest bungle by Myers  in 2014 when hiring a senior executive who was found to be a total fraud?   Big talker, good interviewer and on the surface great references.  But there was no LinkedIn or other digital footprint which is a tell-tale sign as above.  But more so the references were a total sham.  But no one spent time checking who these international references were. No one questioned or researched and double checked.

  1. Reference check the referees if you don’t know of them. Are they credible, do you know people who know them?   After owning a recruitment agency for 11 years I guarantee these tips saved my clients grief a time.  Never just call someone and accept they are trustworthy.
  2. If you engage a recruiter, use one that is either an industry or vocation specialist. They will know who is who in the zoo and how to flesh out proof quickly.
  3. Listen for and encourage the ‘word on the ground’ informal chat’ (and no it’s not illegal) gives gold and nuance.
  4. Humour and permission are great ways put the referee at ease and share without fear. No one is 100% perfect so giving the referee permission that they don’t need to give you an Oscar winning speech of the candidate can Moves Mountains. A bit like Andrew Denton’s interview style in Enough Rope!
  5. Mosaic – the prism of testimonials come from employers, colleagues and clients. Get a mosaic and observe and reflect patterns.
  6. Bad feedback – Often someone’s valid opinion/experience is given through their own prism of bias & relationship So you may get a bad rap from a legit referee but that just means you need to do at least another 2 to verify and put a full mosaic together to ensure an unbiased picture. Again take a view over on LinkedIn of who knows whom.
  7. Tone Persuasion – It’s not just what is said that matters but how and those gulps and pregnant pauses – and that goes for both sides. The way you ask “would you ever employ xyz again” in a relevant  cadence often has  a whole different outcome

New Suppliers

Many of the tips above apply around checking out the validity of the testimonials.

  1. LinkedIn: All that glitters may not be gold. Do not be swayed by large metrics of followers and engagement. It may or may not be a true indicator of trust or depth of industry expertise.  Unfortunately there are a sizeable number of members in enforced engagement pods and who are buying followers, likes and even testimonials.  Yes you read right, 100s of testimonials of fluff and nonsense to give the impression that the person is an expert.
  2. Body of Work – really read blogs and how knowledge is evidenced. Saying you are an expert is different that demonstrating that.  Depth of content is a window
  3. Transparency – Ability to contact and full disclosure of who they are. Photographs, mobiles, emails. Watch for signs that things don’t always add up.
  4. Testimonials – check the circles of common networks. Look like friends giving friends hiring references, same here.   Valid testimonials come from people who have engaged or used the services of the supplier directly and can vouch for expertise.  Anything else is either fake or a network or character reference.   But when the wire comes down to it, you are not sourcing a business to be mates with but to deliver outcomes for your business.

There are so many brilliant suppliers, partners and staff to bring into your business in 2020. But discernment is key as they are important decisions and ones worth spending time diving below the icy surface to get right.


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