Have you ever purchased a product after someone recommended it? If you have – and of course you have, everyone has – then you’ve been influenced by social proof. It was the positive social proof review that persuaded you to buy, that converted you from prospect to customer.
In a marketing campaign, the goal is to convert prospects into customers. However, today’s consumers are skeptical and don’t trust advertising messages, so a business needs an alternative way to persuade users that their products and services are the best possible solution to a prospect’s problem.
And the best tool to accomplish this goal is social proof. Knowledgeable businesses have realized that social proof offers a vast potential for making conversions happen, so they use social proof to influence purchasing behavior.
What is Social Proof?
Wikipedia describes social proof: “Social proof is a psychological phenomenon where people assume the actions of others in an attempt to reflect correct behavior for a given situation.”
Most of us like to be a part of a group. We form decisions or perform actions, i.e., buy things, based on the influence of others and/or commonly accepted behavior. This is a natural part of being human, and it applies to consumer behavior for purchasing decisions, too.
In situations where we are uncertain about what to do, we assume that other people – experts, celebrities, friends - have more knowledge about what’s going on and what we should do.
Perhaps you can relate to these examples of social proof:
- The long line waiting to get into a movie makes you think that you should see the movie too.
- An empty restaurant on a Friday evening makes us wonder what is wrong with the place and you don’t go in.
- The number in the corner of your screen showing how many have signed up for a newsletter makes you decide to sign up.
Often, we don’t even realize how our decisions are affected by social proof. But that’s why it can be a powerful conversion tool in your marketing strategy.
Types of Social Proof
In general, there are five types of social proof.
Expert social proof is when a recognized authority in your industry recommends or even mentions your products or services. People tend to think anything that experts use is the best because they are more knowledgeable. Remember the old advertising slogan: “9 out of 10 doctors recommend…”? The experts, i.e., the doctors, are saying you should use or buy whatever it is they’re recommending, and we believe them because they should know.
People buy products endorsed by celebrities because they want to look like them.
User social proof occurs when your customers recommend your products and services. People trying to make a buying decision and aren’t sure what to choose trust user reviews because they - the users - have experienced the product or service.
4. The Wisdom of the Crowd.
Wisdom of the crowd social proof relates to the popularity of a product. The “X billions served” seen on every McDonald’s sign is a good example. If a McDonald’s burger is good enough for that many people, then it will be good enough for you. This type of social proof involves buyers making purchases because it seems like everyone else is doing it.
5. The Wisdom of Friends and Family.
This type of social proof is when people see their friends approve a product, and they are likely to make purchasing decisions based on their friends’ input. In general, people tend to do the same thing that their peers are doing.
Use the Power of Social Proof
As a business owner, what is the value of using the principles of social proof to increase your conversion rate? And how can you make it happen? Read on.
#1. Build Trust
First and most importantly, social proof inspires trust. Using customer reviews can make your advertising claims seem more believable and make people trust you.
Consider these statistics:
- 91% of 18 to 34-year-old consumers trust online reviews from strangers as much as personal recommendations. (This percentage might not be as high for other age groups, but everyone relies on online reviews to some extent.)
- Consumers read an average of 10 online reviews before feeling able to trust a local business.
#2. Use Happy Customer Reviews
Rely on reviews from satisfied customers to build social proof for your business. Consumers read reviews before they buy or sign up or download. They must be able to read feedback from other customers to provide proof that your business is legitimate and that you and your team provide quality service.
When you ask customers to provide a review, ask if they can post a picture of your product, or a picture of them using the product. These reviews will be especially persuasive in convincing prospects that you’re for real.
Encourage customers to leave a good rating on your Facebook page and your Google My Business page. You’ll add content to your site and make your products seem more valuable.
#3. Ask for Testimonials
Testimonials are like reviews, in that they’re created and submitted by your customers. The big difference is that reviews are generally short and written about specific products, while testimonials are more lengthy and written about the experience of working with your company.
Here’s an example of a great testimonial that says what the company probably says in their advertising materials. But here it’s more powerful because it’s objective. It comes from someone who experienced the service, not the advertiser, thus making it more believable to someone trying to decide who to hire as a guide.
“My family had a great time whitewater rafting, and afterward, our guides asked us to share our thoughts on Yelp. I read Yelp reviews occasionally but never contributed before. After our trip I felt strongly enough about our experience to give XXX a 5-star rating. It’s the real deal.”
For even greater credibility, include photos. Video testimonials are even better. Be sure to post them on your Google My Business page or, better yet, ask the customer to do it.
#4. Share Your Affiliations
Establish your expertise, legitimacy and authenticity by sharing your affiliations with other companies or organizations. If you’re a member of the Rotary or Lions club, share it on your About Us page and link to the Clubs’ community activities. If you’ve had content published in your local newspaper, you can show off your presence by featuring the publisher’s logo and a link to your article on your home page. If you were a sponsor for a local charity event, let prospects know. If you serve on the Board of an industry association, include it.
#5. Increase Your Social Following
You can generate social proof by having a responsive audience on social media.
Consider: Which company would you trust to be more authoritative — the one with 100 followers and no new posts since 2015, or the one with 10,000 followers and daily activity and conversations with customers?
Post often, give your customers what they want to see, respond to their comments and questions and make an effort to grow your audience by boosting your posts and sending invitations to people to “like” your page.
#6. Get User-submitted Content
User-generated content is a great strategy for generating user social proof. Beyond asking for reviews and testimonials, you can get user-submitted content by sponsoring a contest or a competition, encouraging prospects, customers and social media followers to submit images or videos showing how they interact with your company and your products and services. If you’re offering a prize or reward for participation, be sure you follow through.
#7. Collaborate with Experts
Invite an industry expert to be a guest at an event you host, either online or in your store. A collaboration can allow you to benefit from the experts’ positive influence, and give your audience an opportunity to learn from experts in the industry.
Remember, when an expert endorses your products, it provides social proof. An appearance at your event is certainly implied, if not implicit, endorsement.
#8. Show Appreciation
A great form of expert social proof is when your business receives a mention from the press or an influencer in your industry. Of course, you’ll want to post or link to these mentions but don’t look boastful. Say something like “honored to be mentioned…”. That way you get the social proof and remain modest. Nobody likes a braggart.
#9. Share Milestones / Anniversaries
Show gratitude for and celebrate customer milestones. You can thank the people who helped you achieve your business milestone, such as
- Thanks to you, we’ve reached X customers
- Thanks to you, we’ve reached our goal of getting X followers on Facebook
- Thanks to our loyal customers, we’re celebrating 10 years in business.
#10. Encourage Followers to Get Top Fan Badges on Facebook
Facebook offers “Top Fan” badges to active followers. You want people to accept these badges and make them visible because they provide user social proof that shows you have passionate users. Visitors to your page can see how many “Top Fans” your business has in the Community tab.
Here’s an example from a business that sells tea. The fan’s name appears in the post; it’s whited out here.
#11. Get Verified on Social Media
On Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, you can get your business verified and get a blue checkmark next to your business name.
The verified badge appears next to your name in search. It means Facebook has confirmed that an account is the authentic presence of the … brand it represents.
Here’s an example:
Having a blue checkmark is a form of social proof. Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, as authoritative figures, deemed that you are popular, influential, or interesting enough to be awarded the checkmark. It’s usually reserved for celebrities and top brands.
#13. Display Customer Logos
Sharing customer logos on your website establishes credibility for your company. If you have a roster of impressive clients, by all means, let visitors see them.
#14. Mention the Size of Your Customer Base
If you have a large customer base, mention it in your company “About Us” or on your social media profiles. It is a great example of the “wisdom of the crowd” social proof. When people see that many others are using your product, they are likely to have a positive impression of your product.
#15. Use Facebook Ads to Reach Friends of your Fans
Facebook advertising lets you target your Facebook ads at the friends of the people who like your Page. When defining your target audience, select “Friends of people who like your Page”. Remember, people usually choose to do (or “like”) the same things their friends do (or “like”).
#16. Facebook Ads Offer Social Proof
Facebook helps with your social proof by mentioning at the top of the ad that one or more of your friends “likes” your company. Here’s an example from WW.
#17. Display Social Share Count
Showing the number of social shares your content gets is a form of the wisdom of the crowd social proof. People are more likely going to read and think highly of an article that has been shared by many people.
#18. Create a Blog or Use the One You have
To gain social proof for your business, you can establish yourself as an expert in the niche specific to your business. Content marketing, and blogging in particular, is a great tool to provide potential customers with insightful content that relates to your products and services.
For example, if you’re a kitchen designer, you can create blog content for your audience that includes trends, how-to’s, selection guides, product reviews, even recipes, all of which will help to build your authority. This shows your prospects that you’re a business that actually cares about its customers, instead of one that only cares about selling products.
#19. Engage with Mentions Online
Customers who like your products like to talk about them online. This regard for your company adds serious positive social proof for those who are considering buying from you. Give them a “thank you” or a “thumbs up” or a “like”.
Even if mentions of your company aren’t positive, it’s important to answer complaints. Your attitude and responsiveness helps your social proof as prospects can see how you respond to customer issues.
#20. Bonus! It's Inexpensive
Social proof doesn’t require a large budget the way some advertising tactics do. Instead, you’ll use content provided by your own customers in their reviews and recommendations.
Social Proof Excellence
Amazon uses social proof as a tool to generate sales, and they do it extremely well. It includes product reviews in every listing, which allows customers to provide honest feedback about the products sold. Since these reviews are from real people, they can be very persuasive for customers who are undecided about making a purchase.
Here’s another great example of social proof using star ratings and customer reviews, this one from Zappos, an online retailer of footwear. They use the power of numbers, as well as the stars, to get their social proof, and they use them on multiple locations on their website for the same product. Here’s three places the star ratings are displayed.
1. The first place the stars appear is on the search results page so visitors can see how other purchasers rated the product.
hen a prospect clicks through to the product page, the star ratings are shown again in the header.
3. Reviews on the product page provide additional social proof.
The Future of Social Proof
Traditional methods of advertising and product promotion aren’t working as they used to. Today’s business owners must look to social proof, especially user-generated content, as a way to get the attention of their prospects as they work to improve their conversion rate.
1. Organic reach on social media is decreasing, even as costs for paid ads are increasing. Too many Instagram, Pinterest, Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn posts mean yours might not be seen. Plus, you might not have the budget for full-on Facebook and Google PPC paid ad campaigns.
Campaigns using user-generated content that focus on customer reviews, star ratings and testimonials is a way to get a better return than paid ads on social media.
2. Consumers don’t trust the media anymore. After all the reports of fake news, it is not surprising that people have lost trust. Consumers know that advertising claims can also be fake, and they have lost faith in marketing messages.
Social proof offers businesses a way to verify that they are genuine and trustworthy, and it can add credibility to their marketing efforts.
3. More and more people are using ad blockers. People don’t want to see ads, and adblockers are making it challenging for businesses to get their message to their target audience.
On-line shoppers say they use ad blockers because ads “negatively impact their user experience”. Google places a very high value on a positive user experience when showing search results.
So now businesses must find non-intrusive ways to reach and convince prospects to become customers. Social proof to the rescue! Use social proof, as outlined in this article, to convince and convert prospects.
With so many ways to get social proof and tap into its power, you should be working social proof into your marketing campaigns, both online and off. When you do, you’re sure to notice a difference in your conversion rates.
Let the digital marketing experts at DigitalMX Online get you started on effectively implementing social proof tactics that tie into your overall marketing strategy.