If you are like a lot of business owners, professionals and entrepreneurs, you may have heard the term social proof thrown around and used like any of the latest trendy business terms.
But I can assure you, social proof is no synergy, paradigm-shift or growth hacking.
Social proof is a more inclusive and comprehensive name for a very old marketing concept. One that has been influencing customers since there were businesses to buy from. At its core, social proof is word of mouth advertising in today’s digital market place.
Why Social Proof Is So Important
Social proof is one of the key influencers that people use when making a decision who to do business with. People look to what others have done when making a decision and that’s why reviews, testimonials and endorsements have been so powerful for businesses.
The Social Proof Theory, which I explored in the psychology behind social media engagement, states that:
“A person who does not know what the proper behavior for a certain situation is, will look to other people to imitate what they are doing and to provide guidance for their actions.”
In simpler terms, social proof helps us make decisions when we are uncertain, based on the experiences and choices others are making or have made in the past.
Basically, people have a tendency to base their decisions from the reactions and decisions of their peers. Nobody wants to be the guinea pig. It’s nice to be able to gain wisdom through the second-hand experiences of those we trust.
For example, imagine you’re a marketing consultant and your prospective client is evaluating a marketing consultant with 4500 Facebook page followers against you with only 127 followers. Or they find you through your LinkedIn profile and see you have 112 connections and no recommendations, versus one of your competitors that has 500+ connections on LinkedIn plus a dozen recommendations.
Who do you think they’ll consider as the marketing consultant? Do you think that will have an impact on their decision?
According to the proven theory of social proof and human nature, this absolutely will.
People can only be expected to make the best decisions with the information that is readily available for them.
Here’s another example, one that everyone can relate to. If you walk into a restaurant with only two customers in the place, the common perception is that maybe the restaurant isn’t that great. Now contrast that to a restaurant where you have an hour wait to get in the door.
What’s your immediate perception of these two restaurants? Which one are you more likely to choose?
This is just human nature and that’s why social proof is so important.
The Six Types of Social Proof
Social proof comes in a number of forms – from the person raving about their favorite restaurant when you ask for a dining suggestion to that new piece of tech that everyone seems to now own. These are examples of social proof that you might encounter that can positively impact your decision to make a potential future purchase.
In each case, the positive outcome of a purchase made by others of something you yourself are considering, helps to remove the fear that you are taking a risk. Essentially it helps to build trust, which is vital in selecting a product or service.
While you might only need the recommendation of one friend you know well to help you decide if you want to eat at a new restaurant, often we require a little more social proof when the risk is higher. For example, this would include instances when the social proof is coming from people we don’t know well (such as online reviews), it is a large value item or it could potentially affect our job security or finances.
In these cases, prospects will often head online and look to find as much social proof – good or bad – that they can find to help them make their decision.
As a business owner, entrepreneur, professional or sales rep, you want to help facilitate your prospects choice. You do this by ensuring that you not only provide as much social proof as possible but that you also make it easy for them to find.
Here are the six most common types of social proof:
Customers – when prospects see positive testimonials, case studies, recommendations and reviews from your existing customers or users.
Friends – when prospects see that their “trusted” friends use or recommend you, your knowledge or product or service.
Crowds – when prospects see a large number of people endorse you, your knowledge or product or service.
Experts – when prospects see you are recommended by one or more experts in your industry.
Celebrities – when prospects see you are recommended by celebrities or other influencers they admire and follow.
Certifications – when prospects see you are certified by a credible 3rd party or authority.
8 Powerful Forms of Online Social Proof
Here are eight examples of social proof that you can build and share online, which will help your prospects to know like and trust you.
Testimonials from Satisfied Customers on Your Website
Perhaps the most important form of social proof is testimonials from your clients. Research done by Nielsen shows that 92% of people will trust a recommendation from a peer, and 70% of people will trust a recommendation from someone they don’t even know.
This includes both written and video testimonials. When sharing written testimonials, including more information about the writer is better and this is further enhanced if you include an image. While a written testimonial will always have value, where possible it has been shown to be increasingly powerful to include video testimonials. There is plenty of science to back up the power of video, which does a better job inspiring trust and capturing and keeping the attention of your prospects.
Case Studies Sharing the Success of Your Clients
A well written case study that succinctly shares the story of your customer’s success using your product or service is a fantastic form of social proof. The key is to ensure that the case study focuses on the story of the journey as well as including the final results.
According to psychologists Christopher Chabris and Daniel Simons, stories are persuasive and more trustworthy than statistics because individual examples stick in our minds, but statistics and averages do not. Essentially, the story of their journey allows customers with similar challenges to imagine your product or service creating the same kind of results for them.
The additional benefit of case studies is that while they are usually written in a longer, more formal style, they are based on the idea that customers view long, in-depth reviews as being more reputable than brief excerpts. They are considered to provide high authority, social proof.
As a business platform, LinkedIn is home to professionals, business owners, entrepreneurs, managers and CEOs. Recommendations (testimonials) given by clients, colleagues and coworkers on this platform often can have great weight with potential prospects, particularly when those recommendations include details of your expertise and how you were able to help your clients.
LinkedIn Publisher Likes, Comments, Shares
The very act of publishing quality content on LinkedIn Publisher can go a long way to establish trust and your authority on your topic, but when that content also gets likes, shares and comments, that is further social proof that you are knowledgeable and provide valuable content. You gain extra credibility by replying to all the engagement on your posts in a timely and helpful way.
Facebook Reviews, Likes, Comments, Shares
With over two billion Facebook users and counting, there is a very good chance your potential prospects are using Facebook – often to research products or services they are interested in. Needless to say, having a Facebook page is vital, but just as important, is to consistently use it and build its size and engagement.
Instagram Followers, Comments, Shares
Growing to over 800 million monthly and 500 million daily active users, Instagram is a powerful platform to build social proof on, particularly if you serve Millennials or a visually inspired audience. Share great content to grow your followers and get more comments and shares on your posts.
Twitter Followers, @Mentions & ReTweets
While Twitter does not have the same growth as Facebook and Instagram, it still has a very large and loyal following of over 300 million active users with over 500 million tweets shared in a day. If your prospects are on Twitter, then you need to be growing your following and working to get as many quality @Mentions and retweets as you can.
Comments & Shares of Your Blog Posts
Your website is the virtual home (and in some cases also the store) for your business. When people see engagement such as shares and comments on your blog posts, they can see the opinions of other’s regarding your knowledge and content.
These are just some of the forms of social proof that you can work to build online.
A word of caution, whatever forms of social proof that you choose to focus on, ensure that you are doing so in an honest and ethical way, essentially that you are using ethical marketing practices. There are ways to fake or falsely build most forms of social proof. While doing so may seem like a good idea in the moment, it completely undermines your social proof in the long run.
How to Increase Your Social Proof
Now that you understand why social proof is so important and what that looks like online, you need to begin to build your own social proof in the places that your prospects will expect to find it.
Ask Your Customers & Community
The first and most important way to build your social proof is by ASKING your satisfied customers, users and community for testimonials, LinkedIn recommendations, reviews and shares. Asking is often the most effective method to building your social proof arsenal.
Examples of places where you might want to ask your customers or community include asking for a testimonial or review after you have completed or delivered your product or service to a customer or after a speaking event or training session. You might also ask your community to comment on or share your latest blog or social media post.
Share Your Testimonials
Once you have started to collect video and written testimonials, you want to create a page dedicated for them on your website. This makes it easy for potential prospects to quickly review what others are saying about their experience using your products or services.
You also want to include testimonials on the services or product pages on your website. By adding testimonials, you help to add that little bit more trust right at the moment a prospect is considering purchasing or contacting you.
Another great place to include testimonials is in your proposals. Again, this is a great way to boost trust in your favor at a crucial moment when a potential prospect is considering purchasing your product or service. The key to success with this is to use testimonials that are the most relevant or similar to the client you are proposing your services to.
Turn Customer Successes into Powerful Stories
As I mentioned earlier, stories are a far more powerful persuader than statistics and numbers. These “stories” can take the form of short anecdotes in a wide variety of formats (graphic, text, video, etc.) that can be posted on social media or longer case studies that can be added or shared anywhere that you want to increase your authority including your website or LinkedIn profile.
Transform Testimonials into Graphics, Videos, or SlideShare Presentations
Make your testimonials more visually appealing and easily shared by turning multiple reviews or testimonials into a graphic, video or SlideShare presentation. You can then share this on your social media or embed it as rich media into your LinkedIn profile.
Embed Customer & Community Generated Social Posts
When someone posts about you, your knowledge or products or services on a social media platform, you can actually share this live post in places such as your website or LinkedIn Publisher posts.
The benefit of embedding a live post rather than sharing a screen shot is that as this post gets future engagement, the new engagement will be visible in the embedded post. This can be magnified because the more people see others engaging with the post, the more likely they are to engage with it themselves. Just further evidence of the power of crowd social proof.
Today, the internet and digital devices have increased both the reach and the power of social proof by making it easier for businesses to build and showcase their social proof to potential prospects.
With the larger trust gap that exists online between businesses and customers, social proof is the fastest and most effective means to bridge that gap and help your potential prospects to know, like and trust you – helping you get more customers and make more sales.