Social proof. It’s a buzzword thrown around a lot in the marketing world. But what does it really mean? The term is used most often when describing the impact or influence of social media but in reality, social proof is a lot more than that. It’s a documented psychological phenomenon where people adopt the actions of others in an effort to reflect acceptable behavior in a culture or situation.
Humans are hardwired to follow the crowd because we assume that if others are behaving in a certain way, it must be a good idea. Social proof is the reason your mother used to ask the teenage you, “If your friends jumped off a cliff, would you follow them?” and if you were being truthful, you probably would say “yes.”
Why is social proof so important?
Social proof is word-of-mouth marketing on steroids. It lends power to any marketing campaign by inspiring trust and giving your brand an edge over the competition. Customers are more apt to believe a positive review on a brand’s Facebook page than a boosted post from the same brand. And that positive review can be a convenient decision-maker if a prospective customer can’t decide between your product and a competitor’s. And in the end, social proof is relatively cheap and easy to leverage when compared to other marketing strategies.
Evidence of the power of social proof:
- 83% of consumers recommend a brand they follow on social to friends and family.
- 91% of shoppers read online reviews before making a purchase.
- 82% of Americans ask for referrals and recommendations from family and friends before making any kind of purchase.
- The average consumer reads 10 online reviews before making a purchase decision.
- For 50% of all consumers, their very next step after reading a positive review about a company is to visit their website.
You can see from these stats that social proof is powerful enough to build positive brand awareness and perception, as well as sales. Now, let’s review some of the most common forms of social proof.
The most common form of social proof is testimonials. Positive customer testimonials are a powerful tool. That vote of confidence can be very impactful. According to recent research, 91% of consumers read online reviews, and 84% trust reviews as much as personal endorsements. If you have a Google My Business or a Yelp page, reviews are essential.
Brightlocal reports that Google is the most trusted review platform across all industries. Tripadvisor is powerful for travel and hospitality businesses, Yelp is impactful for food and drinks businesses, and BBB is most used for reviews of professional trades and real estate industries.
I suggest implementing a regular feedback loop with your customers so that you are continuously asking for testimonials and updating your review pages with new social proof. Your customers are your best ambassadors. Real stories add authenticity.
Influencer marketing could be the fastest-growing consumer acquisition channel. Approximately $21 billion is expected to be spent on influencer marketing in 2023. 82% of companies will work with influencers this year. The market has expanded considerably to include both offline and online efforts as well as all types of people as influencers. They can be social media experts, bloggers, or super-fans of your brand. Gone are the days of needing a celebrity in order to drive influencer attention!
Organizational Endorsement or Ratings
For B2Bs and agencies, collecting endorsements and/or ratings from industry organizations or business leaders is an effective form of social proof. 57% of consumers will only buy or use a business service if it has at least a 4-star rating. While user testimonials can convey value or a positive user experience, a business endorsement offers trust. Approach a couple of respected organizations and ask to make a deal that is mutually beneficial to both parties or apply to be evaluated for a standardized industry rating survey.
Industry or Business Certifications
Along the same lines as organizational endorsements, collecting industry certifications are important to build positive social proof. Website visitors will look for those logos on your site. Check out the Better Business Bureau for your company certification and don’t forget about industry and professional certifications for your leaders. This also includes making sure your social media channels are verified (within reason, cough ~ Twitter/X) if you’re in a very competitive industry or your competitors have similar names.
User Generated Content (UGC)
Testimonials and reviews are great but a photo is worth a 1000 words. This is absolutely true. A video is exponentially greater. But authenticity is important. Consumers are smart enough to recognize stock photos of plastic, smiling people masquerading as customers on your marketing materials. They want to picture themselves engaging with your brand, being inspired or having their burning problems solved. UGC can build your social media following and drive traffic to your website.
Encourage your brand ambassadors (aka loyal customers) to upload their photos and videos of them using your product to your digital platforms or to their own digital platforms using a hashtag. Ask them to be honest in their opinions, both good and bad. This gives you the opportunity to thank them for the feedback and address any issues publicly (if appropriate). UGC is especially impactful on visual social media platforms like TikTok, Snapchat, and Instagram.
If your brand is location-specific, offline social proof is just as important as online. Leverage your relationship with local leaders who are well-known and respected. If they love your brand, ask them to recommend your brand to others, either through formal engagements like speaking opportunities at local events or informally through using your products in public.
There are an infinite number of ways to show social proof both online and offline. Other ideas or sources of social proof could include media or PR mentions, case studies, social media followers, events, awards, and employee endorsements. Any opportunity to collect, react to, and leverage customer goodwill is a chance to build social proof. It’s an incredibly effective method of promotion.
Social proof is important because it helps build credibility and trust. In a world with abundant choices, consumers often look to the experiences of others to guide their own decisions. Positive social proof can increase sales, boost brand loyalty, and build a positive brand image. On the other hand, negative social proof can have detrimental effects, highlighting the importance of providing excellent products and services to customers.
Drive the Narrative
You have the power to drive the narrative of social proof for your brand, personal, and business. Actively seek and encourage customers/clients/followers/friends to leave reviews on platforms relevant to your industry. Showcase customer testimonials on your website, social media, and marketing materials.
Promptly respond to negative reviews and complaints to show that you care about your customers and always provide excellent customer service. Acknowledge the customer’s concerns and express genuine empathy. Maintain a positive and helpful tone in your responses. Avoid being defensive, and instead, focus on understanding and resolving the issue. Encourage the customer to contact you directly through private channels like email or direct messages. Show that you value customer input and are actively working to enhance your products or services.
Remember, consistency is key. Regularly update and refresh your social proof initiatives to keep your brand’s image vibrant and trustworthy.
The power of social proof lies in its ability to build trust and credibility for your brand. By showcasing positive experiences, reviews, and endorsements from customers, influencers, or media, social proof convinces potential customers that your product or service is valuable and reliable. Social proof not only attracts new customers but also strengthens brand loyalty, fosters authenticity, and differentiates your brand in a crowded market. It serves as a persuasive force, shaping positive perceptions and encouraging consumers to choose your brand with a demonstrated positive impact.
I am a writer. Writing is my creative outlet and my joy. I believe that words bind us together as humans and that the best stories remind us of our humanity. I specialize in telling brand stories that engage and inspire.
My favorite projects are when I get to help build a brand. Strategic branding is so important for any business. Discovering an organization’s “Why” is so satisfying.
My “Why” is making the world a better place. It’s why I worked for a nonprofit for 7 years before becoming a freelancer and volunteer as a member of the Columbus Museum of Art. My chihuahua Grandon may think differently. He thinks my “Why” is taking care of him. He’s not totally wrong. He definitely runs the household. When I am not writing, you’ll find the two of us walking in the park or just around our neighborhood.