How often do you see friends and relatives talking about products or services they like? How often do you ask your digital network for recommendations? How often do you look at online reviews when deciding on a purchase? How often does an influencer help you make a decision?
These are all examples of social proof in action every day. Social proof, in technical terms, is the positive influence created when a person finds out that others are doing or buying something. In his book Influence, Robert Cialdini defines social proof as “the tendency to see an action as more appropriate when others are doing it.” It’s in our DNA to seek approval from our peers, to want to belong in a group, and to “follow the pack.” We inherently look to others to validate our opinions and we crave social acceptance.
Social proof impacts almost every decision we make, especially in the digital age. With the internet and social media at our fingertips, we have access to more information about a company or product than ever before. What’s more, we can easily share our own thoughts and experiences with the world, and those personal accounts can be the difference between struggle and success for any business.
Social proof could be the missing piece of your marketing strategy. If you aren’t incorporating this concept into your online presence, you are hindering your ability to capture leads who are looking for a reputable company with a top-notch service, like yours.
Let’s dive into why and how social proof is effective, the different types of social proof, and how you can use social proof in your business to attract new customers.
Social proof is powerful for 4 main reasons.
- It builds trust. People trust other people more than they trust marketers or businesses, especially when those people are their peers and influencers.
- It adds credibility. Recommendations from peers double as proof that your service actually works and is worth their money.
- It helps validate a consumer’s purchase decision. People like to buy what they perceive as popular or trending, so they’ll feel better about using your service if they know others are too.
- It simplifies decision making. When it comes to beating the competition, social proof is the secret weapon you need. If all other aspects of your business and your competitor’s business are the same, but one has better social proof, it’s likely that the potential customer is going to choose that business instead.
Now, before you can move forward with a social proof strategy, there’s one key component you MUST have: great service. If your service isn’t exceeding your customers’ expectations, they are not going to recommend you, online or off. If you delight your customers, they’ll gladly become advocates. In other words, be sure your proverbial house is in order before you go out in search of positive reviews.
According to Aileen Lee over at TechCrunch, there are four main types of social proof relevant to service-based businesses: Expert, User, Wisdom of the Crowds, and Wisdom of Your Friends. Let’s talk about each of these.
Expert social proof is when a credible person or organization (a prominent blogger, business leader, magazine, or local news website, etc) endorses something. These influencers are well-known and have established reputations, which encourage people to view their opinion positively. For example, let’s say a popular food blogger recommends an ingredient by a specific brand. That brand is more likely to get increased traffic and potential sales from that mention, just because the blogger mentioned them by name. While some readers may still purchase other brands of that same ingredient, it’s likely that if they see the brand that was mentioned in their local store, they will recall the article that mentioned that brand and will purchase their product instead.
Put it into action: Try pitching a story to a local news source, writing a press release about any newsworthy or charitable activities you are doing, or share your expertise with an industry publication. You can also partner with prominent local businesses or sports teams to provide your services, and showcase their logo on your website.
User social proof happens when consumers share their experiences through a review or testimonial, or even in a case study. Video testimonials have also been increasing as visual content becomes more popular. This type of social proof is especially effective when it tells a story - which is where video really shines. Stories are very persuasive and usually viewed as more trustworthy than statistics of general trends. People like stories because they can relate to them. If you can put a face to the name, that also helps build credibility to the review.
Put it into action: Ask your happy customers for testimonials or to leave you an online review. Studies show that over 90% of consumers say they look at reviews before making a purchase. Consumers are less likely to trust a business with zero online reviews - so if you are not generating reviews, you need to start. At least 50% of customers say they will leave a review for a business if they are asked to.
Wisdom of the Crowds
As humans, we implicitly trust an opinion when it comes from a large group over an individual. One example of this is when TV shows play canned laughter or recorded applause – this tricks your mind into thinking you’re the odd one out if you don’t join in. Another way businesses use this type of social proof is through messaging - especially when numbers are involved. Claims like “5 million subscribers” or “Billions and Billions Served” create an air of exclusivity - it’s the cool kids group - surely you want to join in the fun...right?
Put it into action: For a lawn care or pest control business, you can show this type of social proof by, say, advertising the number of homes you’ve serviced, the number of 5-star reviews you have, or how many bugs you’ve killed (approximately, anyway.) The possibilities are endless. If you really want to kick it up a notch, try a direct mail piece that tells a customer how many of their neighbors use your company.
Wisdom of Your Friends
This last type of social proof is when you get approval from your “inner circle” - i.e. your friends and family. Studies show that we value the opinions of people we perceive as most like us. You are more likely to purchase based on these recommendations, which is why referral programs are typically successful. Studies also show that customers referred by friends make better customers. They spend more, convert better, and shop faster.
Put it into action: This is by far the easiest of the social proof strategies to implement, especially if you already have happy, delighted customers. They are naturally going to be more likely to recommend you to their friends, relatives, co-workers, neighbors, and so on. Word of mouth is the best publicity you can get, because it’s FREE marketing! You can encourage customers to refer new business to you by offering a discount on your service. This incentive can be shared with the customer during a service, or you can share the offer on social media, on your website, or even in an email campaign.
If you're thinking that your happy customers will leave reviews of their own volition, we hate to break it to you, but it's not gonna happen. While they may mention it offhand should a friend or neighbor ask for a recommendation, chances are they're not going to go out of their way to find you on Yelp or Google and leave their positive feedback. That means you need to make a concerted effort to generate those reviews from your customers.
How? We'll get to that in our next post...