Social proof is a hot topic right now, with the potential to significantly increase your current conversion rates and drive profits through the roof.

If it isn’t something that you’re familiar with, then you need to know about it sooner rather than later, as social proof is  one of the most valuable marketing tools at your disposal.  It has the power to convince uncertain buyers to go ahead and make that purchase, which is often considered to be the Holy Grail of marketing.

What is social proof?

In a previous blog post we’ve addressed the 7 psychological tricks to increase ecommerce sales, as developed by Robert Cialdini, a specialist in the art of persuasion science.

Cialdini also came up with the Social Proof Theory, which states that people have a tendency to follow the herd, particularly when they are uncertain as to the best course of action that they should take in a given situation.  It’s this uncertainty that provides the key to social proof – whenever we are faced with an unfamiliar situation, we automatically look to those around us, to see what they do.  And that applies to our purchasing choices as much as to any other aspect of our lives, making social proof a marketer’s dream.

Of course, in order to tackle the prospective customer’s uncertainties, it’s important to establish exactly what those uncertainties are.  Any worries or concerns can then be addressed, reassuring the customer and persuading them that this purchase will improve their life in some way. And this is best achieved by supplying them with reassurances from people just like them, that they can positively identify with, smoothing the path to the sale

Similarity should be the watchword of the marketing professional, as it’s been well proven that we are constantly seeking out other people who think in the same way as we do, and who share our core values and beliefs.  We desperately want to fit in with the crowd, making us much more likely to trust the judgements of other people even better than we trust our own.

The six types of social proof

Your business website is aimed at encouraging prospective customers to make a purchase, or otherwise engage with your brand, by downloading a white paper, or signing up to an email newsletter.  To achieve this aim, there are six main types of social proof that you can utilise, although your choices will be governed by your customer base and the industry that you’re involved in.

1) Expert proof

An industry insider, or expert in your field, will have a great deal of perceived authority amongst your customer base.  When an expert endorses your products or services, this can have a profound impact upon your sales figures.

2) Other users

This is the form of social proof that most of will already be familiar with.  Previous customers provide testimonials and reviews, which appeal to anyone thinking of following suit.

3) Celebrities and influencers

We live in a celebrity culture, in which some individuals are held in high regard for their popularity.  Achieving an endorsement from someone famous can have a powerful impact on future sales.

4) Friend recommendations

This is a form of social proof that was in place long before the internet came along.  It’s perhaps not quite as relevant in the digital information age, but still merits a mention, as we tend to pay attention to the recommendations of friends and family.

5) The wisdom of the crowd

There are lots of studies that prove the inherent wisdom of the crowd.  According to an article in Investopedia, when a large group of people were asked to guess the weight of an object, the average of all answers given proved to be more accurate than individual guesses from experts who were familiar with the object.  But whether you believe in the accuracy of the crowd or not, it’s undeniable that we all tend to be influenced by group beliefs.

6) Industry awards and certificates

Any endorsement that recognises your company’s achievements is something that needs to be highlighted, as it proves your company has authority and respect within your industry, making it a very valuable form of social proof.

These six types of social proof can be used in isolation, but for the best results, a combination of types will provide the best results.  The more channels that can be used to convince the prospective customer that proceeding with the purchase is the correct step to take, the more likely that they will succumb to the power of persuasion.

How to use social proof in marketing

Now that we’ve looked at the various types of social proof, we need to look at how you can include some of them into your marketing campaign.

One of the easiest, and most practical, ways of going about this, is to include online testimonials and reviews from satisfied customers on your website.  An article published by the Content Marketing Institute suggests including the name of the reviewer, along with the date and a photograph too, if possible, as that can be helpful in promoting trust. We don’t tend to remember statistics and figures, but we do remember faces, so photographs are useful for persuading us to place our trust in others.

Make a point of seeking out online review sites, such as Trustpilot and Quora, for example, to see what’s being said about your goods and services.  Address any problems or issues as a matter of urgency, so that anyone seeing a poor review can also see that your company works to put things right as quickly as possible.

Celebrity or influencer endorsements will help to drive sales through the roof, so find out who in your industry has the most followers, and see whether they will provide a positive review of your products, perhaps in exchange for a free sample.  Keep in mind that around 40% of web surfers claim to have purchased a product because they’ve seen an influencer advertising it on social media channels.

How to build social proof

So far, so good, but what if your business is a new one, with no testimonials to show as yet?  It may be tempting to create some positive reviews, but this is heavily discouraged as it can seriously harm your business efforts in the future.

Rather than try to hit the ground running, it’s best to take things slowly.  Start by sending out a follow-up email to purchasers within a few days of them receiving their goods – your product will still be uppermost in their minds, so they will be well-placed to put together a review. A gentle reminder sent out a few days later will encourage customers to submit their review, particularly if it’s accompanied by a discount against their next purchase, which will provide them with further incentives to think well of your brand.

Think about each product that you sell, and use social proof to counter any objections that the prospective customer might have.  It’s no good just coming up with a handful of phrases that sum up the product’s usefulness – you need to calculate how best to leverage the customer in the direction that you wish them to take, by using real-life examples to keep them interested and motivated to make the purchase.

Social proof should be included within your landing pages, preferably close to any Calls To Action, where they will have maximum impact.  Take some time to consider potential objections, and do your best to counter these in your advertising copy – if you can include details of the number of satisfied customers who have already bought this product, then so much the better.

Social proof may sound complicated, but it’s a valuable part of any effective marketing campaign, that can help to drive sales and increase your profits with the minimum of expenditure.