Social proof marketing combines scientific concepts with best marketing practices. Here, we’ll walk through what that means, how to leverage it in your marketing, and pitfalls to avoid.
What is Social Proof Marketing?
In general human psychology, the theory of social proof states that humans mirror the behavior and actions of others. The more similar someone is to the other individual, the more heavily the social proof they encounter weighs on their experiences and decisions. Meaning, we want to think and act like those who look like us.
Social proof marketing is simply harnessing the organic (natural) positive social proof your business attracts and using it in your marketing. This strategy allows potential customers to discover why they should use your business by observing others. It includes things such as:
- How others use your products or services.
- Why your customers choose your business.
- Why people love returning to your business.
- How many customers you have overall.
Why Social Proof Marketing Works
In order to understand why social proof marketing works, first, we need to remember how a customer experiences your business.
Next, let’s combine the basics of social proof with the customer cycle. This will help you come up with creative solutions in every stage of your marketing. The four basics of social proof are:
- Expertise and Endorsement
The foundation of social proof is the concept of uncertainty. It’s a basic human instinct to look around and learn by watching when faced with an unfamiliar situation.
The beginning of the customer cycle, when the customer is still in the process of discovery, always produces an initial atmosphere of uncertainty. Uncertainty leads customers to seek out various forms of social proof to guide their path to purchasing.
The first people someone usually turns to when seeking out a new business is their friends and family. Word-of-mouth marketing is usually the most powerful for this reason. Someone needs a service or product and their friend knows just the place to get it. Since the person they asked is in their inner circle, they are likely similar to the customer in question.
“Research on social proof has shown that our peers, in particular, and their choices are important to us and influence our decisions and actions. As a rule, we usually choose to do the same thing that our peers are doing.”
– Psychology Notes HQ
We’re simply more comfortable with people who are like us. Even if the decision is subconscious, we seek out those who resemble us the most. So when thinking about your social proof marketing strategy, define your target demographic and your current customer base. Who matches? Who makes a powerful case for your business?
Expertise and Endorsement
When someone surrounding a topic is much more knowledgeable on the subject, then their opinion is weighed even more heavily. For example, a makeup artist’s opinion on the best brand of foundation may hold much more value than someone’s best friend with similar skin. Their input is even more influential the more similar this expert is to the potential customer.
In a comparable way, those with a lot of influence over a large general audience may endorse something without expertise. People following the influential figure are likely to take their advice as seriously as that of an expert.
Finally, one of the last types of social proof is the number of people standing behind an opinion. That opinion might be where to purchase a burger or who to vote for in a local election. People don’t like to be wrong. The more minds supporting an idea, the more valid it seems.
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10 Ways to Use Social Proof Marketing
Now that we know the basics of social proof and why it works in marketing, we need to apply it. Here are ten ideas to start out:
- Show real-time stats on your website. eCommerce platforms and local stores with delivery services do this best. But there are ways to use real-time stats for local stores on platforms like Google and Yelp. For websites with online sales, you can generate a notification for website visitors letting them know when someone else made a purchase or left you great feedback. Display number of customers served, orders fulfilled, clients helped, etc. in order to display numerical social proof.
- List and link to media mentions. When your business opened, won an award, helped in the community, etc. were you mentioned in local media? Were you mentioned in national media? Harness any publicity you get, no matter how small and make sure you include it on your website with links back. You can also continuously share the news piece on social media until it feels like it’s too old to share anymore.
- Highlight popular products. Highlighting popular products and those suggested by your customers gives visitors a suggestion on what to get before they decide to purchase. If you’re using WP Business Reviews, you can create tagged collections for each of these and place them below those items on your website. This way your customers can validate the popularity of the item themselves before they come to visit or order online.
- Get case studies and stories from big clients and regular customers. Depending on the type of your business, you want to find a big client with high demands or a regular customer. Either is a type of expert. A regular at a local bar or coffee shop knows exactly everything there is to love and hate about the business. Someone with a large project and high demands will be an expert at what it takes to get the job done. Both have an influence on any other individual seeking out each type of business. You can share these as blog posts on your site, video blogs, or a combination of both.
- Find influencers and brand ambassadors. Influencers are people with more of a celebrity status who might cost your business money. However, influencers do have a high ROI and that might be a great route for your company. On the other hand, you can get a similar outcome with brand ambassadors who cost little to deploy. Using this method can be both endorsement and numerical social proof. It depends on your strategy.
- Celebrate milestones. Milestones are also beneficial to social proof marketing. It means that not only are others supporting your business, but they are returning and bringing more with them. It solidifies the quality of your business offerings.
- Show industry leadership and attract complementary leaders. Writing on your website or creating content that shows your expertise in your industry is one way to show leadership. Another is to participate in networking events and speak about your area of expertise. This not only positions you as an expert but it helps you to attract other experts who can help boost your brand.
- Get certifications and awards and show them on your website and in your store. Get validation from third-parties through certifications and awards. The awards come naturally from excelling in all other areas as well as networking. Certifications give expert validation to your products or services.
- Share customer experiences on social media. One way or another people are talking about your business online. The easiest way to find these conversations is to look at your reviews. Find the best ones and share them on your social media channels in easily digestible formats.
- Use your testimonials, reviews, and social media mentions on your website. There are plenty of solutions to add each of these individually. But you can do it all with WP Business reviews so they look beautiful on your website and have similar containers. For more information about that, check out our demos. Even if you aren’t using WP Business Reviews, having this content on your website helps drive conversions because of the principles of social proof above.
Your brand and your business will determine how you should use social proof marketing. For example, a local plumber probably won’t seek out a social media influencer or brand ambassador to represent them online. They simply don’t need that kind of marketing. Local, service-based businesses need reviews and a lot of them. But a local boutique might want brand ambassadors to represent them on social media for a lot of free user-generated content. The approach taken depends on the needs of the business and the needs of their customers.
3 of the Best On-Site Social Proof Marketing Examples
Social proof has been used in a variety of ways by many businesses. Throughout the years you may have seen it when:
- McDonald’s displays how many customers they’ve served on their sign.
- TV shows, mostly older ones, used it to generate desired responses with laugh tracks and other pre-recorded reactions.
- Toothpaste companies campaign with their slogans: “9 out of 10 dentists approve of [insert product here].”
Now website developers are finding more and more ways to include social proof on-site as well. Below are three of our favorite examples.
The ultimate example is FitBit’s Buzz page. They created a whole section on their site for social proof marketing.
Next, Nature Made beat everyone to the purity certification with the very first USP-verified vitamin gummies. That means that they made natural and potent gummy vitamins, addressing two of the pain-points that people usually have with gummy-vitamins. To emphasize this point, they bring back the “Quality and Purity” on the very next slide of their home page header with more expert social proof about the trust that pharmacists place in their product.
Last, but certainly not least, one of our own customers impressed us with their reviews page too. First, Peaches & Cream created a beautiful WPBR display for their Facebook reviews and Recommendations.
They also used an eye-catching GIF to draw attention to their Guest Reviews Award from Booking.com.
Each of these examples uses all of the social proof factors listed in one way or another.
One Last Caution About Negative Social Proof
While social proof marketing is generally a best practice, there are those who exploit social proof as well. “Sockpuppet” and bot accounts are often used for a variety of adverse reasons, including swaying elections and creating general social upheaval for political or financial gain.
Businesses also use these “black-hat” tactics for things like generating fake reviews, to either hurt their competitors or boost their own online reputation. Make sure you never use negative social proof to attack another business or to help your own with fake positive reviews.
Watch for fake as well as real negative social proof. Just because your business was hit with a lot of negative reviews doesn’t always mean they’re fake. Take a look at the content. Maybe something happened or there’s an issue you weren’t aware of.
Turning The Negative Into The Positive
Most likely your business will encounter legitimate negative social proof in the form of online reviews. An influential figure could slight your brand. Your foot traffic might have noticeably gone down for no reason and people are simply following the pattern. Whatever the issue is, find it and address it.
If you find negative reviews that highlight something your business can improve on, even better. Address it by responding and taking action. Let the public know you cared enough to fix the situation and positive proof will replace the negative naturally.