Social Proof: Convincing Customers You Rock (Part 1 of 2)

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The science of social proof is growing harder to refute. As humans, part of our DNA is looking to our ‘herd’ to see what the safest choices are.

Yes, there are rebels who make daring fashion choices and artists who develop new ideas. Those new developments, though, can become mainstream. Case in point: the band Nirvana. Back in the day, Nirvana was a fringe outfit from a sleepy Seattle music scene. The audience following Nirvana grew, slowly at first, then en masse. Soon after, they were featured on the cover of Time Magazine.

For small and midsize businesses, with high expectations and lean marketing budgets, harnessing the power of persuasion is critical. In his classic marketing psychology book Influence, Robert Cialdini outlined rules for what motivates people to say yes. One of the key ones was “social proof”.

Your reputation in the marketplace has a profound impact on your business. One of our favorite books, Captivology, explains the importance of using reputations of experts, authorities, and the crowd to build trust and captivate your audience. Simply stated, people want to know that others have made the same choice and benefited from their decision. A key factor, though, is mapping social proof to the intended audience (as you know, Twisted Puppy loves working with personas).


We naturally respond to a variety of social proof:

Social Proof Tactic #1: Wisdom of Friends

We trust our friends’ opinions more than almost anything. Word of mouth has traditionally been the best source of revenue for many businesses. Facebook has built their business around Likes, which indicate your favorite things, from music to food to politics, amongst your tribe. And how many times have you seen a friend post a question on Facebook asking for a recommendation?


Social Proof Tactic #2: Wisdom of the Crowd

If we can’t tap our immediate network, we lean on what the masses suggest. There’s proof in numbers. “No one wants to eat in an empty restaurant” is a catch phrase for exploring whether something is good or not. In modern marketing, we look for Likes, Followers and Subscribers, all metrics showing what the crowd is doing. An even more important currency has become “shares” of material, essentially a recommendation (which is more impactful than a simple Like). Conversely, having few Likes or Shares is a bad sign – it’s better to have no social proof than a little.

Studies also show that 70% of consumers look at product reviews before making a purchase. Product reviews are 12x more trusted than product descriptions from manufacturers. When we search reviews, we tend to look for our “twinsumer”, a review written similar to our own voice. “It sucks” or “it’s cool” are less compelling than a well-formed, well-articulated opinion. The most impactful reviews include a person’s name, location, photo and other details that allow the reader to relate to this being someone like them. Amazon and Yelp are businesses built on the value of ratings and reviews. Testimonials have been called “the single most powerful marketing tool.”


Social Proof Tactic #3: Wisdom of Experts

Receiving critical praise from those have credibility with your audience is another powerful tool in your selling process. Experts must be from a relevant field for it to make a huge impact – if you’re in software, getting an endorsement from Charles Barkley is less effective than one from Tim Ferriss. An endorsement must reflect the honest opinion of the endorser, and you don’t want anyone to make a claim that isn’t true (in fact, it may be illegal if they do).

Celebrity endorsements can have a benefit (think what someone like Oprah Winfrey or Kim Kardashian can do for sales), but the strategy is diluting. It’s nearly impossible to surf the Internet, read a magazine, or watch television without seeing a celebrity selling something. Marrying your brand to a celebrity can also have perils – think of how quickly brands dumped Tiger Woods when his infidelity story broke.


Social Proof Tactic #4: Badges & Trust Symbols

Including media logos (where you have been covered), certification badges (security certifications, authenticity verifications) or client logos helps build trust with your audience. “If it’s good enough for them” may be good enough for someone else. This social proof can be especially with in-depth coverage of how you’re connected (e.g., case studies) to the badges & trust symbols.


A combination of various types of social proof is most effective.


In our next post, we’ll explore how you can build social proof that works.



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