Social Proof: Not What You May Think It Is

By: Dan Hoff @ ChannelReady

If you have been in marketing for any longer than a week, you’ve probably heard about the value of something called ‘social proof’. But what exactly is social proof? And, why is it important to my brand? And, what does it really have to do with my business success?

Today, the markets we all operate in are getting far more crowded and the competition is getting even more intense. And in order to successfully master marketing in this type of crowded marketplace, you must think like a customer.

But, in order to think like a customer, you need to be able to tap into their psyche. And you need to be able to fully understand what influences their perceptions. You need to understand what it is that guides their decision-making.

And at the heart of this topic is the notion of social proof.

I think that, as a marketer, I can safely say that, in large part, people occasionally act like sheep. Now, I don’t mean that in a derogatory way. It is simply a fact of our human nature. And whether intented or not, we do tend to flock together and make decisions based, at least in part, on what others are doing.

This idea of flocking together has been explained to be closely connected with the social proof theory.

The theory of social proof was first postulated by psychologist Robert Cialdini in his 1984 book Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion. This theory, simply stated, says that people look to the actions of their peers to make decisions in situations where they're uncertain of how to act.

Now marketers who understand and fully embrace this concept of social proof have a powerful tool that can be used to their advantage. They can do this by bringing elements of this human psychological phenomenon into our engagement and promotion strategies.

“As customers we buy products that make us feel good about ourselves, products that change us and make us better,” conversion expert Talia Wolf writes. “ using social proof in the form of testimonials, reviews and trust icons you’re helping customers make a decision, feel confident about their choice, and a part of something bigger”

In this instance, it's essentially the act of borrowing third-party influence. Then using that to persuade potential customers towards your brand or products.

Leveraging Social Proof in Marketing

Today, social proof is a vast topic. You have probably seen countless discussions on the topic. And, as you may know, it consists of literally thousands of intricacies and individual theories. But it’s helpful to boil things down to a few salient, overarching points.

Sales and marketing consultant Lincoln Murphy believes there are three basic types of social proof:

  • Similar social proof. This is the most basic type of social proof in marketing. It’s the type of social proof that brands use when they integrate testimonials, reviews, and logos of other companies into their marketing materials. The goal is to show prospective customers that your products have the approval of their peers and of the market.
  • Aspirational social proof. Social proof that is aspirational occurs when it is used to convince your target audience that they want to be like someone else. In other words, you’re convincing people to aspire to be like your customers.
  • Endorsements. While most people think about endorsements in terms of celebrity advertisements, famous people are just part of it. Customers also rely on recommendations from micro-influencers, market thought leaders and authoritative third-party websites. This is a type of endorsement and is most effective when it is someone your ideal customer trusts. This is especially powerful when they are seen advocating for your product.

Great! Now What?

Now that we understand what social proof is and where it came from, how can it best be used? If you want to develop a social proof strategy for your marketing efforts, it would probably be best to start with these elements.

And specifically, you should try some of these techniques:

  1. Use Data and Real Numbers
    There are several ways you can insert social proof into your marketing and engagement strategies. But in today’s climate, people respond best to facts, figures and statistics. The more data and numbers you can use, the more persuasive your efforts will be.
  2. Use Visuals
    The human brain is hardwired to like and respond to visuals. If you want to take your efforts to the next level, you should incorporate as much visual information into your marketing as possible. When it comes to your website, for example, including headshots of your customers next to their testimonials and reviews will pay dividends. It humanizes the numbers and ads even more credibility to what you are saying.
  3. Leverage Social Media
    Social media is the perfect medium for maximizing and amplifying social proof. If you can get your most satisfied customers to be organic advocates for your products by sharing, liking, promoting, you’ll gain a huge advantage. But, you need to make it easy for your customers to share on social media by providing them with shareworthy content and chances to engage with your brand on their favorite platforms.