Have you ever been scrolling through Instagram and been drawn to a product you’ve seen repeatedly? Have you ever felt compelled to stop at the coffee shop with a line out the door versus the empty one around the corner? If you’ve ever experienced a sudden fear of missing out when you see other people using a certain product or wearing a specific brand, you have experienced social proof.
This psychological phenomenon is a powerful tool when it comes to marketing and can lead to greater visibility for your brand. If you’ve never heard of social proof marketing, don’t worry! This article will cover the fundamentals.
What is social proof? It’s the idea that people or consumers will follow the actions of the majority. It is based on the human tendency to assume that the majority must be right if so many people are behaving in the same way. While the majority is not always right in its tendencies, social proof is influential nonetheless.
The concept of social proof is not new. Though there are many, one of the most famous studies is Muzafer Sherif’s 1935 psychological experiment, in which subjects were asked to provide observations on a moving light. When grouped together, the subjects always arrived at similar measurements, even when their original individual observations had been wildly different. The study revealed that people are highly likely to conform to the majority, no matter what.
How social proof impacts brands
Social proof is a strong force for motivating behavior. Because of this, it can be an essential tool for marketers. When used correctly, you have the opportunity to convince prospective customers that your brand is the best choice for them. This is especially true of online marketing. In lieu of trying products on or sampling them in-store, consumers rely almost exclusively on recommendations to feel confident about their online purchases. When developing a marketing strategy that aligns with ecommerce best practices, it is important to consider the pros and cons of social proof.
Pros of using social proof
More often than not, the pros of social proof marketing outweigh the cons! The rich benefits include:
- Providing a more subtle form of marketing
One of the keys to social proof marketing is to provide a resource for your customers versus crafting an ego-boosting ad campaign. Customers often respond well to marketing that comes in the form of a tool for their benefit.
- Boosting your SEO ranking
Beyond building brand awareness and fostering trust between you and your customers, social proof can also help elevate your Search Engine Optimization or SEO. Manage your Google My Business profile and use SEO tools to better manage your ranking and gain visibility in the right places.
- Enhancing your social media marketing plan
This versatile form of marketing lends itself to content marketing. As a part of a social media marketing strategy, social proof works best when shared via all of your social platforms. Consider using social media tools to streamline the way you incorporate social proof into your social media marketing.
Cons of using social proof
While the benefits of social proof are many, there is potential for a negative impact as well. As you develop your plan, watch out for the following pitfalls:
- Relying too heavily on social proof
One of the common mistakes when using social proof marketing is relying too heavily on it while neglecting other marketing aspects, such as content marketing and social media marketing. This means you should still be using paid ads, optimizing your website, and launching email marketing campaigns in addition to building up your social proof.
- Marketing to the wrong audience
Social proof is only effective when directed at the right audience. Consider the type of consumer you hope to attract — do you have social proof of like consumers enjoying your product? If the answer is no, you’re probably not getting the most out of your social proof.
For example, if you are promoting your business on the fact that you have a large, well-known tech company as a client, but you are marketing to small businesses, social proof marketing can backfire. Your prospective clients might feel intimidated or feel that your business isn’t suited to their specific needs.
- Being too generic
To avoid being too generic in your social proof, be sure to include proof that includes customers who represent your core demographic. Are you marketing to start-up companies? Make sure you have them in your testimonials. Are you better equipped to work with salons or beauty professionals? Your social proof should cater to them.
Types of social proof in marketing
The good news is there are many impactful ways to use social proof to get a head start in ecommerce, and the options only keep growing. Types of social proof commonly used in marketing include:
- Expert proof
You can achieve expert social proof when an expert within your industry provides a recommendation for your product or services. For example, an expert might provide a testimonial for your website or even appear as a guest during a live video event on Facebook.
- Celebrity-endorsed proof
As you may have guessed, celebrity social proof is when a famous social media personality or celebrity endorses your brand. An example might be a YouTube tutorial made by a famous influencer that features your product.
- User proof
User social proof is increasingly important in the online marketplace. It occurs when your current customers recommend your product based on positive experiences with your product. Examples include positive reviews on Yelp! or glowing comments on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter.
- Crowd wisdom
Crowd wisdom is more about quantity than it is quality. That is to say that the power of crowd wisdom lies in the large number of customers endorsing your brand. They don’t necessarily need to provide in-depth reviews. Rather, their visible loyalty to your brand is enough to attract others. An example would be an Instagram following of thousands — or millions — of followers.
- Friend endorsements
Social proof happens on a small scale when friends recommend products to one another. This can be an immensely influential form of marketing.
Certification as social proof is achieved when an organization or authoritative figure within your industry certifies your product. Examples include the blue checkmark on Twitter or Allure’s Best of Beauty Awards for beauty products.
10 ways to use social proof marketing in your business
Now that you understand the importance of social proof marketing and what it can look like, it’s time to explore how you can use social proof to boost your online retail conversions.
1. Be responsive to customers
Many social media or retail platforms allow you to show off your excellent response times to customers. Facebook gives you the option to display your rate and response time to your followers. If you maintain a quick response time, prospective customers are encouraged to reach out with questions about your products, the purchasing process, and even to provide feedback on your product. This can foster great engagement with your customers and help build a loyal brand following.
In this example, you’ll notice that Urban Grill and Wine Bar typically respond to messages within one hour. This prompt response encourages Facebook followers to engage with the business over Facebook, where they can post great reviews, tag the restaurant in a post, and more. The social proof lies in the way the “typically responds within one hour” tag shows visitors that other patrons are visiting Urban’s Facebook and receiving great customer service in the process.
2. Host social media takeovers
The social media takeover is a popular way to provide social proof to potential customers. By inviting an industry expert or thought leader to take over your social media profile for a day, you can build strong associations with their followers and your own. In this way, their followers will be influenced to have a greater trust for your brand, while your followers will appreciate the expert endorsement of your brand. This also gives you an opportunity to create educational content to post later.
Discount Dance is an affordable dancewear brand that often utilizes takeovers on its Instagram profile. Here, young dancer and model Emmy Bucher lent her influence as a dancer and customer to Discount Dance for the day. The choice to feature an up-and-coming young dancer who has found some success in the industry provides a small-scale version of expert proof. Many young dancers will be more drawn to the brand due to her takeover.
3. Celebrate your mentions
A modern form of social proof is being mentioned or tagged in a social media post by a famous brand, well-known influencer, or the press. This form of expert or celebrity social proof can provide a huge boost in brand loyalty and establish trust among more followers. Social media is often about reciprocation. So, you can maximize the power of your mentions by reposting them on your own social media profile with phrases like “grateful to be featured by…” or “honored to be recognized by…” or “OMG, can’t believe we were mentioned by…” depending on your target demographic.
In this example, luxury clothing and lifestyle brand Ivy Park reposts a story by pop star Ciara in which she shows off her new Icy Park by Ivy Park apparel. Founded by Beyoncé, Ivy Park doesn’t seem to need any more star power. However, by reposting Ciara’s story and showing gratitude for her support, Ivy Park builds customer trust and amplifies the effects of Ciara’s original post. In this instance, the repost is a form of celebrity-endorsed social proof.
4. Use brand ambassadors
Another form of influencer marketing, social media ambassadors can offer user, celebrity, or expert social proof — depending on who you partner with and how you partner with them. Brand ambassadors, similar to brand affiliates, often list their ambassadorship in their bio and regularly post about your brand’s products.
Fitness brand Fabletics often features ambassadors on their Instagram feed, including professional dancer Maddie Ziegler. As a professional dancer featured on the show Dance Moms, Maddie provides both celebrity and expert social proof as an ambassador. With posts that include phrases like, “Dancer approved,” Fabletics is using social proof to appeal to fitness buffs, dancers, and fans of dance — casting a wide net with just one collaboration.
5. Use social proof in your ads
One way to use social proof is to feature it in your paid ads on Instagram and Facebook or Google. For example, crowd-based social proof is often used in ad copy — celebrating how many customers, five-star reviews, or certifications your brand has. You can also feature these persuasive statistics on your website.
Tech start-up ClickUp utilizes a form of crowd wisdom by highlighting its five-star status “based on 10,000+ reviews on G2 Crowd, Capterra, and GetApp.” This shows visitors that thousands of users are already raving about their experience with ClickUp. ClickUp also invites prospective clients to “join 200,000+ highly productive teams,” including Google, Airbnb, Booking.com, and Uber. By including these high-profile clients on their website, ClickUp not only invokes the crowd wisdom of “200,000+ teams” but also the expert social proof of high-profile brands who have chosen ClickUp.
6. Partner with micro-influencers
Influencer marketing is a cutting-edge way to gain celebrity social proof for your brand. However, if you’re looking to market in a more relatable way, micro-influencers often hit the perfect mark between celebrity and user social proof.
Micro-influencers have between 1,000 and 100,000 followers. While their reach is smaller than high-profile influencers, micro-influencers often build more meaningful connections with their followers. Depending on your industry, micro-influencers can sometimes lend expert social proof to your product as well.
Here, micro-influencer Jasmin Vanessa provides an endorsement for Truly Hard Seltzer. With nearly 40,000 followers, her audience might not be as extensive as an influencer clearing 100,000, but her followers look to her for very specific lifestyle recommendations. Followers will form a positive association between Truly and the specific lifestyle that Jasmin leads — dramatically increasing the chance that her followers will purchase the seltzer. This is social proof at work! Followers look to Jasmin as a relatable fellow user and an expert in curating an aspirational lifestyle.
7. Work with experts on a social media event
Another way to leverage celebrity and expert social proof is to host an event with experts in your industry. These collaborations lend the positive influence and expertise of your guests’ to your brand, launching brand trust to a new level among current and potential customers. These events act as a valuable resource to your audience — and you can stretch the benefits of the event by using clips and takeaways to fuel your content marketing in the future.
Beauty brand No7 partners with The Female Quotient, Hello Sunshine, and Fortune to host a business summit for women. By hosting celebrities and experts across multiple industries, No7 simultaneously demonstrates its investment in its customers’ well-being — mostly women — and gathers immense expert social proof for the brand.
While the summit is on a topic outside of the beauty industry, this bold event encourages customers in a multidimensional way. By providing resources that transcend its product, No7 is building intense brand loyalty and meaningful connections with its customers. No7 promotes this event across its website, LinkedIn, and other social media channels.
8. Share testimonials on your website
Testimonials are a powerful form of user social proof. They assure prospective customers that they will have a stellar experience with your product and provide potential clients with a window to the type of customer you serve. When sharing testimonials, it’s important to make sure you represent the type of customers you hope to attract.
Here, skincare brand Haldi features user testimonials at the bottom of its homepage. You might notice the unique format of these testimonials designed to look like the customers’ original emails. This clever choice lends authenticity to this form of user social proof while allowing Haldi to highlight the kind of customers it serves. Here Haldi shouts out Jaclyn, a stylist at Anomalie, a custom bridal brand. This shows prospective clients that Haldi caters to busy professionals seeking better skincare — and that the service works! Testimonials written by happy customers in your targeted customer base are outstanding social proof tools.
9. Highlight user-generated content
Outside of managing your reviews, user-generated content is one of the most direct ways to use user social proof in your online marketing. This strategy shows potential customers that other people like them are using — and loving — your product. User-generated content provides consumers with a way to envision the ways your product will impact their life.
Alo is as much a lifestyle brand as it is a yoga apparel brand. In this example, Alo includes a live feed of user-generated Instagram content on their homepage. By featuring satisfied customers posting about their fitness-forward life in Alo apparel, this brand shows potential customers what their lifestyle might look like if they purchase a luxe pair of leggings. Alo’s massive presence on Instagram also generates crowd wisdom social proof in that it proves that large numbers of yogis and athleisure enthusiasts are wearing Alo.
10. Get verified
Getting verified on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter lends you both a beautiful blue checkmark on your bio and an effective form of certification social proof. This particular certification positions your brand as credible, authoritative, and popular. Beyond gaining access to special features, being verified on social media is a massive social proof marketing opportunity.
In this example, you’ll see dancer and choreographer Parris Goebel has earned a blue check on her profile. This lends her brand immediate credibility, driving customers to her clothing brand Runaway Motel and encouraging clients to sign up for her various virtual dance classes and events. When consumers encounter a brand they’re not yet familiar with, a blue check provides them with immediate assurance that they are interacting with a trustworthy business.
With careful planning, social proof can provide a huge boost to your online conversions. Now that you know what social proof is and how you can use it, are you ready to leverage this psychological phenomenon to elevate your online marketing?
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