July 15, 2022

Social Proof: What Is It and How Is It Beneficial in Marketing?

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Suppose you are shopping for a new bed. You already saw one in a store you like, but you wanted to get feedback on those who already bought it.

While checking the product online, you found three other equally attractive beds. One had no reviews; another had 300 reviews with an average star rating of 3.2, and a third with 50 satisfied customers giving it a rating of 5 stars. Which would you choose?

Most people would hesitate between the second and third products and not even consider the first one. You might choose the second one despite the relatively low rating because many more people bought it. On the other hand, the third one had fewer reviews, but all expressed satisfaction and provided testimonials.

Your final decision may depend on other factors, such as price and color options. Reviews alone will not guarantee a purchase, but they are often the jumping-off point. The reason for this is a psychological phenomenon that marketers call social proof.

Many studies on this psychological phenomenon illustrate the importance of social proof in business. One report reveals that 90% of consumers check reviews before visiting a business. Nearly a third (31%) will likely purchase more from a company with excellent reviews.

Based on the example above, the studies, and your own experiences, social proof is beneficial in marketing. However, what is it, and how can you use it effectively for a competitive edge? Let's find out.

What Is Social Proof?

American psychologist and academic Robert Cialdini coined the term "social proof," also known as informational social influence, in 1984. He explored the phenomenon in depth in his book Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion. Cialdini included it as one of the six fundamental principles of persuasion. With authority, consistency, reciprocity, liking, and scarcity, social proof could influence how people act in specific situations.

Cialdini explained that “we view a behavior as more correct in a given situation to the degree that we see others performing it.” In other words, people tend to mimic the actions of others when a number of people are doing it.

However, Cialdini was not the first to observe the phenomenon of social proof. Social psychology pioneer Solomon Asch performed experiments on what he called herd behavior as early as 1951.

The Asch conformity test involved eight participants in a "vision test." The participants studied two cards, one with a target line and one with three lines. Only one of the three lines was the same length as the target line. However, the tester instructed seven participants to give the same wrong answer. The eighth and last one to answer was the actual subject.

The study consisted of 18 trials, and planted participants gave the wrong answers in 12 (critical trials). In the critical trials, 75% of subjects went along with the majority choice despite clearly being the wrong one.

The results illustrate the tendency of people to conform to the behavior of others around them or in similar situations. Of course, in the real world, most people will act reasonably and not deliberately mislead others. When they post reviews, they do so to help others make the right choices.

Where Can You Find Social Proof?

When people shop, they look to customer reviews to help them make purchasing decisions. However, what if there are no reviews for a product. Does that mean no one will ever purchase that product?

Well, reviews are only one type of social proof. Sure, the wisdom of the crowds works wonders for encouraging people to buy, but all reviews start with one. It might take some time for a product or service to gather enough reviews to influence buyer behavior. In the meantime, marketers and online stores can use different types of social proof to get traction with potential customers.

Expert Approval

People trust experts, so if one recommends or approves a product, that can give it a big boost. An authority in the industry would not typically associate with a brand unless they genuinely believe in its value. They have to protect their reputation as an expert, which gives them influence.

Examples of social proof from experts could be a blog article, a social media mention, or an unboxing video. When an industry professional gives a Twitter shoutout for a brand, you trust it's a good one.

Celebrity Endorsements

Celebrity endorsements are powerful because people look up to and want to be them. A product becomes desirable when a celebrity uses and promotes it on social media or public forums. If the endorsement is unpaid, celebrity social proof is particularly powerful. Influencer marketing taps into the power of celebrity, and whether paid or not is generally effective.

Case Studies and Testimonials

Many brands publish case studies and testimonials to illustrate the efficacy of their product or service in the real world. It represents a client’s vote of confidence in the brand’s value and provides positive feedback on its actual use.

Short-form testimonials are particularly effective on landing pages because they are bite-sized. Full-blown case studies are for potential customers further down the sales funnel. They will take the time to read it because they want to know more about the product or service.

Trust Icons

Many websites use trust icons to assure visitors that the business is legitimate. These include security logos, certifications, awards, membership badges, and customer logos of established companies.

For example, the Better Business Bureau (BBB) Accredited Business icon means the brand meets the BBB Standards for Trust. In some cases, online stores can use the owner’s educational or professional credentials to promote trust in the brand.

Earned Media

Earned media is positive exposure or publicity for your brand gained through organic methods, meaning not from paid ads. For example, a newspaper features your store or recognizes your site’s contribution to a good cause.

Unsolicited Yelp reviews, backlinks from high-authority sites, and a Facebook check-in are examples of earned media. Marketers can encourage people to raise awareness of your brand through promotions and good public relations. However, you have no control over the content at the end of the day, so it gains authenticity.

Social Media Shares

Social media platforms such as Instagram are critical to effective brand marketing. Social media posts are rich sources of social proof. However, they can also be a bottomless well of negative publicity if you’re not careful.

When your social media strategy encourages enough positive shares of your site’s content, it might influence potential customers to buy. At the very least, it will create buzz around your brand, which is always good.

Herd Mentality

While it hardly has the panache of social proof, herd mentality describes people's tendency to follow the crowd quite well. Some call it the "wisdom of the crowds," which triggers people's fear of missing out (FOMO).

The FOMO mindset explains why people prefer crowded restaurants and avoid those with no customers. They think it must be good since so many people eat there. The same thinking applies to brands with lots of customers or followers.

Wisdom of Friends

Family and friends are powerful influencers because people trust what they say. The “wisdom of your friends" social proof may be direct recommendations, shares, or referrals. Generally, this type of social proof has more weight than paid ads or promotions.

Image Source: Unsplash

Why Is Social Proof Beneficial in Ecommerce Marketing

While social proof can benefit all industries, it is particularly critical for online stores. The competition for attention in e-commerce is fierce and only getting worse.

Moreover, consumers are becoming more discriminating with their online purchases. Price is still a driving factor, but it is not enough. The pressure is on marketers and website managers to convert.

They can do this by creating a marketing strategy that generates social proof. Below are the benefits of social proof in marketing.

Improves conversion rates

E-commerce conversion rates are the percentage of site visitors that buys something. E-commerce sites are somewhat disadvantaged because people can't physically handle the product. A brick-and-mortar store can use various strategies to encourage people to purchase, such as offering samples.

It helps when an online store has excellent product descriptions and multiple images to help customers visualize it. However, it requires a level of trust to take the brand’s word about the quality of the product or service. How do you know one brand is better than the other based on their claims alone?

Social proof can help build that trust and influence purchasing decisions. Customer reviews, testimonials, and user-generated images are from real customers sharing their experience with the product or service. Since people tend to rely more on customer reviews than brand assurances, social proof can improve conversions more effectively.

Helps build audience trust

As mentioned above, social proof can help build trust in a brand. Earning the confidence of potential customers is critical because it creates loyalty. Globally, 75% of consumers continue to buy from brands they trust, even if a popular brand comes into the picture. Moreover, 76% become brand ambassadors, recommending it to other consumers, completing the cycle.

However, social proof builds trust if people believe it is authentic. You might think an excellent 5-star rating for product reviews is good, but some studies show consumers find that suspicious.

You should certainly try to provide a positive experience to all your customers. However, most people don't believe you can please everybody completely all the time, and you probably can't. Getting an average 4.5-star rating might be the best thing for your online business.

When using social proof to build trust, remember it is fatally easy to overdo it. Strive for an accurate picture of the customer experience at all times.

Broadens your online marketing strategy

A digital marketing strategy can be overly aggressive and self-promoting, putting potential customers off. Social proof marketing, on the other hand, lets you take a more versatile and subtle approach to promote your brand. However, it needs a little help to get out there.

Marketers typically publish case studies, reviews, and testimonials on websites. Digital marketing through social media and search engine optimization (SEO) helps nudge people in the right direction. Customers often respond better to being led to the water than forced to drink. They can decide if they like what they see and make their own purchasing decisions.

Provides assurances for unfamiliar brands

Ecommerce brands are cropping up all the time. A number of customers will take a chance and buy something. It assures potential customers when they leave positive reviews or user-generated content (UGC).

Potential customers rely on these endorsements, customer testimonials, and other external cues to make purchasing decisions for unfamiliar brands. The more user reviews or other social proof you get, the more likely people will purchase. Most people automatically associate popularity with quality, hence the crowded restaurant phenomenon.

Image Source: Pexels

Increases demand

If you have ever used a booking platform, you might have noticed it uses FOMO quite effectively. It gives notifications on the number of people viewing the same flight or room or the number of units left. The effect is increased demand as customers feel a sense of urgency.

You can use the same tactic for your digital marketing strategy. Show site visitors how many people bought a product, reviews, and star ratings. You give them social proof (popularity) and create a FOMO scenario simultaneously. You will see your most popular products flying right off the shelves if you do it right.

Satisfies the need for social approval

Amazon sellers lust for the Best Seller badge because those products typically rank better in a search. Additionally, the badge serves as a popularity cue, indicating that more people bought that brand than others. Thus, it is a “socially approved” product, potentially increasing someone’s acceptance by a peer group.

Outside of Amazon, hashtags can take the place of badges as social proof. You have it made when a trending hashtag becomes associated with a product through influencer or celebrity endorsements.

Social proof marketing positions eCommerce businesses for social approval. While this acceptance might be perceived rather than actual, most people can't tell the difference. From a marketing point of view, the crucial thing is that a customer has a positive perception of the brand.

Inspires customers to buy more

Brick-and-mortar stores use displays to grab customers' attention and encourage impulse buying behavior. Online stores can use visually appealing social proof to do the same thing.

You can strategically position social proof on your homepage, landing pages, and website. When you link them to product pages, you give online customers the inspiration they need to buy.

Reduces returns and refunds

E-commerce stores deal with higher returns (30%) than brick-and-mortar retailers (8.89%), representing billions in lost revenue. In most cases, returns and refunds are due to the customer's inability to evaluate a product physically before purchase.

Social proof and UGC can help set a customer's expectations. They provide photos of the product and information that the target audience might find relevant in their buying decisions. For example, a photo review with the customer wearing the product shows you what it looks like on real people. If the customer notes that the sizing runs big, you know to order a size down.

Social proof can help reduce returns and refunds by providing customers with peer-to-peer information. Managing their expectations also makes it easier to provide customers with the best shopping experience.

Build customer relationships using UGC

Social proof is essentially UGC; using it in your digital marketing campaigns can drive positive customer relationships. Most people want acknowledgment, and you can give that to them through social proof.

You can publish UGC through reviews, testimonials, and social media mentions on Instagram, Twitter, and other platforms. When you do, you show that you value your customers' feedback and opinions.

Using social proof on your homepage or landing pages indicates your brand's commitment to improving the customer experience. If you want to build confidence and loyalty with your customers, putting UGC front and center is an excellent way to do that.

Image Source: Pexels

How Brands Are Using Social Proof

How can you generate and use social proof for your brand effectively? The easiest way is to find out what the successful ones are doing. Here are some excellent examples.

Canva

Canva is a design tool for non-professionals launched in 2012 in Australia. To get people talking about it, it ignored paid ads and looked to early adopters to extol the tool's merits. They invited customers to share their experiences with the Canva tool, and many were eager to do so.

Most of the social proof was UGC from satisfied customers, but Canva understood the power of influencers. It hired American marketing expert and author Guy Kawasaki to serve its target audience as the company's Chief Evangelist.

The strategy paid off. Canva created a lot of goodwill and loyalty. It gained credibility with high-authority sites such as Forbes and TechCrunch, which helped make the tool even more popular.

Peloton

Exercise equipment and media company Peloton has its roots in a Kickstarter campaign for a bike project in 2013. It raised the necessary funds to bring the project to fruition, but it needed to keep the hype going. Peloton CEO John Foley accomplished this by generating social proof through partnerships with well-known brands such as Good Housekeeping and Forbes.

The endorsement of these big name companies of Peloton products helped raise consumer awareness of the brand and build trust. Of course, collaborations with established companies tend to come with hefty fees, but they can be very effective.

Peloton leveraged its influence to a significant effect. It generated $4.02 billion in revenue and had 2.49 million subscribers in 2021.

Netflix

While Netflix may be in trouble now, it had a great run with social proof. It uses each subscriber’s history to populate their homepage with recommendations of what they will probably want to watch. Additionally, Netflix shows subscribers what others with similar demographics are watching.

Subscribers can share content and recommendations on social media and post reviews of what they watched. By personalizing the experience, Netflix uses psychology, UGC, and the power of social proof to keep their customer base interested and loyal.

Using Social Proof in Your Marketing Strategy

Now that you know the nature and types of social proof and why it is beneficial in marketing, the next step is to find out how to use it. Below are some suggestions for getting reviews from satisfied customers.

Develop a System to Collect Customer Reviews

Positive reviews on Facebook and Google can have a significant effect on the purchasing decisions of potential customers. However, you need to have enough of them. One study shows that 68% of consumers prefer a product with 26 or more reviews. More than half (52%) will not trust star ratings if not accompanied by written reviews.

Essentially, you need a way to collect customer reviews to go with your star ratings. According to a customer survey, businesses use the following methods to provide them with a review link in 2021:

  • Email – 45%
  • In-person, during a sale – 34%
  • Receipt or invoice – 30%
  • SMS/text message – 20%
  • Social media – 26%
  • Over the phone – 24%
  • Onsite device – 16%
  • Onsite signage – 16%
  • Chatbot – 15%
  • Business card – 20%

Businesses offered the following incentives in 2021 to sweeten the deal:

  • Discount – 17%
  • Freebies – 15%
  • Cash – 6%

You can use any of these methods and incentives to create your review collecting system, or you can figure out something else. Claiming your profile on third-party review sites can make it easier for customers to leave reviews.

Publish Testimonials on Business Social Media Accounts and Site

Testimonials are powerful social proof, so you should put them on your business site and social media accounts. It can be as simple as text only or a user-generated image with a quote. If you can swing it, make a video or case study.

Landing pages are particularly effective places to put testimonials as they can enhance customer engagement and increase conversions by as much as 34%. Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram are great platforms for publishing testimonials and reviews. They can be much more effective than any marketing message you can create.

Focus on Reviews Highlighting Company Benefits

All reviews are valuable, but the most critical ones highlight the benefits of your product or service. You want reviews that closely align with your brand message. They tell potential customers what they need to know to decide to buy.

You should consider that when asking for feedback. Encourage customers to be as specific as possible about your offering and what they like (and don't like). Honest, information-rich reviews are much more compelling than generic content.

Did you know? “Social psychologists Stanley Milgram, Leonard Bickman, and Lawrence Berkowitz performed The Street Corner Experiment in 1968 that illustrated the power of social proof.”

Leverage Social Proof With Archive

Social proof can influence consumer behavior significantly. It is just one of six principles of persuasion. However, it has gained prominence in digital marketing because people tend to conform. With the right strategy and proper implementation, brands can benefit greatly from different types of social proof.

A critical type of social proof is social media mentions. Archive automates the identification, collection, and saving of UGC by searching Instagram for posts and Stories.

Once Archive App detects posts and Stories that tag your brand, it saves them to your account. You don't have to search and download social proof on Instagram manually. Moreover, you can access your library anytime to choose what to share on social media and your site. You can also use the UGC to create better ads on Facebook and Instagram.

Businesses of any size can use Archive to harness the power of community marketing and content. We help make your digital marketing more cost-effective, starting with social proof.

Learn more about how Archive can help improve your social proof online. Sign up to try Archive App for free!

Showcase user-generated content with Archive. Our app searches Instagram for posts about your brand. Contact us today to learn more about how it can help improve your social proof online.

FAQs on Social Proof

How can you use social proof on paid ads?

You can include star ratings and customer testimonials directly on your Facebook and Google ads. If you have video testimonials, run video ads on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook. Partnering with established brands to run a co-branded social media contest can help you gain brand recognition.

Why should you avoid providing fake social proof?

Social proof is for building trust and credibility. Using plugins to create fake followers, likes, reviews, and testimonials defeat the purpose. Businesses that use these plugins or pay for fake reviews don't think they'll get caught, but consumers are savvy.

Almost all (95%) suspect reviews are either fake or censored when there are no negative reviews. More than 80% believe they have read a fake review in the past year. Once a customer spots a fake review on your site or social media account, the trust is gone and can be very hard to rebuild.

When can you put social proof on a website?

You should always put social proof on a website at once, especially if the site is new. Social proof can help optimize your site for search engines through link building and social media sharing. You don’t want to waste any time.

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