How to Harness the Power of ‘Social Proof’ for Your Clients

According to BrightLocal’s Local Consumer Review Survey 2016, 84% of people trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations, with 74% of them saying that positive reviews increase how much they trust a local business, and 54% visiting a website after reading positive reviews about the company.

Here’s one reason why this happens: social proof. This concept (known more formally as the informational social influence theory) states that when a person does not know how to act in a certain situation, he or she will look to see what other people are doing, and then imitate their actions. Here are three principles related to social proof to consider when managing marketing campaigns.

Principle of Similarity

While a feeling of uncertainty is what initially motivates people to look for social guidance, the finding of similarities further enhances the process. This means the uncertain person will be even more motivated to “adopt the behavior and attitudes” of people who resemble him or her. Similarities can be found via “age, gender, school, community, physical appearance, and common experiences.”

So if a person who cares about his or her appearance learns that the brand Sexy Smile Toothpaste is preferred by people who also care about their looks, then a bond with the brand has a better chance of being formed. As another example, if someone who lives in Boise, Idaho, reads about a person within the same community who is willing to drive two hours to a particular restaurant because it provides gourmet-tasting food at a reasonable budget, then he or she may be more inclined to take that same drive.

Principle of Expertise

Social proof is even more effective when “surrounding people are perceived as particularly knowledgeable about a situation or are even just slightly more familiar with the situation than the observer is.” That’s why a librarian’s review of an independent bookstore may hold more weight than average and why a nurse may be taken more seriously in regards to a review of nutritional supplements.

Principle of Numbers

Social proof is more powerful when someone can observe the actions of numerous other people. If you have any doubt that other people are interested in the concept of social proof, then just check out Google Trends. Logic suggests that at least a percentage of the people intrigued by this subject are other digital marketers who are looking for ways to give their clients a competitive edge.

Providing Social Proof         

When you think about the potential power of social proof, it makes good sense to focus on providing that to prospects. Here are some avenues to consider.

First, make it easy to send your client’s customers directly to the right place to write Google reviews and share that link on the client’s website, social media pages, and so forth. Make it part of your routine to ask customers to write reviews at Google, Facebook, Yelp, and wherever else makes sense for a particular client’s industry — but also use this link to make it easy for prospects to see what others are saying about the company. According to Mashable.com, “Jim Lankes, owner of Divine Skin Spa in Arizona, says including a link to his more than 500 customer reviews is a big reason why his business has sold more than 10,000 daily deals in two years.”

Go beyond basic monitoring of reviews of your clients’ companies. Yes, you want to see how many new reviews are posted, and how many are positive and how many are negative. But also consider segmenting them as much as possible. Divide them by specific products or services mentioned and by any other demographic cues given within the reviews (perhaps which branch of a bank the person visited). How can you use this information strategically to make sure that the right segment of reviews is seen by the prospects who would be most interested in reading them?

Take a second look at the testimonials currently on your clients’ sites. Do they represent the entire spectrum of products and/or services offered by a company? In other words, will all main types of a company’s customers find the social proof they need? If not, what other kinds of testimonials are needed? What internal links need to be added to the site to make it as easy as possible for site visitors to find relevant reviews as they educate themselves about your clients’ products and services? This concept also applies to case studies.

If the testimonials and/or case studies need to be blind, ensure that as many details as possible can be included to help potential customers identify with the people providing the testimonials. For example, let’s say one of your clients has this as a customer persona: an interior designer who provides exclusive luxury services. If there is a blind testimonial that was written by such a person, make sure that identifying information is crystal clear, even if you can’t use the person’s name or place of employment.

Promote reviews, testimonials, and case studies on social media pages whenever it makes sense. Perhaps you could write an annual blog post for a client about reviews they received that year and then promote that blog post on their social media. Also encourage your clients to make these reviews available to be read in non-digital ways, such as in displays at trade shows, in marketing brochures, in office lobbies, storefronts, and more.

In today’s social world, meeting the standards of social proof is becoming more important, and the digital marketers who recognize this and capitalize on opportunities will provide added value to their clients.

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