“Follow the line” by Lauri Rantala is licensed under CC BY 2.0
Many consumers are eager to follow the lead of their peers. PHOTO: Lauri Rantala

Social proof is one of the most powerful growth drivers in marketing. It has become a critical success factor for effective marketers, and if you aren’t actively taking advantage of it, start now.

One of the biggest challenges for digital marketers is capturing consumers’ attention long enough to persuade them to buy. 

With the sheer amount of competition for people’s attention, an increasing limited resource, marketers are forced to constantly find innovative ways to keep audience members engaged.

A major key to achieving this, especially on the social web, is social proof, the psychological phenomenon whereby people will do something because our peers, who we may regard as better informed, are doing it.

“As a rule, we will make fewer mistakes by acting in accord with social evidence than contrary to it,” explains Robert Cialdini in his landmark book, Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion. “Usually, when a lot of people are doing something, it is the right thing to do.”

A great example is how you feel when you see your crowds of people lined up outside a new club. 

The fact that they are standing there waiting to get into the club probably peaks your curiosity about the club and sparks a desire to join the line.

Using Social Proof to Grow

In the battle for consumers’ attention, social proof often provides the stickiness that companies need to make their brands, content and products desirable. In many cases, is the fuel that powers viral marketing campaigns. “Oh, 532 people shared this article since it went up yesterday?” your audience members might think. “These guys must be on to something!”

The best part is, if you play your cards right, it doesn’t even have to take so long to build up your social proof signals. Bear in mind, though, that by itself, social proof isn’t going to do much except make a lot of noise. You still need something to make noise about. Sure, it’s possible to build a certain level of social proof mystique out of thin air, but eventually these efforts will fizzle out.

Each form of social proof has its nuances and is better suited to certain use cases than others. These forms include expert social proof; celebrity social proof; user social proof; the wisdom of the crowds and, as I have already mentioned, the wisdom of your friends.

Let’s take a look at some of the most powerful yet sustainable ways to cultivate social proof – even with limited resources and a relatively unknown brand.

Customer Ratings and Reviews

Ratings and reviews are particularly powerful influences when it comes to retail, both online and in physical stores. A recent Pew Research report revealed 82 percent of Americans consult online ratings and reviews when buying a product for the first time.

Encourage customers to write reviews of your solutions or rate them on your site and share those ratings and reviews online. Well-reputed tools for publishing customer reviews on your site include Boast and the Testimonials Widget WordPress plugin. Both options enable you to reach out to your customers to ask them to leave reviews and then easily embed those customer reviews on your site.

Yotpo features
Yotpo encourages customers to write reviews about products and websites.PHOTO: Yotpo

It’s also possible to set up your site to trigger automated emails that go out to all customers in a number of hours or days of their purchases. Often, all it takes to get people to submit reviews is to ask. When integrated with other technologies, these emails can help cut the friction involved in the review process. And the good news for those just getting started is that collecting reviews may actually be easier.

Customer review platform Yotpo has found that ecommerce businesses that have fewer monthly transactions are actually more likely to convert customers into reviewers.

“The companies growing like crazy and floating above the noise are the companies who leverage their customers and their experience with the brand,” Yotpo’s CEO, Tomer Tagrin, recently told Forbes. “Day in and day out, we see that companies who are not utilizing customers are going to vanish – simple as that.”

Testimonials and Influencer Endorsements

Testimonials from clients or industry experts who have tried your solution and see real value in it can be powerfully influential. Depending on your target audience, a celebrity testimonial could be an irresistible nudge for consumers to sign up and try the solution for themselves.

Similar to testimonials, influencer endorsements expose brands to an influencer’s passionate audience which could range in size from a few hundred to millions of followers. What these tribes have in common is their shared passions, and, as a consequence, consumers view influencers as credible sources of information about the solutions they recommend.

Brands are turning to influencers primarily because they can offer them a greater degree of authenticity, research from TapInfluence and Altimeter, a Prophet Company has found.
Influencers offer a greater degree of authenticity, research from TapInfluence and Altimeter, a Prophet Company has found.

The challenge here is twofold. First, you’ll need to identify those celebrities, experts and influencers who are passionate – or willing to become passionate – about your solutions. Then you’ll need to find mutually beneficial ways for them to authentically share their esteem for your products.

There are numerous ways to do this. One option is to use Buzzsumo's powerful search features to research who is talking about your product or related themes. You can also focus on building relationships with your fans organically by recognizing their contributions to your growing community. For example, offer your more engaged fans special access to new products or updates on existing ones.

Bear in mind that when it comes to followers, measuring an industry figure’s level of influence is a qualitative assessment — not one based on sheer numbers. A smaller group of highly engaged fans is far more effective than the silent masses.

Social Connections and Social Shares

Our social graphs shape our online experiences through algorithms carefully tuned to show us what our friends and other social connections regard as important.

Our “implicit egotism” means we trust recommendations from people we know. This is why social shares like Facebook posts and tweets are so persuasive, particularly when the social shares we see are filtered through our preferences and proclivities.

All you need to do is make it super easy for people to spread the word on social media. Two suggestions to do this include Talkable, a referral marketing platform, and the Storefront Product Sharing plugin for WordPress users.

Talkable helps optimize conversion through A/B testing
Talkable helps optimize conversion through A/B testing.

Talkable is a feature-rich service that you can use to conduct detailed referral marketing campaigns using customizable templates, A/B testing and more. The benefit of a service like Talkable is its flexibility and ability to support a range of referral marketing campaigns across social media platforms.

If you are looking for something simpler, the Storefront Product Sharing plugin integrates with the WooCommerce framework to give your customers more ways to share items from your site.

This is the “wisdom of your friends” form of social proof in action.

Badges, Media Logos, Subscriber Counts

Badges, media logos and subscriber counts add visual validation of your solution’s value to the marketplace. They are typically subtle but very effective.

Badges take many forms. They are often indicate certifications or affiliations with industry bodies, and using them engenders trust.

Similarly, when you see the media logos of publishers on brands’ sites, it suggests that those publishers think highly enough of the brand and its solutions that they covered them. This is the Halo Effect in action. Your regard for the publisher creates a positive association with the brand’s solution, which you are therefore more likely to invest in.

Finally, subscriber counts in the form of Facebook buttons, newsletter subscriber numbers and so on tell us that “everyone else” is subscribed. It triggers FOMO, our fear of missing out on the “wisdom of the crowds.” The implied message is, subscribing here is wonderful, so we’re all the more likely to opt in ourselves.

SumoMe offers a popular and free email subscription pop-up solution that converts especially well. As a site admin, you have a variety of options to customize your subscription appeal and make the prospect of becoming a subscriber almost irresistible.

Make sure to pay careful attention to your subscriber lists, though. According to HubSpot, you can expect your database to lose as much as 22.5 percent of your subscribers every year if you don’t take steps to support them and keep them active.

Think You’re Buzzworthy? Prove It

You probably have a great solution and limited resources to share it with your intended audience. Social proof is a dynamic phenomenon that will help you not only create some buzz but stoke your audience’s passion for your brand.