Why Your Business Should Start Incorporating Social Proof

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Any writer will tell you that the closer a character in a story is to the everyman, the more relatable he is to the audience. This is because we can more easily recognize their desires, sorrows, needs, and things that make them happy. As a result, we are more likely to try to emulate the actions or behavior of that character in our everyday life. 

This phenomenon is psychological and deeply rooted in our culture, and it comes into play in everyday life. It’s also the fundamental concept behind social proofing, which is simply the idea that people will assume similar or identical actions they see other people doing under the assumption that such actions or behavior are correct and need to be followed.

When it comes to marketing your business, social proofing is one of the most critical and yet overlooked strategies in the book. Consumers seeing what others buy influences them to make similar buying decisions. As an example, when your website has reviews or testimonials from well-known figures in the same industry, that’s social proof in action because the reviews will compel many visitors to buy from you.

In this article, we’ll dive more deeply into what social proofing is, how to incorporate it into your business, and some of the pitfalls of social proofing that you would be wise to avoid. 

What is social proof?

Human society has evolved through millennia of community building, which depends deeply on the trust and guidance we receive from others. As much as we like to feel that we are self-sufficient and free-thinking individuals, the truth is most of us are subject to herd mentality because we are all influenced by the behavior or actions of other people in society. The idea behind social proof when it comes to marketing is pretty simple: Regular people are more trustworthy than advertising campaigns. 

During the economic recession this year, the unemployment rate hit an all-time high, the savings of many everyday consumers have been drained, and over half of all Americans have had a credit application denied due to low credit scores. People are more financially stretched than they ever have been, and may need an extra nudge to compel them to buy a product from you, even if it’s a product that could help improve their lives in these trying times. Social proofing can be that extra nudge you need. 

Probably the most easily understandable form of social proof is the user review, but it is also far from the only one. The point is to get everyday people involved. You can ask for reviews, show statistics relating to the numbers of current viewers of the page, let the customers grade your products, or go to social media for even more community engagement and sales. Each of these things can be invaluable in ensuring customer loyalty.

A major benefit of this practice is its ability to boost your conversion rates. The average conversion rate is only around 3-4%, but Amazon (which utilizes extensive social proof marketing) has reached rates of closer to 15%. This boosts buyer confidence, but it can cause more than just quality assurance. There are examples of bizarre or useless items becoming best-sellers on platforms like Amazon due to witty customer reviews alone.

However, social proof can be a double-edged sword as well. Echo chambers and confirmation bias are two dangers. In other words, people tend to trust information that confirms what they already believe and ignore the rest. This is something to be aware of as it has the potential to drive interest in bad or subpar products while making it difficult for new and innovative ideas to find their way to the spotlight.

The use cases of social proof

As previously mentioned, online reviews are not the only example or use case of social proof for your business when it comes to marketing. But if you do get a negative review, treat it as an opportunity to come across as courteous, trustworthy, and helpful. Address the feedback, offer to resolve the issue, make it visible that you value your customers and are willing to go the extra mile for their satisfaction. 

Although humility is considered a virtue, in marketing, it can be important to boast. You should fly any positive achievement high and proud, including sales numbers, unique visits, satisfied customers, certificates, and concurrent viewers. But even the odd negative or mixed review can be leveraged. Remember that people tend to get suspicious if all they see are flying colors. Ultimately, addressing negative reviews directly is a vital opportunity for clever and creative PR.

A less obvious use of social proof is in search engine optimization. On average, the top result in a search engine results page will have a click-through rate of 30%, but that figure drops to just 4% for the fifth result. In other words, the higher your page ranks on the search engine results page translates to stronger social proofing. 

Apart from general user reviews, expert and influencer recommendations are also powerful social proof marketing tools. They present a good way to both boost your brand’s credibility and give you greater reach by making your brand seem more trustworthy to the layperson. 

Finally, it’s also smart to get as many mentions as you can on social media platforms as it boosts your visibility and works much like trusted word-of-mouth recommendations. If your work is in a more artistic field, then places like Reddit and fandom wikis can be equally as effective. 

Avoiding the pitfalls of social proofing 

Some businesses have survived without much online presence, but that is about to change. It is well known that millennials and Generation Z tend to spend a lot of time online, but recently, even older generations have started checking out more online retailers.

It would also be a mistake to assume that this is just temporary due to the pandemic. The move online has been going on for years, and the circumstances of this year have just sped it up. This is just going to become even more drastic with the increased speed and availability coming from 5G.

As a result of this drastic shift over to online businesses and retailers, social proofing presents a series of new opportunities but also an increased risk for misuse and pitfalls.

One such pitfall is to create your business website without tools or services that are congruent to social proofing. The simplest solution to avoid this mistake is to simply use a website builder such as Wix or Squarespace that comes with important tools to help you properly set up social proofing, such as the ability to easily set up online communities, landing page templates that include sections for testimonials, and easy social media integration.

Another potential pitfall lies in the manipulation of user reviews. Getting fake positive reviews or removing all of the negative reviews is a particular problem. Such practices lower the credibility of your brand and can seriously poison your social proof in the future. The best way to avoid this pitfall is to simply avoid manipulating user reviews at all, and instead, respond to the negative reviews in the manner like we described before. 

This year has shown our innate need for other people. It has also shown that creating online communities can somewhat alleviate the woes stemming from isolation. Social proofing is a brilliant marketing strategy because it lets us leverage that need and help us bring our fellow humans closer while increasing revenues, customer satisfaction, and conversion rates. 

Gary Stevens is a front-end developer and copywriter who specializes in writing about cybersecurity, blockchain, and tech trends.