We all like to believe we’re independent, thoughtful decision-makers, but when it comes to deciding what we buy, we, like all consumers, rely on what others think.
This reliance isn’t limited to our in-person social circles, either. Websites like Yelp, Google My Business, and Amazon have all thrived in part because they roll shopping and opinion-sharing into one platform by allowing users to share reviews. And online reviews work: Research shows that 97 percent of shoppers consult product reviews before making a purchase, and most read between one and 10 reviews before buying.
What Is Social Proof?
The term social proof was coined by Rutgers psychology and marketing professor Robert Cialdini in his 1984 book Influence. In defining social proof, Cialdini said that in situations where we aren’t sure how to act, “we view a behavior as more correct … to the degree that we see others performing it.”
In other words: when we don’t know exactly what we’re supposed to be doing and we feel uncertain, we tend to assume others around us know more and are better equipped to make the right decisions. We base our choices on social proof. And this concept of social proof serves as the foundation for everything from online reviews to celebrity endorsements.
As an example, let’s say we have lower back pain we’ve never experienced before, so we don’t know what remedies or treatments will help. We see a commercial that features Shaquille O’Neal pitching IcyHot for back pain. We don’t have any other experience with or info about IcyHot, but if Shaquille O’Neal endorses it, we probably trust the product more than we did before and are more likely to give it a shot. After all, Shaq is a professional athlete and a celebrity. He must know about treating back pain, and he probably wouldn’t put his famous name behind a company that sold snake oil — right?
6 Types of Social Proof
Social proof is an intriguing idea that offers a lot of possibilities for marketers, so marketing experts have spent a lot of time studying and writing about the concept. In a 2017 article for the website Buffer, Alfred Lua drew from several different articles about various types of social proofs to come up with a list of six primary types:
- Expert: Consumers tend to lend extra weight to product endorsements from (or even general associations with) people who are considered experts in their field.
- Celebrity: Works the same way as expert social proof, but with celebrities and influencers (who aren’t necessarily experts in anything).
- User: People tend to trust the opinions of others who have used a product or service. This is the type of social proof associated with online reviews.
- The wisdom of the crowd: Consumers tend to trust products and services with big followings. So, companies and individuals that have extensive social media followings (lots of likes, shares, and followers) tend to get more credibility than those that don’t.
- The wisdom of your friends: People trust products and services more when they see their friends, family, and acquaintances using them.
- Certification: Consumers trust brands more when they receive a stamp of approval from some authoritative source. (For example, the blue “verified” checkmark on Twitter or Facebook.)
Why Social Proof Matters for Digital Marketing
When Cialdini first wrote about social proof, the internet was a new idea, and almost no one had regular access to it. Today, the internet has changed how we shop and make decisions. With the ability to find all types of social proof for almost any product or service available, social proof has become a much bigger factor in most people’s purchasing decisions than facts, statistics, or technical specifications.
Consumers also have a natural skepticism about buying products they’ve never seen in person or services from people they’ve never met. However, social proof can help counteract that skepticism, which is why it’s so valuable in digital marketing and online commerce.
How to Leverage Social Proof in Your Marketing
Wondering how you can incorporate the power of social proof into your digital marketing strategy? Here are a few of our favorite tools that take advantage of social proof effects.
Ratings and reviews: Reviews on Google and social media go a long way in reaching new clients. Make sure to actively pursue reviews and ratings (for example, using the techniques we discussed in this article). You also need to showcase positive feedback on your website as well as in emails and social media pages. One easy way to do this to highlight a positive review on your homepage and your social media page, making sure to rotate the review every so often.
Testimonials: Short, two-minute video testimonials from satisfied customers or clients (especially in the legal industry) help convince potential clients or customers that your products or services will help them, too.
Success stories: Telling detailed, vivid stories about how you’ve helped past clients or customers is one of the most effective ways to leverage social proof and convince new potential customers you can meet their needs, too. Interview willing customers or clients (you might offer them a discount or some other perk as a thank-you for their time) and then use the material you gather to tell their story in a blog-style format. Make sure to share your success stories on social media, too.
Statistics: We said social proof is more powerful than statistics, but what if those statistics reinforce social proof? Get an accurate estimate (no fibbing) about how many customers you’ve helped, businesses you’ve served, or how much you’ve won for clients. Then, highlight that information on your website, in your emails, and on social media.
Apply labels like “popular” or “most read” when suggesting content: When you highlight particular pieces of content, using labels like “popular” or “most read” instead of “suggested” or “related” makes visitors feel like they may be missing out on something if they don’t check it out.
Share your accreditations: For law firms, having an attorney achieve a board certification can boost the credibility of the entire firm. Healthcare and financial companies can achieve similar results with official recognition as a certified financial planner (CFP) or by having numerous employees with HIPAA and CDC certifications.
Include official recognition badges: The Verisign, Norton, McAfee, and Better Business Bureau badges all give potential and current clients a sense of security. Companies have reported significant increases in their total number of web leads after adding these seals and badges to their websites.
Using social proof techniques can be a great way to build trust and gain potential leads. However, it’s important to make sure you’re investing in techniques that resonate with the clients you’re trying to reach — and that don’t violate industry marketing laws.
When you need to showcase your success through client stories, testimonials, and other social proof techniques, you need a digital marketing partner who understands your industry and your clients. At LaFleur, we have experience working with clients in highly regulated industries like legal services and healthcare. We work with unparalleled attention to detail and consider what your target audience wants and needs so we can tell your story in authentic, compelling ways.
LaFleur Is Your Forward-Thinking Digital Marketing Partner
Whether you need to reach a specific audience, gain more Google reviews, or start capturing and sharing client success stories, LaFleur can help. To discuss your goals, learn more about our services, and get a quote, give us a call at (888) 222-1512 or fill out our online contact form.
We look forward to hearing from you!
Hagans, A. (2020, February 20). 5 “trust badges” that can increase your conversion rate. Monetize Pros. Retrieved from https://monetizepros.com/ecommerce/5-trust-badges-that-can-increase-your-conversion-rate/
Kabiri, N. (2016). Sink or swim: how to adapt to the new legal consumer [Whitepaper]. AVVO. Retrieved from https://www.martindale-avvo.com/wp-content/uploads/how_to_adapt_to_the_new_legal_consumer_avvo_whitepaper_2016.pdf
Krakowiak, A. (2018, March 19). PowerReviews finds that virtually all consumers (97 percent) depend on reviews to inform purchase decisions. Businesswire. Retrieved from https://www.businesswire.com/news/home/20180319005257/en/PowerReviews-Finds-Virtually-Consumers-97-Percent-Depend
Lua, A. The psychology of marketing: 18 ways to use social proof to boost your results. Buffer. Retrieved from https://buffer.com/library/social-proof