Back in 1984, an American psychologist named Robert Cialdini coined the term social proof. At the time, he used it to describe the phenomenon of people gauging the behaviour of others to determine their own responses and ways of acting in ambiguous situations. In simpler terms, he noticed that people copy each other's actions when choosing how to behave.
Classic examples of social proofing range from the way that people imitate each other so as not to stand out in unfamiliar settings (such as at a gala or cultural event) to celebrity fashion trends, the use of canned laughter in television comedies, copycat crimes, plus many more.
Today, the term social proofing has moved into the 21st century. It's become a key concept in digital marketing that, at its root, reflects the same phenomenon as the original term but in a virtual reality. In the world of digital marketing, social proofing refers to businesses leveraging the positive experiences of satisfied customers to attract more customers and increase their sales. It includes strategies such as foregrounding glowing reviews and testimonials, shining a spotlight on positive user-generated content, soliciting endorsements from social media influencers, and highlighting existing customers, real-life case studies, awards, and more.
If you're tired of promoting your products or services singlehandedly, social proofing may be an ideal way to broaden your digital marketing scope and increase its impact. Social proofing is an effective and research-backed method of attracting new customers or clients, but you have to know how to harness its power and channel it to your advantage.
Below, we'll take a look at the most common types of social proof, why social proof is important, and some ways to leverage it in digital marketing. We'll finish off with a couple of pitfalls to watch out for and how to mitigate them.
While there are many avenues for using social proofing in digital marketing, here are four of the most prevalent:
Customer testimonials have been around forever as a marketing tool, and there's a reason: They can be seriously convincing and impactful. Getting satisfied customers to share their experience with your product or service can compel others to also give it a try.
Statistics reveal that 9 out 10 consumers trust what a customer says about a business more than they trust what a business has to say about itself. So, take full advantage of the power wielded by your happiest customers and start foregrounding their feedback through your various channels. Customer testimonials can be featured on your website, social media accounts, and more.
Did you know that 98% of consumers read online reviews for local businesses, and 49% of them trust reviews as much as personal recommendations from loved ones? In 2023, it's virtually impossible to be unaware of the incredible clout that online reviews carry, but even savvy business owners may be staggered by these numbers.
At Rep.co, helping you generate and feature excellent reviews on your website is a significant part of what we do best. So you can trust us when we say that the importance of reviews for your business can not be overstated.
Of course, positive reviews are critical to the success of your business, but the way you respond to negative feedback can also win the trust of potential customers and clients and strengthen your business's reputation (see more below). Just the simple act of acknowledging and interacting with consumers can also increase your social proof—and conversion rates as well.
User-generated content is exactly what it sounds like: Content created and shared by enthusiastic customers or clients, often in the form of videos, photographs, and social media posts (or combinations of all three).
Showcasing user-generated content on your website or social platforms is a compelling way to drum up interest in your product or service, build trust within your target market, and expand your professional network. Consider encouraging customers to create and share content about your business by providing opportunities for them to be tagged and featured on your brand's account. There are few things more persuasive to potential customers than seeing a satisfied peer demonstrating your product or service in action, so don't overlook this opportunity!
Though user-generated content can be an effective marketing medium in many digital arenas, it's most popular on Instagram, a platform that inherently caters to this type of content sharing.
While only 38% of consumers report trusting brand-produced content, 61% reveal that they trust influencer-generated recommendations. So, as a business owner, leverage this reality to your advantage!
Increasing sales and brand awareness by building on the relationship that consumers have built with influencers whom they trust is a digital marketing strategy that can yield significant benefits. That being said, it's important to carefully research social media influencers before approaching them for an endorsement. Which influencers does your target audience tend to follow? And are their values and messaging aligned with your brand's identity?
Social proof is important because it organically builds your customer base and helps you increase conversion rates.
Social proof equals more sales. It's as simple as that.
Consider this: Research has shown that 70% of consumers trust recommendations from people they don't know and that 92% trust advice from their peers. If you're not leveraging the potential of social proof, you're missing out on an incredible opportunity that could dramatically expand your business's reach.
The ways to leverage social proof in digital marketing are almost endless, but here are some of the most common approaches:
We've already highlighted the incredible benefit that customer reviews can have on building trust with your target audience and increasing sales. But if consumers have to hunt around for testimonials, they're likely not to bother—which represents a major and unnecessary loss for you.
To maximize the impact of positive reviews and testimonials, showcase them prominently on your website and social media accounts where they can't be missed by potential customers. Reaching out to satisfied clients to continually generate fresh reviews and testimonials is also highly recommended. Rep.co can help.
A case study is essentially an in-depth look at how a particular client is using your business's products and/or services. They're impactful because potential customers are typically very interested to learn how other real people like themselves are benefitting from the product or service they’re considering investing in.
Case studies can be featured on your homepage, hosted on your blog, or linked to from your social media accounts. If you want to make them easily distributable, consider formatting them as printable PDFs.
Because an in-depth case study typically requires a substantial amount of energy, communication, and time on the part of the client, it's important to be absolutely certain that they're entering into the project with 100% consent and momentum.
If you're currently working with some exciting clients, don't keep it a secret! Broadcasting to potential customers that your business is trusted by well-known brands or individuals can help you to gain their trust and respect too. After all, you've worked hard to gain and retain your current clientele, so let that element of your marketing strategy speak for itself.
Of course, it's always important to check with clients before featuring their name or logo on your website. In some cases, clients prefer confidentiality, so it's critical to ask for their permission before fleshing out this strategy in its entirety.
No one likes a show-off, but in the world of digital marketing you've got to spotlight the recognition your business has earned. If you don't, nobody else will.
Consumers are naturally drawn to a business that's professionally certified and distinguished in its niche. So much the better if it's been noticed and honoured in some respect. From a marketing perspective, it's also worth highlighting any ways your business contributes to the well-being of its employees, the community, or specific causes.
Influencer marketing is a form of social proof that can strengthen customer loyalty while also helping you expand your business's exposure. Getting your product into the hands of influencers whose target audience overlaps with yours can make a tangible difference in your business's sales and growth.
While influencer marketing is similar to user-generated content in some respects (both involve people sharing their satisfaction with your product or service), influencers generally must be compensated for their endorsements. User generated content, on the other hand, is typically free for businesses (unless you decide to offer rewards or perks for it).
Building social proof through reviews is an organic process that, unfortunately, doesn't happen overnight (though Rep.co can help to streamline it). But hang in there! Authentic reviews from genuinely satisfied customers are gold nuggets.
Fake or inauthentic reviews, on the other hand, are toxic and can severely damage your business and its reputation. Not only are consumers aware of and watching for fake reviews, but search engines' ability to pinpoint and penalize businesses who use them is also rapidly evolving.
Like most things that seem too good to be true, fake reviews should be avoided at all costs. Let your business's strengths speak for themselves, build an authentic and loyal customer base, and don't risk getting a penalty that may lower your website's rankings across the board.
Negative reviews are one of those things that no one likes but that everyone has to deal with. No matter how hard you work and how incredible your business is, you're going to eventually get a complaint.
The good news is that negative reviews don't have to tank your business's social proof. As we mentioned earlier, negative reviews handled with proper skill and attention can actually build trust and encourage potential customers to give you their business. 96% of customers look for negative reviews specifically, so be prepared to respond to yours productively and with professionalism.
Best practice for responding to a negative review involves offering an apology, explaining how you plan to address the issue, and providing steps for a satisfactory resolution. For more ideas on how to handle negative reviews effectively, check out our in-depth post on the topic.
Building your business's online presence and reputation through social proofing is a critical aspect of any digital marketing campaign in 2023. That being said, the actual process of building social proof can be time-consuming and feel overwhelming.
At Rep.co, we understand that you’re looking to streamline the processes of review generation and management while also maximizing their potential. As small business owners ourselves, we strive to offer solutions that are affordable, effective, and straightforward so that you can focus more time and energy on tasks like building your company's core vision.
How do we accomplish this? Through simple, customized solutions that allow you to automate review generation, review management, review monitoring, review marketing (repurposing positive feedback as marketing material), and reporting.
To conclude, social proof (the phenomenon of people copying each other's actions and opinions when making decisions) is a foundational element of digital marketing today. From reviews and testimonials to social media influencer marketing, there are many ways to leverage it as part of your overall marketing strategy.
Looking to reap the benefits of building your business's online reputation through social proof? Contact Rep.co today to find out how we can help.