How Social Proof Marketing Can Boost Your Business' Conversions

by: Dustin Hawley | Wednesday July 3, 2019

Let's say it’s a beautiful Sunday afternoon, and you’re walking downtown searching for a place to try out for lunch. Walking down the street, 8 out of 10 of the restaurants you pass have people eating inside. The other 2 restaurants are completely empty inside. Would you be more likely to go to one of the restaurants that is filled with people or one of the empty ones?

If you’re anything like a majority of the population, you’re more than likely going to choose one of the restaurants that have people in it. And you'll likely do so without a second thought. It’s no coincidence that the majority of people choose the restaurant with people in it. The reason for this is a psychological phenomenon known as social proof.

two groups of people eating at a soup cart

What is Social Proof?

So what exactly is social proof? Well, it's defined around the idea that people will inherently follow the actions of the masses. The idea is rooted in the concept that because so many other people behave in a certain way, it is perceived to be the correct or ideal behavior. And there is more than one type of social proof.

The 5 types of social proof

  1. Expert social proof – This type of social proof involves someone who is a credible expert in their field, such as a prominent blogger, business leader, or voice of authority in a particular industry that has influence over their audience. For example, if a popular food blogger were to recommend an ingredient by brand, the brand is likely to see increased sales and is all but certain to feature the endorsement on their website or social media feeds.
  2. Celebrity social proof – Celebrity endorsements have been a staple of advertising since the inception of the practice. For instance, an endorsement by Jessica Simpson and aesthetician Nerida Joy helped the beauty brand Beautymint attract over 500,000 visitors on the first day of its launch.
  3. User social proof – This type of social proof occurs when companies or brands share user success stories. A large number of brands invite users to create videos about their use of products and services, in addition to traditional case studies, of course.
  4. Wisdom of the crowd – This is a simple formula that speaks to the popularity of a specific product. The “X billions served” display that's seen on most McDonald's signs might be the most famous of all examples. On a smaller scale, the “most popular posts,” or “most popular ____” model tends to stimulate higher rates of consumption.
  5. Wisdom of friends – Wisdom of your friends relies on the likes and opinions of (you guessed it) the customer's friends. Consumers value the opinion of someone they know far more than any other type of promotion that exists. This type of social proof can be as simple as “liking” or following a brand on social media.

Social proof isn’t a new concept. There have been several studies conducted on the topic that shows how people are more likely to conform to a group decision. One of the first notable examples of this is the Solomon Asch conformity experiment conducted in 1951.

Asch was a psychologist who was interesting in testing the theory that people are likely to conform to the choice of the majority, even if the decision is clearly not correct. For this experiment, Asch gathered male college students to participate in a line judgment task. Each group of the experiment was shown a set of images (A, B, or C), and asked to match the target line on the left. Participants were divided into groups of eight. But only one of the people in each group of eight was actually being tested. The other seven (the 'moles' of the study) agreed beforehand what their answers would be, which the real participant had no idea about.

Here's a great video breakdown of the experiment, the results of which formed the foundation of what we know today as social proof.

Why Social Proof is Important for Digital Marketing, and How it Can Boost Your Conversions

When used correctly, social proof can be an extremely powerful tool for marketers. By showcasing the popularity of your brand, products, and services, you can make consumers more confident that you're the best choice for them. When you go shopping at a store, you have the ability to compare products firsthand, side by side to see which one is better or more appealing to you. There’s far less outside influence on your decision making. 

But if you’re shopping online, things can often be a bit more difficult. Your reliance on outside opinions is much more relevant to your decision making since you don’t have the product in hand to try it or compare it to another product for yourself. Before you buy that t-shirt online, you're sure to look at reviews to see what other people think of the fit and quality. Even if you personally like the style of the shirt, the experience of other consumers can ultimately influence your opinion, because they’re more knowledgable about the product.

Here are some of the best ways that social proof can boost conversions for your business.

Case Studies

While case studies are more formal in nature, they are often used to provide high-authority social proof. Case studies are also commonly referred to as long-form social proof, and they leverage the idea that customers perceive long, in-depth reviews as a more reputable form of social proof than brief excerpts. Here's an example some of some influencer marketing case studies that showcase high-level social proof that brands are looking for in their marketing efforts. Case studies are also some of the best benefits of social media marketing.

Media Mentions

Has your brand or product ever been mentioned in the media? These mentions can include magazine features, TV segments, unsolicited reviews, or podcast interviews. If the answer to the question is yes, consider taking excerpts from these media mentions and inserting them on your website to establish authority online and build your social proof.

Stop Using Negative Social Proof

Negative social proof is basically the concept of leveraging "FOMO" into your marketing dialogue. The process of warning prospects about the dangers of missing out on your product, and supporting those claims with evidence of others who have also missed out is not as ideal an approach as one may think.

According to psychologists, this type of social proof not only doesn't work, but it also produces the opposite effect of its intent.

Final Thoughts

Author Robert Cialdini describes social proof in his book "Influence" as “the tendency to see an action as more appropriate when others are doing it.” He claims social proof is even more powerful when we’re uncertain what to do. Uncertainty is forever prevalent in the mind of your prospective consumers. They will inherently question what to read, watch, listen to, wear, etc. And the biggest question many of them ask themselves is "Who can I trust?"

If your brand wants to elevate your influence and authority in your industry, develop strategies to put social proof to work in your online marketing efforts. Influencer marketing is a great way to build social proof online, and partnering with a successful influencer marketing agency can all but instantly elevate the clout and social proof of your brand.

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