When you have to make a snap-decision to follow, buy or join, do you think through all the pros and cons, or do you take a ‘mental shortcut’ and allow the views of others to influence and persuade you?
Research on Power Reviews says 70% of us look at product reviews before we purchase a product. This is a clear example of how social proof can affect us – we use the fact that others have done something, or purchased something, as a motivation to do it ourselves.
But it’s not just reviews that help us make decisions…
Another example is with content – if you see your online friends have re-tweeted a blog post from a company, chances are you're more likely to read it than if the company itself had tweeted it.
Social proof provides us with a convenient way to leapfrog the decision making process. We're not being lazy when we subconsciously look for help with our decision-making, we're just being efficient. That’s my excuse anyway!
Using social proof to help us with decision-making is a completely natural process, and it's one we can tap into and use to our advantage to attract new followers and customers.
How we can use social proof
No-one wants to miss out. If our peers are all doing something, we generally want a slice of the action as well.
For businesses, this presents a real opportunity. According to the ‘Entrepreneurship Guru' Robert Craven, who I spoke to earlier in the year, traditional marketing is dead. People just don't believe advertisers any more.
This means we need to look for increasingly creative ways to engage our audience. Social proof, can play a huge role here.
In this environment – where people are hostile to traditional marketing techniques – recommendations from people your audience trust, or know personally, can act as a massive catalyst to move them through the buying process.
If people see your product or service has good reviews, and has added value to other people's businesses or lives, they'll be more likely to jump on the bandwagon and convert as well.
But how can YOU actually use social proof?
- Testimonials – Ask happy customers how using your product or service has made their lives better, and then use their answers as testimonials. Video testimonials are ideal, but if that's not possible, be sure to use their image alongside any text based testimonial. This shows they are a real person rather than just a name.
- Pictures – Show images of people using and enjoying your product/service. The more relevant the people pictured are to your audience, the more effective this will be.
- Stats – If you write a blog, don't be afraid to shout about how many people read and subscribe to it. You can usually display how many people have recommended and shared what you've written as well. If you’ve sold 10,988 units of your product let people know, and if you can show a live ticker – increasing in number – to totally grab people's focus.
- Reviews and Ratings – Prominently display your reviews and ratings. These simply show prospects that you can match up to what you say you can, and that they'll be in good company if they sign up with you.
- Use Facebook/Twitter – Widgets are available (such as the Like Box) that allow you to showcase who's liked your pages. This means each user gets to see pictures of which of their friends are also fans of your site– all invaluable stuff that has been proven to be extra effective as social proof.
Countless other people in your position use these techniques on a daily basis to great effect – so what are you waiting for? (see what I did there…)
Social proof can help you to tip undecided members of your audience over the edge, and give them the gentle reassurance they need to take action.
This can have a sky-rocketing effect on your profits.
That's simple then…
Not so fast. You also need to know about ‘negative social proof'. This blog by Mark Pendleton, on Kissmetrics, gives a great example of this:
Petrified wood was being stolen from a forest in Arizona, so some psychologists tested the effectiveness of different signs. The one that was least effective involved negative social proof. It said: ‘Many past visitors have removed the petrified wood from the park, destroying the natural state of the Petrified Forest.'
Rather than making people think twice about the damaging effects the criminal action was having, thefts actually increased because potential thieves saw that they would not be alone if they acted.
Another example of this phenomenon is when record companies say millions of people are downloading music illegally. This is not the way to approach the issue, as it simply lets the illegal downloaders know that they’re in the company of millions of others, so chances of them getting caught are slim. It also makes those who are paying wonder why they're bothering.
So you need to avoid inadvertently using negative social proof when looking to engage your audience.
In a similar vein, it's worth putting some thought into what it says about your content if it visibly doesn't have likes, and no-one's sharing or reading it?
If you're prominently displaying how unpopular your content is, are others going to be discouraged from sharing it? It’s always worth encouraging your good customers and fans to like your page so you are not starting with zero.
Using social proof can be a powerful way to sky-rocket your sales, but it's essential to know what you're doing with it.