Question: What do Rotten Tomatoes, Facebook, and The Big Bang Theory all have in common?
Answer: They each demonstrate social proof in a unique fashion.
I’ll elaborate. Rotten Tomatoes doesn’t write its own reviews for media like film and television; instead, it hosts thousands of other reviewers’ content, creating a broad picture of public opinion surrounding a certain movie or television show.
Facebook uses a system of likes and shares to publicly display users’ support of fellow users’ posts and activities, encouraging people to engage with certain content.
And The Big Bang Theory uses a laugh track that, while canned, does succeed in making the show seem funnier than it actually is by encouraging viewers at home to laugh along.
The Power of Social Proof
None of these platforms tell their audiences how to behave; rather, they influence user reactions by demonstrating how others have reacted in the past.
That’s the staggering strength of social proof. Also known as “informational social influence,” social proof is a psychosocial phenomenon in which people take on for themselves the actions, choices, and behaviors of others in an attempt to reflect “correct” behavior in a given situation.
Social proof is a specific breed of conformity, one in which a person is more likely to conform not to fit in, but because she believes the crowd knows better than she does.
Or, in laymen’s terms: 50,000,000 Elvis Fans Can’t Be Wrong.
How to Use Social Proof to Grow Your Business
The modern digital landscape has made reviews, user feedback, and online followings more important than they’ve ever been. People are more careful with their time and money than ever, and end up crowdsourcing their decision-making online.
Viewers watch YouTube channels with high view and subscriber counts, believing past viewers have already done the legwork of sniffing out high-quality content on the platform.
Online shoppers gravitate towards products that not only have the best reviews, but the highest number of reviews as well. And according to a recent study, 79% of consumers trust online reviews just as much as personal recommendations.
So whether you’re a writer, a publisher, or simply an independent businessperson looking to raise your profile, social proof is an essential tool for accomplishing your goals.
In this comprehensive guide, we’ll break down the 6 basic types of social proof, and teach you how to leverage each of them in your favor.
1. Expert Social Proof
When an expert in your industry recommends a product or service of yours or associates himself with your brand, this makes consumers more likely to give a second look to what you’re offering.
That’s why new book releases have front-cover blurbs from well-respected authors. Just like an expert witness lends credence to a prosecutor’s court case, expert approval gives your goods a certain weight that ordinary reviews and testimonials just can’t provide.
So how can you wrangle some expert witnesses of your own?
If you have any industry experts in your social networks, ask them to retweet or signal-boost a few of your posts. Have an expert take over your Facebook or Instagram for a while and answer customer questions in their own voice. Host an interview between you and an expert friend, or collaborate with them for a special event.
Remember: expert social proof doesn’t even have to mention your product or service to be effective. Simply associating a well-respected industry professional with your brand can be enough to turn heads in the right direction.
2. Celebrity Social Proof
This is when a celebrity or well-known public figure endorses your product. Some of the celebrity’s charm and likeability transfers over to your brand, making whatever you’re selling look a lot more attractive.
Traditional celebrity endorsements are usually television or radio ads, but even an Instagram post or tweet about your business by a popular figure or tastemaker can raise your profile significantly.
This is where “influencers” come into play! By getting a popular figure to mention your brand or product, you can reach their audience and gain a little of their oomph for yourself.
Celebrity social proof has a lot in common with expert social proof, and the two even cross over at certain junctures: experts can be celebrities and vice versa, for example, Neil deGrasse Tyson.
Remember, though: not all celebrity endorsements are equally valuable. Well-known figures aren’t necessarily well-liked, and a shout-out from a public pariah can harm your brand just as much as it could help.
3. User Social Proof
You know these best as testimonials: glowing recommendations from your current users extolling the virtues or your product or service based on their own experiences with your brand.
These can come in the form of praise on social media, five-star ratings on consumer sites, or even positive reviews. Basically, if one consumer sees another enjoying your offerings, she’ll probably want a piece of the action.
You can encourage positive fan feedback by being social with your customer base. Answer their questions on social media. Thank them for shout-outs. Ask if you can repost passages of high praise from their reviews. Organize a street team, and reward participants with swag related to your brand.
Be responsive—and your customers will respond in kind.
4. Crowd Social Proof
When it comes to building your brand, there’s always strength in numbers.
Crowd social proof relies entirely on huge groups of people visibly endorsing your brand. Like user testimonials, this can come in the form of reviews or high ratings, but it can actually be simpler than that.
Crowd social proof is a numbers game: simply having hundreds of thousands of paying customers, or thousands of followers on social media, both raises your profile and makes your business look more legitimate.
To gain more followers and subscriber, hold promotions or giveaways—use enticing free prizes to encourage consumers to follow your online profiles and promote your services simultaneously.
Advertise the sheer size of your customer base: “Over 5,000 copies sold,” or “Over 10,000 served.” Celebrate milestones, like your 5,000th customer, or the thousandth copy sold of your book. Mark high-performing products or services with a special indicator on your sales site. Make Top 10 lists of your most popular social media posts.
And if you’ve got a bestseller, make sure people know about it.
In short, make it overwhelmingly obvious that a whole lot of people like and use your services—and a whole lot more people will follow suit.
5. “Inner Circle” Social Proof
Modern consumers might place a lot of trust in online reviews, but that doesn’t mean they trust their inner circle any less.
No matter how many glowing online reviews your brand amasses, you just can’t beat face-to-face recommendations from your customers to their friends.
“Inner circle” social proof combines the best of a few worlds: One, it comes from somebody trusted, like an expert. Two, it comes from somebody liked and admired, like a celebrity. And three—and most importantly of all—friends aren’t just spokesmen repping a product. They’re looking out for their friends, so their recommendation takes on a little extra heft from that implied goodwill.
Again, the best way to engage this sort of social proof is a street team. Organize a few close friends into a tight-knit band of product ambassadors: encourage them to talk up your next big release with those closest to them in return for advance copies of your product or other branded swag. Bonus points if they’re seen using your product in public or posting about it online.
6. Certification Social Proof
Want more eyes on your brand? Nothing does the job quite like a literal stamp of approval.
Certification tells consumers that you’re the real deal: Your brand is popular, interesting, and influential enough to warrant attention from whatever board, organization, or authority figure recognized you.
So if you’ve got any awards, recognitions, or certifications in your industry, display them! List every qualification you’ve got on your homepage, sidebar, or the About Us section of your website—ensure that your customers know that you’re an authority to be trusted.
And above all, get verified. Get that blue checkmark next to your Twitter bio. This is usually reserved for celebrities and top brands, but anyone with a good enough application might get accepted—and that tiny blue check gives you an instant boost in respect and credibility from your community, not to mention access to new features reserved for verified accounts.
Social Proof Can Be Your Strongest Marketing Tool
Social proof harnesses powerful social forces, as well as your consumers’ own psychology, to promote your brand—and with trust in branded websites and online copy on the rise, this is a promotional tool you can’t afford to ignore.
How have you used social proof in the past? Have you employed any of these techniques in your own branding efforts, or seen them used by other businesses? Tell us all about it in the comments.