As marketers, we like to think we create all the impact. But we live in a world where users increasingly focus on social intentions, content, and comments from their peers.
Social influence has to be an essential part of any marketing effort because app users and site visitors now expect to see social proof in place. In fact, social proof is a key factor in growing numbers of actions and buying decisions.
When sites offer social proof, they provide visitors with information outside the control of the host. This information influences the attitudes and actions of others. It plays a pivotal role in socially-based commerce or marketing initiatives.
Social proof in the form of reviews, criticism, or questions informs potential customers of what other people think. It is a tricky domain for marketers, who are used to setting the agenda.
We know what we want people to do, and we know how to use traditional marketing to get them to do it. The trick is to reinforce that desired behavior through social proof.
When it comes to a recommended action, you can provide ways to get a positive message out to visitors. You can do so through:
- Endorsements: “I saw this item, and I liked or enjoyed it.”
- Engagement: “I saw this article, and I took further steps to find out more information.”
- Sharing: “I saw this product and think it is worth others seeing.”
- Management: your control of user-generated content allows you to limit what can be said.
There are plenty of examples where social proof can go wrong if there is a tide of sentiment against an article or product. Other problems arise when someone invokes the Streisand Effect or uses incorrect language. For example, using negative terms often backfires. The mere suggestion of negativity damages perception and sales and drives further critical comments.
Social Proof in Action
Many consider Amazon a gold standard for social proof because of its sections for reviews and questions regarding any product on the marketplace. If a product has no reviews, potential customers will wonder why and won’t buy it. From books to high-cost hardware, the score and tone of reviews can easily sway a potential buyer.
That’s why increasing numbers of product makers and retailers now pay for reviews. A review might state that the reviewer got the product in order to test it for free. Still, items with some reviews stand a better chance of getting purchased by buyers than those without any.
Customers also scour the product questions section. They want to see if there are common problems with a product. They also might want to know if an issue they have has been addressed.
This is why alert retailers have their staff responding to questions. A Q and A format helps calm customer concerns over a product and highlights the vendor’s proactiveness.
Social proof doesn’t only apply to the consumer space. It applies equally to business, vertical markets, and IT and cloud services as well.
Customer feedback that you can publicize has a double benefit. You can control it in the corporate environment, and it has potentially massive value. Cloud services, which have no physical products to sell, especially rely on social proof, clear information, and customer feedback.
Social Proof Is Key for Cloud Companies
Companies in the crowded heat map market, such PTEngine, help themselves stand out with practical case studies. They use their clients’ comments as social proof. It doesn’t sound like the heat map company is doing the advertising because the clients’ perspectives even highlight the results.
These companies go so far as to explain how a typical engagement would work from the client’s perspective. This is another opportunity for companies to use social proof to highlight how easy it is to work with them.
In addition, businesses can also make substantial use of plain English to explain how their solution can solve problems. Too many companies get bogged down in jargon or feature lists with explanations of the benefits. Such wordiness can confuse or alienate potential customers.
Hiveage, an online invoicing service, is another solid example of social proof. The company’s use of client reviews demonstrates where the company’s product is succeeding. These reviews provide independent verification of the business’s claims and evidence of successful implementation.
Examples of training or implementation issues the organization overcame are beneficial. These case studies provide real world reassurance that a product will work.
Another firm making good use of social proof is Unbounce, a landing page specialist. The company’s front page lists some big name clients that not only use but “trust” Unbounce. The business’s use of the word “trust” is clever, although did the clients ever actually use that word?
The page also has testimonials in text and video format to highlight improvements Unbounce made to clients’ sites. Those sorts of details ring true with any executive or buyer. Having the information up front and not buried in a white paper should help companies like Unbounce to thrive.
Even major services like Google Maps like to promote success stories. These reinforce the fact the market accepts and values a product. Customers appreciate real stories in simple language, rather than standard business or marketing speak. Startups and smaller businesses in particular see complicated lingo as fake or beyond their companies.
Experts or gatekeepers can also be drivers of social proof. Consider the number of “secured by” signs on websites. Sites put those there to prove their level of SSL security and their online shopping safety credentials. Companies such as Norton and VeriSign provide these verifications. You should also not ignore the effectiveness of professional trade association memberships and guild or union affiliations.
Old Proofs Fall Out of Favor
Consider the weight, authority, and authenticity of social proof compared to the vague claims or metrics that appear on many sites. This vagueness notably even appears in press releases. Or consider the increasingly staid use of “our product was featured in the New York Times,” or Wired, as well an extensive list of usual the suspects. While still in use, this approach is now a horrible cliché among technology companies. If everyone was mentioned in Wired, then who is to say which companies stand out?
Press reviews are essential to any product awareness effort. But these mechanisms lose value because many are suspicious of pay-to-play, and they question reviewers’ independence.
Accept social proof as part of the marketing landscape. Consumers and potential users will question sites or products that exist in perfect isolation.
- Be proactive in creating flexible mechanisms for using social proof on apps and sites.
- Prepare to manage the fallout, and prepare clients or companies to handle feedback mechanisms.
- To measure results of social proof, you need to track social activity and buyer behavior where possible.
- Avoid the distraction of vanity metrics such as likes. Focus on social marketing tactics that drive the behavior required for a brand or product.
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