Social Proof: What it is, How it Works, and 7 Types to Use in Your Business

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Social proof graphic

What is Social Proof?

In more technical terms, social proof is an interesting psychological phenomenon in which people consciously and subconsciously conform to the actions and attitudes of members of their peer group, because they perceive them to be appropriate, correct and safe. In less technical and more down-to-earth terms, social proof is simply something that helps people to decide which businesses to trust — and just as importantly, which businesses not to trust.

Examples of Conventional Social Proof

For example, whenever we ask our next door neighbor if they would recommend the company that installed their new garage door, we are seeking social proof — because we want to make a good, safe choice. Or in many cases, we don’t even need to have a personal relationship with whoever we are consulting. As long as we believe that they’re someone we can trust — like someone in the same age group, someone in the same city, someone who does the same job, or even someone who roots for the same sports team, drives the same car or wears the same sneakers — we give their recommendation considerable weight.

Social Proof Is Influential but (Usually) Not Completely Decisive

Of course, this doesn’t mean that most people put all of their stock in social proof. Returning to the above example, even if we get a favorable review from our next door neighbour about the company that installed their new garage door, we don’t instantly decide that they must be the right choice for us, too. Naturally, we look at other factors — pricing, products, timeline, warranty, and so on.

But with this in mind, favorable social proof goes a long, long way towards influencing our opinions and, ultimately, our decisions. Conversely, negative social proof has the opposite impact: it significantly — and in some cases, completely — repels us from moving forward with a business. For example, if we’re browsing hotel reviews and see several that criticize the nightmare state of the pool area or complain about late-night noise levels, then we are unlikely to book a room there unless there are very strong factors that mitigate the concern (e.g. the cost is much lower than other hotels, the location is ideal, etc.).

Another key reason why social proof is so important for businesses of all sizes, is that many people — and especially millennials — don’t trust traditional advertising anymore; even if it involves celebrity endorsements. This doesn’t mean that they outright reject this kind of advertising. For example, having LeBron James pitch for Sprite or Oprah Winfrey pitch for Weight Watchers is certainly having a positive effect for these respective brands. But the impact isn’t nearly as big as it was in the distant past, when celebrity endorsements on TV and in magazine and newspaper ads were proverbial cash cows.

7 Types of Social Proof

Aside from celebrity endorsements — which as noted above are still valuable, but not like they used to be, and frankly not cost feasible for most businesses — there are seven types of social proof that businesses can promote and leverage across their marketing and sales touchpoints:

1. Customer Testimonials

Customer testimonials are typically the easiest types of social proof to get, because satisfied customers are usually willing to sing (or make that, type) a worthy business’s praises. If applicable, it’s also a good idea to provide visuals to make testimonials more convincing. For example, we created a website for our client, Tundra Homes, that features customer testimonials on the home page that are accompanied by high resolution photos. These visuals tell a richer, more engaging story

2. Customer Reviews

The basic difference between customer testimonials and reviews, is that the latter are published on third-party websites and platforms (such as Google Review, Yelp, etc.) that the business does not own and control. Leveraging reviews as part of a social proof mix is very important. According to the BrightLocal 2018 Local Consumer Review Survey:

  • 90% of customers read online reviews before even visiting a business.
  • 84% of customers trust online reviews as much as they trust a personal recommendation.
  • 74% of customers feel that positive reviews make them trust a local business more.
  • 67.7% of purchase decisions are impacted by online reviews.

In addition to the positive effect these reviews can have on your potential customers, they can also help to boost your search engine rankings on Google. Google and the other search engines take into account your review score, number of reviews and your review frequency and recency.

3. Case Studies

Case studies (which can also be called success stories or something along those lines) highlight the problems that a customer faced, and how a business solved them. If relevant, it’s also a good idea to highlight alternative solutions that the customer sought, but failed to achieve. For example, if a business provides computer repair services, it can be beneficial to mention in the case study that “the customer attempted to fix their computer by purchasing a do-it-yourself software product that they found on the web, but they quickly discovered that it was just a front to sell them much more expensive repair services.” It’s also important to include quotes from the customer in the case study, either throughout the narrative (like a magazine article) or at the beginning/end/callouts.

4. Trust Symbols

There are three basic types of social proof trust symbols:

  • Relevant industry certifications, associations and memberships. For example, the home page for our client Tundra Homes highlights that the company is Lead-Safe certified, and also a member in good standing of the Building Industry Association, the Cape Coral Construction Industry Association, and the Cape Coral Chamber of Commerce, respectively.
  • Social media recommendations. For example, the home page for our client Bowtique Med Spa highlights that based on Google Reviews, they are “Sarasota’s 5-Star Med Spa” and “the #1 Med Spa in Sarasota Based on Yelp Reviews.”
  • Brand logos. For example, the home page for our client Bowtique Med Spa highlights that they are authorized to use leading products in their clinic, such as Bowtox, Dysport, Restylane, and several others.  

5. Earned Media

Earned media refers to any third-party promotion of a business (or any of its products or services). For example, the home page for our client Coastal Gardens Landscaping features a video interview of the company’s Principal Project Manager and Landscape Architect James Towery. The website also features a magazine article about the company. This kind of social proof is especially influential because the magazine has James Towery on the cover!

6. Crowd Statistics

Have you ever walked into a restaurant or store simply because it was crowded, and therefore you had a sense that “it must be good, or else why would so many people be here?” Well, crowd statistics can help trigger the same thought process. For example, software companies often highlight throughout their online and offline marketing messages like “our solution is trusted by more than 100,000 users.”

7. Expert Stamp of Approval

In terms of social proof, today’s experts — a.k.a. thought leaders — provide the same basic function as celebrities did in the past, except with an important added element: credibility. For example, it is highly influential when Tiger Woods endorses TaylorMade golf clubs, since he obviously knows a thing or two about golf equipment! Businesses that cannot afford to partner with a world-renowned experts can lower their sights — and their budget — by seeking to get an endorsement from an industry influencer (e.g. reputable bloggers, authors, speakers, etc.).

Learn More

To learn more about how your business use social proof to boost your brand visibility, reputation, competitive advantage, customers, revenues and profits, contact the Noble Webworks team today. Your consultation with us is free.

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