Social proof is easily the most underused (and probably misunderstood) marketing tool. Wield it properly, however, and it's a very powerful tool as well.
Following The Herd
Humans are funny creatures. Despite wanting to be different and unique, we usually end up doing what other people do. We want to fit in, and study after study backs this up.
- Laugh tracks are put on sitcoms because we laugh more when we hear other people laugh.
- Restaurants see an increase in dish orders by highlighting them as “popular items."
- People reuse hotel towels 25 percent more often when they learn that other guests do too.
At our core we like doing what other people do, and we also pay close attention to what others are doing. This explains how something like a video goes viral: if other people are watching it, we want to watch it too!
You can see how social proof can be a very powerful tool. And yet many businesses don’t use social proof very well. Or worse, they use it the wrong way (more on that later).
The simple fact is this: When you don’t utilize social proof on your website, you’re leaving money on the table.
An Unbiased Way To Toot Your Horn
You can talk all you want about how great you are, how great your products are and how fantastic your company culture is—the thing is, customers don't really care that much. Talk is cheap, and they've heard it all before.
Often the “X factor” when trying to win over customers, fans, whatever, is social proof.
People may not like your restaurant, but nobody can argue with solid 5 stars on Yelp. You might not love MailChimp, but you can’t argue with the fact that it has 2.5 million customers. The book may stink, but it has 10,000 glowing reviews on Amazon. You get the idea.
Thank you letters, client testimonials, reviews, retweets, comment counts, social shares ... all these tiny indicators add up to make a giant case of social proof, which very well could make the difference in a sale for your company.
Under The Golden Arches
There’s a classic example of social proof that most people don’t even notice anymore because it’s so prevalent.
Think of McDonald's “Billions and billions served” tagline. It’s right under those Golden Arches, simply stating a fact about how many hamburgers have been served in McDonald's history.
Did it say anything about how good the food was? How fast the service was? How inexpensive the meal was?
All it casually mentioned was that they’ve served an amount of hamburgers that most right-minded people can’t fathom: “Billions and billions.”
Love them or hate them, nobody can argue with the fact that McDonald's has served a lot of hamburgers over the years.
Here’s another example: Imagine two websites with identical content and identical design. On the right side of the page there’s a newsletter signup form. One says “over 1,000 subscribers,” the other says “over 100,000 subscribers.”
Which site are you more likely to sign up?
Adding Social Proof To Your Site
Now that you better understand social proof, you need to add it to your website. Don't have 100,000 subscribers? That's okay. There are many different ways to show social proof.
- Subscriber counts (feed numbers, newsletter subscribers, etc.)
- Products sold
- Member counts
- Monthly page views
- Press mentions
- Revenue generated
- Thank you cards from customers
The sky is the limit when it comes to dreaming up ways to add social proof. Use anything that proves people are talking about, using and loving your product.
My personal favorite? Testimonials. Getting previous clients or customers to sing your praises can make all the difference on a sales page, and it’s much weightier than a retweet count.
A Quick Word Of Caution
I mentioned earlier that even worse than having no social proof was the wrong kind of social proof, or negative social proof.
For example, if you have a blog with Facebook and Twitter share widgets and your latest 30 articles don’t have a single share, then you’re proving to everyone that your content isn’t worth sharing.
At this point, you should remove the widgets. It’s just not worth it. Besides, if people want to share something, they'll share regardless of having those handy widgets.
The good news is this: You can add social proof to your site, even if you hardly have any traffic at all.
Email a past client and ask for a testimonial of your site. You only need one, and it will make all the difference. Start small and build some momentum.
Remember, all these bits of proof add up in the consciousness of your customer. Help nudge them closer to clicking the Buy button by mixing in a few social signals about how much (and how many) people love your product, and watch your business grow.
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