Social proof is a tool that every marketer attempts to use, yet few are able to master. It’s not as simple as sharing a quote from a client. In order to generate positive feedback, you need to naturally integrate social proof in strategic places that reach customers when they’re about to make a decision.
The value of social proof
Social proof does what traditional marketing and advertising can’t: it promotes consumer confidence in an unbiased fashion. When customers see an element of social proof, they see it as honest, trustworthy and relevant. It’s not just some group of marketers coming together to pull a fast one on them.
“Social proof works because it’s based on our need to belong,” author Bryan Kramer explains. “So when you're going to see the latest box office blockbuster, you’re actually doing more than taking in a movie. You’re actually joining a group that have shared the same experience.”
Another benefit of social proof — from a marketing point of view — is that it’s natural. Unlike an advertisement or call-to-action that can be explicit, social proof integrates rather effortlessly. This makes it easy to use and exponentially more effective and high returning.
Five examples worth studying
We could spend a lot of time discussing social proof theories and concepts, but there’s no better way to understand how it works than by studying some examples in action. Check out the following five to get an idea of the flexibility and value of social proof.
1. Mark Zuckerberg
One of the strongest forms of social proof is a celebrity endorsement. Oftentimes, these endorsements are paid for by the brand, but they also happen naturally when famous individuals use products they like and share pictures or reviews with followers on social media. Mark Zuckerberg and iGrill provide us with a perfect example.
In August 2012, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg posted a picture of steak on a grill with a caption that read, “I updated my grilling app, iGrill, today and it now has Facebook integration that lets you see what other people are grilling right now around the world. Awesome. I’m making a Fred’s steak.”
Seems pretty simple, right? Well, the post crashed the iGrill site with more than 1,000 visitors logging on every single minute. Despite not even knowing that Zuckerberg was a customer, iGrill CEO Christopher Allen said their downloads went through the roof and brand mentions increased a million-fold. In fact, Allen firmly believes that Zuckerberg’s single post is what took his company from a small startup to a very profitable brand that was ultimately purchased by Weber.
Social proof works for both products and services, but it’s amazing how responsive customers are when it comes to the latter. The travel and hospitality industry is especially good at integrating elements of social proof into web design, and we’re going to take a look at a particularly effective example.
Gogobot, a leading hotel search engine and booking site, has a feature on all of their hotel landing pages titled “Tribes: Who likes this place?” The section then lists five different groups of travelers: luxury travelers, nightlife lovers, trendsters, foodies and business travelers. Beside each group is a number that tells users what percentage from each group likes the specific hotel.
You can see an example on the ARIA Resort & Casino page, where 98 percent of luxury travelers, 83 percent of nightlife lovers, 70 percent of trendsters, 69 percent of foodies, and 69 percent of business travelers like the five-star Las Vegas hotel. A simple feature like this may not seem like a big deal, but it can definitely sway a user when all other factors are considered equal.
3. The Colbert Bump
Are you familiar with the phenomenon known as the “Colbert Bump?” During his nine-year stint as the host of The Colbert Report, Colbert would frequently give a bump to different guests, products, and brands by simply featuring them on his show.
While the show had a relatively small audience, it was the fact that some of the country’s most influential and powerful individuals watched the show and referenced it.
“When someone goes on his show, the fact that someone went on his show becomes news,” political scientist James Fowler explains. “And a single appearance turns into an incident that's reported to 30 [million], 50 million people. His show is very influential among people who influence others.”
While celebrity testimonials are great — they aren’t always viewed as unbiased by savvy consumers. Even when the endorsements are genuine such as in the case of Zuckerberg and Colbert — there’s some level of perceived bias. On the other hand, user reviews and testimonials from actual customers are viewed as totally unbiased.
Netflix does a particularly notable job of incorporating reviews and ratings into their website and platforms. Below each streaming movie or DVD selection, there’s a section that features member reviews, ratings, information for adults and more.
But what’s really great about the member review section is that other members can vote reviews as “helpful” or “not helpful.” The helpful reviews then rise to the top, while the unhelpful ones gravitate to the bottom. This ensures low quality reviews get little visibility, while original ones are clearly seen.
You can see a good example of this on The Martian page. There are 674 reviews (as of this post) and they’re ranked by helpfulness. As you’ll see, these include both positive and negative reviews, which helps users determine whether or not they want to invest their time into watching the film.
5. Pura Vida
Pura Vida, a popular bracelet and jewelry brand, is the final example we’ll examine. Their website is full of different social proof tactics, but one of the most effective elements is the site’s use of the “Best Sellers” page.
On this page, Pura Vida highlights a few of their top selling products. In doing so, they’re able to make products that are already popular even more popular. It’s a cycle of sales that feeds itself and leads to increased sales and margins.
Not only does Pura Vida list their popular products, though; they also provide reviews and ratings for these products. This enhances the overall perception of the different items and helps customers — especially impulse shoppers — overcome any hesitancies that may exist.
How will you use social proof?
As you can see, there’s a lot of room for flexibility and creativity in social proof. You can find dozens of different ways to insert valuable elements into your existing marketing and advertising strategies for positive results.
How will you choose to leverage social proof moving forward?
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