Social proof is behind almost every purchasing decision we make.
Just think about it: How often do you pick a restaurant based solely on the number of people dining inside? Buy a product based on a number of customers who have allegedly purchased it already? Or hire a particular service provider just because they have more positive reviews?
That’s social proof in action.
You see: Whenever we’re unable to make a decision, we look at what other people do, assuming that their actions are correct for the given situation.
And the best thing about this behavior is that you can use it to convince customers to select your product or service.
That’s exactly what I’m going to show you in this post – how to use social proof in marketing to increase brand awareness and sales.
Ready? Let’s do it…
I originally wrote this post close to the end of last year. And although not much has changed in social proof marketing since then, I realized that this guide needs a wider look at the social proof, particularly when it comes other use cases, apart from Facebook.
And so, I recently decided to update it with additional information and background on how social proof works along with examples of landing pages, emails, Twitter, and Instagram.
However, I left the original guide intact and added new sections at the end. Click here if you’ve seen the post already and want to go straight to the new stuff.
Otherwise, keep on reading…
What you’re going to learn:
- What is social proof
- Why we need to reinforce the trust in our brands so badly
- The psychology behind why we conform (and how to use it to convince hordes of customers to buy from you)
- Why your business needs social proof
- What types of social proof you could use and how they affect buyers
- Where to use each type
- How to get social proof (also if you’re only starting out)
- The effect social proof marketing has on your sales and conversions
- Things you should keep in mind when planning and executing social proof marketing campaigns
Who is this guide for?
If your online sales aren’t as high as you’d hoped for, it might mean that you need to increase the trust in your store or products. And that’s exactly what this guide will help you achieve.
If every ad you run fails to convince users to your product, then you should keep on reading. You’ll find out how to grab prospects’ attention and convince them to buy from you.
If you want to find out how to improve the effectiveness of client campaigns, keep on reading too. I’ll show you how to incorporate social proof into their marketing strategies to improve performance.
So, without any further ado… let’s kick it off.
I’m sure you’ve noticed:
Many websites feature information on the numbers of customers who have purchased their products.
Online stores display ratings and reviews for every product they sell.
Software companies boast about the number of their active users or signups.
Groups and organizations make you get on a waitlist before you can apply to join them.
Marketers entice you to sign up to their lists by showing the number of current subscribers.
And the reason for doing it all?
To convince us of the high value of those products or services and influence our buying behavior.
Enter Social Proof
We humans are pack animals.
Sure, you might think that you’re an individual creature but deep within you’re as influenced by other people around you, their opinions, choices, actions as anybody else.
We all exhibit what Friedrich Nietzsche called the Herd Morality – “lacking any individual will and living by group instincts” (source).
But also so true…
Just take a look at the results of the following experiments:
The Street Corner Experiment
In 1968 three social psychologists Stanley Milgram, Leonard Bickman, and Lawrence Berkowitz tested whether people are willing to act on public knowledge rather than their own, private knowledge.
The researchers put a single person on a street corner and had them look at the empty sky for 60 seconds. Only a tiny fraction of passers by stopped to see what the person was looking at.
So the next day, they put 5 people starting at the sky on the same corner. Four times as many people stopped to check what they gaze at.
And when the researchers put 15 people to stare at the empty sky, 45% of passers by stopped to check what they’re looking at and 80% of all pedestrians looked up (some without stopping) to see what others are looking at.
You can read more about this experiment here.
The Lift Experiment
This experiment was conducted in 1962 by psychologist Solomon Asch to test how quickly a basic social norm could be reversed using group conformity.
In the experiment a number of people get in to the lift with other people already there, however, standing facing the lift’s rear.
And as I’m sure you can imagine, not wanting to stand out, most of the people naturally turn to the rear of the lift too.
Here’s a video showing one of the recent recreations of this experiment.
The Line Experiment
Another experiment by Dr. Asch.
In this study, he invited participants to answer one question:
Which of the lines on a page has the same length.
Sounds simple, doesn’t it?
But what if 5 of 6 participants start to give wrong (albeit the same) answers?
What will the other person do?
See for yourself:
The Burning Room Experiment
This experiment tried to establish if we’d follow the “herd mentality” in a situation of an immediate danger, like being in a room during a fire.
I’m sure you’ll agree:
Your first instinct at hearing the fire alarm go would be to try to get out.
But what if the other people in the room would do nothing in the face of the danger?
Turns out … we’d conform, ultimately putting our lives in danger.
Here, take a look for yourself:
All these experiments have proved that in group situations our actions are affected by the behavior of others.
We simply assume that if many people are doing something, have done something or believe in something, there must be a good reason why.
And so…we conform.
What’s more, according to Morton Deutsch, Hal Gerard and many other researchers who studied conformity, we do it in two distinct ways.
Researchers refer to them as informative and normative conformity.
In “Why We Conform: The Power of Groups”, Phillip Zimbardo and Cindy Wang write:
“Informative conformity often occurs in situations in which there is high uncertainty and ambiguity. In an unfamiliar situation, we are likely to shape our behavior to match that of others. The actions of others inform us of the customs and accepted practices in a situation. Others inform us of what is right to do, how to behave in new situations.
In addition to conforming to the group norms due to lack of knowledge, we also conform when we want to be liked by the group. This type of conformity, called normative conformity, is the dominant form of social conformity when we are concerned about making a good impression in front of a group. Though we may disagree secretly with the group opinion, we may verbally adopt the group stance so that we seem like a team player rather than a deviant.” (source)
And needless to say, both types of conformity affect our product selection process and how we make purchasing decisions.
Which brings us to another question:
Why Your Business Needs Social Proof?
2 years ago, a world famous British graffiti artist Banksy set up a street stall in Central Park offering his art (that normally sells for 6 figure fees) for $60 a piece.
It’s just… instead of openly advertising whose artwork is being sold, he put an anonymous elderly man selling them.
And of course there was absolutely no indication that all graffiti art is by Banksy.
A result… without any social proof whatsoever only 3 people bought anything…snatching up 3 works with an estimated value of $250000 (for $60 a piece mind you).
Now imagine what would happen had there been some social proof …
(CC image: Guzman Lozano)
Your business is no different.
You could be doing a great job communicating your unique value proposition or the benefits of using your products…
But unless you influence others to see your offering as more favorable and popular, all your other efforts will be in vain.
Here’s why you need to invest in social proof:
Social proof builds trust
FACT: People trust other people more than they trust marketers.
No matter what arguments you’re going to use on your landing page, website or in ads, your prospects will still believe your other customers more.
Social proof adds credibility
If you’ve ever launched a new product or a company, then I’m sure you’ve experienced it:
It’s damn hard to convince others to try your product or book your service without any proof of how it has helped others.
Having social proof (reviews, testimonials or even the number of sales to date) adds credibility to your business.
Social proof helps to validate the buying decision
Remember what we said about normative conformity? For many products, social proof helps to communicate that buying a particular product will get us accepted to social circles, for instance.
Social proof also simplifies decision-making
I’ve already wrote on this site about how much we suck at making decisions. Often imitating what others are doing is the simplest way to actually do not have to make it.
OK Pawel, It All Sounds Great and Dandy but …. Does Social Proof Really Work?
And let me show you a couple of examples to prove it.
In a particular hotel, towel reuse went up by 33% after its management left information cards that read “75% of customers who stayed in this room reused their towels” in hotel rooms.
Here’s a great overview of how this strategy worked (watch around the 9th minute mark)
According to this research, describing a particular dish as the most popular on the menu have increased its sales in various restaurants by 13-20%.
Opower, a Greentech company saw a 80% response rate to emails and 500 million kilowatt hours saved after it began citing how a household’s electricity use compares with the neighborhood (source).
BazzarVoice analyzed sales data from one of the Top 25 Internet Retailers in the US and discovered the effect an increase in the number of reviews (from 1 to 15) and rating (from 3.5 to 4.5 stars) had on the number of orders across number of categories.
See for yourself:
Still, we decided to test this for ourselves.
We ran two ad campaigns:
One enticing people to join our newsletter,
The other, an eBook download.
In both campaigns we set 3 different ad creatives:
- One included a rounded number as a social proof (i.e. 35000+),
- The other, an exact number,
- Finally, the third ad featured no social proof whatsoever.
Here are the creatives for both campaigns:
The “Newsletter” Campaign:
The “eBook Download” Campaign:
We spent, on average, $100 per each ad.
And the results?
Ads with social proof generated lower cost per lead than the one without any social proof.
The “Newsletter” Campaign:
Cost per Lead
- Ad with exact social proof: $1.973
- Ad with 35000+: $2.202
- Ad with no social proof: $2.478
The “eBook Download” Campaign:
Cost per Lead
- Ad with 15,000+ : $1.572
- Ad with exact social proof: $1.741
- Ad with no social proof: $2.056
However, the data isn’t conclusive on whether rounded social proof or an exact number works best.
Types of Social Proof You Could Use in Marketing
By now you know what social proof is and the psychological mechanism behind why we conform. I also showed you various research studies that confirmed how social proof works and what results businesses get when employing it in their marketing.
It’s time we talk about different types of social proof you could use to convince more customers to buy from you.
Why is picking the right social proof type so important?
Talia Wolf, a conversion rate optimization expert from Banana Splash explains:
“The form of social proof that you choose can instigate different emotional triggers. Planned carefully, you can spark specific emotional triggers that influence customers’ feelings towards their purchase and your business.” (source)
Different social proof types achieve different results and so, should be used in different situations.
And here are those different types with information on how to use them:
I. Expert Proof
This type of social proof relies on a credible source (a celebrity, an influencer or another recognizable person your audience identifies with) endorsing or approving a product or service in some way.
It could be a full-blown endorsement, like William Shatner (Captain Kirk to you non-trekkies 😉 starring in Priceline.com ads (worth to note: they were one of the first startups to use a celebrity social proof).
Or Kim Kardashian becoming a chief stylist for ShoeDazzle (an involvement that helped propel the company from $25M to $70M in sales in just a year – source).
But it could also be just a simple mention by a celebrity.
In 2010 Gwyneth Paltrow mentioned a home décor site, One Kings Lane on her blog, resulting in a 90% in daily signups on the site.
However, if not done well, this social proof can heavily backfire.
A couple of years ago Microsoft hired Oprah Winfrey to tweet about their newly launched Surface tablet. It’s just… no one told her to actually tweet from the device. A result – the whole campaign became a laughing stock on the internet.
How does expert social proof type work?
AddThis conducted research aiming to measure the impact on sharing and clicking on advertising that include celebrity endorsement.
The company discovered that for all 4 brands they monitored, content engagement increased by 355%, on average.
Where to use the expert social proof?
Expert social proof works best when promoting your brand / product to large numbers of potential buyers.
Apart from traditional marketing channels like TV or point of sale, companies also use it in:
Companies also hire celebrities to tweet about a product or post messages endorsing it on Facebook.
Although, you might have to be prepared to fork out quite substantial amount of money to generate this social proof.
LeBron James, US professional basketball player reportedly charges $139000 per tweet. Kevin Durant, over $66000(source).
II. User Social Proof
Is there any other proof that would convince you to purchase a product better than other users’ success stories?
It’s a fact: testimonials, case studies and reviews work as an approval for a product or service.
As David Wooten concluded in his 1998 research into the effect of opinions of others on consumers’ product evaluation process:
“[…] when others offer their opinions about the quality of a product, the opinions have the most potential to influence a consumer who has tried the product when the opinions are considered before the consumer considers the evaluative implications of his or her own product experience.” (source)
According to Wooten, we research the opinions of others when we’ve learnt as much as we could about the product on our own and need something to help us justify purchasing it.
Types of user social proof include:
Online reviews play a crucial role in the today’s buying process. As I wrote in my previous guide here on AdEspresso:
In the past, purchasing process was simple. It looked more or less like this:
But compare it with the tangled process most buyers go through today:
As you can see, online reviews (along with recommendations and other social proof) are now an integral part of reaching the buying decision.
And there’s plenty of research that confirms it too:
According to a study by TripAdvisor, 77% of holiday makers don’t book a hotel without reading its reviews.
A review platform, Reevo, discovered that positive reviews typically result in an 18% uplift in sales (source).
Where to use reviews as a social proof type:
You could feature them in ads to increase their impact on users:
Or use schema.or to display them in Google search results:
Jeffrey Gitomer, one of my favorite sales writers, once said:
“Only if clients know you, like you, trust you, believe in you and have confidence you’ll deliver what you promise…then they MIGHT buy from you.”
Testimonials, a short copy that recounts a customer’s experience with your product or service in their own words, provide a proof that someone else has successfully used your product to overcome their problem.
Testimonials work because they build trust and help overcome a prospect’s skepticism without being “salesy” in any way.
In other words, they position you as a “safe choice” because the prove that you’ve already helped someone else.
Where to use this social proof type:
You should use testimonials on your website:
Many businesses use the terms testimonials and case studies interchangeably.
In truth though, in spite of some similarities, each plays a different role in providing social proof to customers.
Testimonials, as we already discussed, build trust and overcome skepticism.
Case studies however provide a full insight into a customer’s story, from the problem they experienced and the reason they sought out your solution to how you’ve helped them solve it.
I always think of case studies as a dialogue between two customers with your role reduced to being a facilitator. You provide a way for the two to speak, by publishing a case study on your website or including it in sales materials but the whole conversation happens between them two.
TIP: Later in this guide I’ll show you what information to request from customers to write a killer case study.
Where to use this social proof type:
Typically, businesses place case studies on your website for prospects to download.
By doing so, they target prospects at the consideration stage of the buying cycle to position a company or product as experts in solving particular issues and provide proof of understanding the problem and having the ability to solve it.
Many also promote them with online ads
User Generated Content, Particularly Video
The strength of user generated video lies in the fact that it’s not produced by a company or their advertising agency.
It shows real customers using the company’s products (and often having a blast while doing so).
GoPro is one example of a company that successfully incorporated user generated content in their marketing. And to some great results.
In 2013 the company’s net income grew by $28 million with only $41k more in marketing costs.
All thanks to embracing user generated video as a social proof.
Finally, displaying logos of companies you’ve worked with provides strong social proof that might convince others to hire you.
III. Wisdom of the Crowd
In 1955 Ray Kroc, the guy who joined and then built McDonald’s into a global brand, displayed a sign outside his first McDonald’s franchise reading:
“Over 1 Million Served”
…and unknowingly contributed to the birth of wisdom of the crowd social proof.
And you know what…it worked.
Highlighting a product’s popularity is another way to establish social proof.
For one, seeing that others have benefitted from something makes many people want the same.
This phenomenon is called the “Fear of Missing Out” or FOMO for short and is defined as:
“[…] a pervasive apprehension that others might be having rewarding experiences from which one is absent” (source)
And you can see marketers using this type of social proof to entice their prospects to take action all around you:
On email signup forms
Reviews on Product Pages
Sales stats and figures
Social Sharing Numbers
Or online brand mentions displayed on the site
IV. Recommendations from Friends
Finally, you can also use the opinions of others, particularly friends or people your prospects associate themselves with, expressed over social media to highlight a product’s value.
Recommendations, social media updates, social shares and many other ways they highlight choices for us and affect our decisions.
That’s the key reason why many companies offer discounts and other incentives for recommending their products or services to friends.
For example, Dropbox rewards its users with anything from 500MB to 16GB of free storage space for inviting friends to their service.
Why this social proof works?
Because we completely trust recommendations from people we know.
According to Nielsen, 84% of people say they completely trust recommendations from people they know.
A joint-research project by Ogilvy, Google and TNS revealed that word of mouth is the highest point of influence for customers (74%), surpassing actual in-store visits, social media and search.
Another study, by Babycenter discovered that mums rely on the wisdom of friends 67% more than on any other channel. They also leverage mobile to get feedback from friends and family (for example, 34% admitted to have texted a picture of a product, asking for opinions before purchasing).
How to use this social proof?
Entice customers to share their purchases on social media.
Add social sharing buttons to post-checkout page and purchase confirmation emails.
You could also offer discounts for publishing photos of products they’ve purchased on Instagram or Pinterest.
Offer incentives to customers for forwarding your emails or product pages to a friend.
That’s what BodyShop does with their emails.
And offer incentives for inviting friends to use your products.
Where to Display Social Proof
You already know this:
Not all social proof is created equal.
Social proof types that work in one situation might completely fail in another.
However, as a general rule, you should display it at every prospect’s touch point, from landing pages to emails to sales collateral and point of sale materials.
- Landing pages,
- Email signatures,
- Various pages on your website (depending on social proof type and goal you have for it on a page),
- Ads (we’ve already talked about different types of social proof companies use in Facebook ads.)
- Any promotional materials,
- Social media, and
- Search listings (i.e. use schema.org to display ratings and reviews in Google search results).
In this (amazing) post, Shanelle Mullin from Conversion XL outlines 3 prerequisites for using social proof:
Type: We’ve already discussed how different types of social proof elicit different response.
Content of social proof: As Shanelle point out, when planning to launch social proof marketing campaign, consider how whatever social proof you intend to use counters customer sales objections, supports your sales arguments and humanizes your marketing
Placement: Your using social proof for one purpose – to increase conversions. Therefore, place it in a prominent place where it can support your main sales message and help entice positive response from customers.
How to Ask for Social Proof
One of the common questions I hear from my copywriting clients is:
“How to get social proof to display on [name any web property they need me to write a copy for]?”
And the good news is that, unless you’re only starting out, you most likely have lot of information for many social proof types already.
You have sales stats, follower counts and many other crowd social proof to use.
For others, such as friend recommendations based social proof, you need more technical approach rather than any specific data. You need to implement the technology to enable social sharing, forwarding or displaying the number of reviews.
However, if you want to include user social proof, then you’re going to ask your clients for it.
Here are a couple of ideas how to do it:
Include review requests on purchase invoices and delivery slips.
Or even print a special review request card (tip: add a coupon code they could use in return for review) and use as part of the shipping box marketing efforts.
Email product users asking for testimonials.
Simply set up a workflow that sends every person marked as a buying customer an email asking for a review.
Use Linkedin’s authority to your advantage.
Send B2B clients a Linkedin recommendation request (and then ask for permission to use it on other materials as well). Given the Linkedin’s authority, many people are more likely to write a testimonial for the site, rather than email one for you to use on unspecified materials.
Optimize the website to highlight social proof.
Social proof doesn’t just come in numbers or user feedback. You can also use subtler ways to highlight your popularity. For example, many consultants indicate the next available slot in their schedule, ultimately communicating the high demand for their services.
Interview best clients for a case study.
You know it already:
The role of a case study is to provide a full insight into a customer’s story.
It should highlight what problem they had when they sought you out, your solution and if possible, cite specific results.
To write a powerful case study, you need to extract highly detailed information from your prospect.
Here’s the template I use when interviewing my clients’ clients to write their case study:
- What goals did you hope [Product or Service] would help you achieve?
- What was the direct problem you were trying to solve before contacting [The Company]?
- Have you considered other solutions before partnering with [The Company]?
- What outcomes have you seen as a result of using [Service or Product]? (Note: these could be both tangibles [i.e. increase in traffic / signups] and intangibles [i.e. greater brand awareness, increase in brand recognition])
- Could you share some statistics that prove?
- What you like and what you dislike about [The Company]’s process?
- Based on your experience could you list 3-5 things a [Target Audience] should know before hiring a [professional]?
Based on this information you should be able to write a powerful case study that focuses on the customer and their story.
Just a note: I work with B2B SaaS companies and therefore, the above template works well for that market but you might have to edit it to suit your particular product or service.
OK, but what if I’m only starting out?
It’s damn hard to acquire any social proof if you’re only launching a new product or company.
No one’s used your product and so, there’s no one to review it.
You have no clients on roster to ask for testimonials.
And you haven’t delivered any project that you could write up a case study on.
So, what to do then?
I’m going to piggy back on someone else’s advice though and hand over this section to Oli Gardner, the co-founder of Unbounce.
According to Gardner, there are a couple of ways to overcome this problem:
- Be OK with not having any social proof. Sure, reviews, testimonials or five star ratings might help convince people to hire you or buy from you but that doesn’t mean that you can’t do it without them.
- If you’re launching a new product, give it away for free to people who could offer feedback. Ideally, target experts and influencers in the industry.
- You could also offer a discount in return for a review. If I remember correctly, that’s a strategy Neil Patel has been using in his 100000 a month challenge.
- Instead of testimonials, display quotes from influencers highlighting the importance of services you offer.
- Ask bloggers and media to review your service and write up their impressions.
Social Proof On Landing Pages
What do the best landing pages have in common?
They laser-focus on customers’ pain points? Ahah.
They make a strong case why a person should purchase or sign up for their product? Yes, that too.
But you know what the best ones do (and mediocre suck big at)?
They offer proof that convinces the person that signing up is the best decision they could have ever made!
In other words, they offer so strong social proof that the person has no option but to convert.
Before I show you how they do it, let me explain very briefly why social proof is the element you need to convert visitors on a landing page.
And the answer is simple: It’s all because of fixed-action patterns.
Robert Cialdini calls them “blindly mechanical patterns of action found in a wide variety of species.”
Their key characteristic is that behaviors that compose them occur in virtually the same fashion and order, every time. As Cialdini explains in his book, Influence:
“It’s as if the patterns were recorded on tapes within the animals. When a situation calls for a certain behavior, that behavior tape gets played.”
If you carefully think about your day, you’ll see these automatic actions triggering. One good example is how we react to price. Many of us would consider an expensive item better than its cheaper counterpart.
It’s as if we had an “expensive = good” tape playing every time we consider what product to buy.
The situation is no different with social proof.
It seems that whenever we’re faced with making a buying decision, a specific tape plays in our head: “If others are taking certain action, it must be appropriate.” And so we imitate this behavior.
And here are the ways the best landing pages use social proof to activate fixed-action patterns for their visitors.
Muck Rack includes testimonials from raving fans right beside the list of benefits.
LessAccounting use video testimonial to showcase social proof but also, communicate the main benefit of using the product (see the video blurb on the right).
Displaying the Number of Clients / Users / Buyers
Accuranker boasts their large user base.
So does Mailchimp.
HelpScout combines the number of users, client logos, and testimonials into a social proof section aimed to activate their visitors’ fixed-action patterns.
Wisepops features a big section presenting their users’ stories, outlining how the company’s product has helped them.
Embedded Social Media Praise
Cultured Code, the makers of a fantastic to-do app, Things, display tweets with feedback from their users.
Expert or Influencer Endorsements
Rainmaker features testimonials from people their target audience would follow.
Brian Dean shows feedback from some of the biggest names in the industry.
Many startups and new companies employ this strategy to compensate for a lack of other social proof yet.
Competeshark, for example, displays a list of publications that have mentioned them.
So does Attach.
But many established companies use trust seals to communicate their value to visitors.
Brian Dean’s website includes a “featured on” section.
Sujan Patel uses a combination of trust seals, client logos, and testimonials.
Social Proof in Email Marketing
Comparing to email marketing, displaying social proof on landing pages seems like a child’s play.
First, you have so many different ways to do it (as you’ve seen in the examples above).
Plus, you can be sure that most of your visitors are going to see the social proof.
It’s nothing like that with email. Here, you’re battling with delivery rates, open rates, and much more.
Plus, you can’t overload your email with logos, testimonials, trust seals, and many other social proof types.
So, how do you do it?
Customers review your products all the time. From Google reviews, Yelp, to rating system you use on the site, they leave you feedback you could use in the email.
Tripadvisor, for example, includes hotel ratings in emails.
Highlight your content’s popularity
When sending any new content to your list, include its current sharing stats and other sentiment to showcase its popularity.
Growthhackers include the number of upvotes and comments for each piece they include in emails.
Boast About Media Mentions
Oribe features news of their products’ mentions in the news to highlight social proof.
Social Proof on Twitter and Instagram
Finally, let’s take a look at how brands feature social proof in their Twitter and Instagram ads. Note, all examples come from our two amazing eBooks:
Given the limited copy space brands can avail of on social media, it comes as no surprise that they resort to types of social proof that require very little character count:
And there you have it…
The complete guide to social proof and how to use it to entice more customers to buy from you.
All that’s left for you is to go and implement this knowledge in your marketing.
Best of luck!