What is social proof, and how should I be using it?

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Contributor, Sell to Win

Social proof in sales is the act of using other prospects’ and customers’ behavior as examples to influence your leads.

Your significant other picked up dinner on their way home and now you’re both on the couch ready to wolf it down as you binge a new Netflix show. The only thing left to decide is which show to watch.

You scan through the available options and see Cobra Kai. Hey, wasn’t your co-worker just telling you that it’s the best show on TV? And didn’t your partner’s brother post about it on Facebook last week? “Hmm,” you think, “maybe we should give it a try.”

That’s social proof in action. And it affects everything from the way we spend our time to the purchases we make. So…how can you leverage social proof in your role as a salesperson or marketer?

Keep reading to learn what social proof is, why it’s important, and five ways you can use it to boost sales for your company. Let’s dive in!

What is social proof?

Social proof is a psychological and social phenomenon in which people copy the actions of others in an attempt to reflect the “correct behavior” in a given situation.

The term was first coined by Robert Cialdini in his 1984 book Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, and is driven by the assumption that the people around you possess more knowledge about a given social situation than you do, especially when that situation is ambiguous.

In layman’s terms: As humans, we’re wired to follow the examples of others. We think, “Well, if they’re doing it, it must be the right thing to do.”

If you’ve ever eaten at a specific restaurant because your best friend was raving about it, or purchased a new business software because one of your LinkedIn contacts mentioned it in a post, you’ve experienced this yourself.

Why is social proof important?

Social proof is an incredible asset for marketing and sales professionals. Why? Because when used correctly, it will help you build trust with potential customers, validate their buying decisions, and ultimately, drive more sales for your company.

Consider these social proof statistics:

  1. 87% of purchasing decisions start with online research.
  2. Nearly nine out of ten consumers read reviews before making a purchase.
  3. 93% of shoppers claim online reviews impact their buying decisions.
  4. Testimonials can boost sales page conversion rates by 34%.
  5. Consumers are likely to spend 31% more on businesses with “excellent” reviews.

As you can see, reviews, testimonials, and other forms of social proof are vital to sales—especially when selling products online. The question is, how do you acquire and use social proof effectively?

Social proof in action

You know that social proof can improve your business. But how do you acquire it and use it the right way? Below we’ve listed five common social proof tactics you can use to pour rocket fuel on your company’s sales and marketing efforts.

Customer reviews

Reviews are the most common form of social proof.

When was the last time you bought a new product or service online without reading a few reviews first? Unless you buy all of your toilet paper on Amazon, the answer is probably never.

But it doesn’t stop with e-commerce. Most of us read reviews before hiring new contractors, trying new office furniture, or buying a new brand of dog food.

Positive customer reviews are essential to the success of your company. Fortunately, they’re not that hard to acquire. For most companies, just asking satisfied customers to share their experience on Google, Facebook, Yelp, G2, Capterra, etc. is enough.

If your customers are over the moon with your products and level of service, you might consider going a step further. Ask your company’s happiest patrons if they’re willing to be interviewed for a case study or customer success story.

These pieces of content are especially powerful because they allow brands to dig deep into why their customers love their products and how said products solved a specific problem.

Pro Tip: Don’t put all of your eggs in one basket when it comes to reviews. 59% of consumers look at 2-3 review sites before making a purchase decision. So do your best to “spread the love” and ask your customers to review your company on multiple sites.

User-generated content

User-generated content is like customer reviews on steroids.

Think about it, would you rather invest in automation software that has hundreds of five-star reviews on Capterra, or the tool your actual friends keep raving about on LinkedIn? While both are promising, you’ll probably choose the latter option.

This is because user generated content like a LinkedIn post is more trustworthy. They wouldn’t post about something if they didn’t really love it, right?

Here are a few different kinds of user generated content types:

  • Staged photos: Have you ever ordered a drink from your favorite coffee shop and posted a picture of the cup on Instagram before taking your first sip? Of course you have. This kind of user-generated content is another form of social proof.
  • Action shots: By action shots, we mean images of your customers using your products. For instance, when customers post pictures of themselves wearing a specific clothing brand, it boosts social proof and helps others visualize the garments. 
  • Unboxing videos: This kind of content is really popular on YouTube. Encourage your customers to film themselves opening your products for the first time. Their expressions of excitement and satisfaction will be amazing social proof assets.

If your customers love your products, they’ll probably create content promoting them without you even having to ask. But you can also incentivize them by offering to repost their images on social media or giving them discounts.

Influencer Endorsements

Influencer marketing has exploded in the past few years. But the truth is, it’s been around for decades in the form of celebrity endorsements.

Have you ever bought a pair of sneakers because Michael Jordan wore them in an NBA game? Do you take social media marketing seriously because Gary Vee said you should? Maybe you use a specific kind of perfume because a famous actress is the face of the brand.

These are examples of celebrity endorsements. But these days, influence is wielded by more than just the 1%. Now anybody can use social media, blogging, email marketing, etc. to build an audience of loyal fans who trust what they have to say.

This is another amazing opportunity for your company to use social proof to boost sales. The latest research tells us that influencer marketing produces an ROI of 578%. Put another way, every $1 invested in influencer marketing returns $5.78. Not bad!

To get in on the action, connect with influencers who are willing to promote your products. Here are a couple of tips to help you:

  • Find the right match: Not every influencer is right for your company. Partner with people who serve a similar customer base to yours and hold similar values to your brand. Make sure they use a channel that your target audience uses, too.
  • Look for engagement: The size of an influencer’s following should be considered. You don’t want to pay someone to promote your products to 12 Twitter followers. But audience size shouldn’t be given nearly as much weight as engagement. It’s better to work with an influencer who has 20,000 highly-engaged followers on Instagram than one who has 2 million followers who could care less about their posts. 
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Industry awards

Industry awards are another great way to show social proof because they come from third-parties, which customers automatically trust more than anything a brand says about itself. The more well-known a third-party, the more trust the award imparts.

Take, for instance, the J.D. Power Awards, which are given to companies in a variety of different industries, who display excellence in their fields. Winning one of these awards helps prove to potential customers that a product is worth its price tags.

Another example is G2’s Best Software Products Awards. By making this list, companies can market the fact that their tools are endorsed by the world’s largest tech marketplace.

How do you win an industry award? Make great products and/or services! Then submit your company for consideration (if required) and see what happens.

If you do happen to win, let your audience know on social media, in your email newsletter, on your blog. If badge images are available for the winners, place one on your website so that your visitors know what you’ve accomplished.

Put yourself in your customers’ shoes. If you were considering two different products that each offer similar features, but one is “award-winning,” which would you choose? 

Business accomplishments and recognitions

Last but certainly not least, you can use social proof to your advantage by promoting the various accomplishments and recognitions your company has received. You may not realize it, but companies do this All. The. Time. in their website copy…

  • “Buy our product and join thousands of other satisfied customers.”
  • “As featured in [Company Logo], [Company Logo], and [Company Logo]”
  • “The best product ever!” – [Well-Known Publication]

We’ll also include accreditations in this category. You know what we’re talking about. Little badges that read “Fair Trade Certified” or “USDA Organic.” People with specific values look for these accreditations and think more highly of the companies that have them.

Just like with awards, spread the word about the accomplishments and recognitions your company has earned. Post about them, blog about them, display them on your website.

Boost sales with social proof

Social proof is the key to amazing marketing campaigns and higher sales numbers in 2021 and beyond. It will help you build trust with your customers, validate their buying decisions, and boost your conversion rates—if you use it correctly.

By implementing the tactics mentioned in this article, you’ll be able to take full advantage of social proof and propel your company to new heights.

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