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What is Social Proof and how can you use it effectively

Word Cloud Testimonials

Word Cloud Testimonials

Social proof is a psychological phenomenon where people look to the behaviors and actions of others to guide, either their own actions, or if there is a level of trust in a given situation. Online this social proof can be best exampled when taking eBay as a use case.

Before making a purchase, almost all users will look to the sellers reviews to assess if they are trustworthy or not, so the opinions and comments of others will be a major deciding factor to the purchase decision or not.

Users will assume that the reviews are legitimate based on the verification of a user account, and that a user can not make a review unless they have purchased from that seller, but this verification, is enough that it will allow users to move past the trust that the reviews are biased and allow them to take them as real reviews, this validating the sellers reputation.

This validation or reputation that social proof can give an online site can outweigh the decision modifier of cost, and enable a seller to compete against many other similar retailers. Another benefit that social proof has, and especially if the social proof comes from an associate or connection, is that it can bridge a connection between user and retailer without having to have any formal or informal referral or introduction.

If a user sees that one of their Facebook friends has reviewed a seller, and it was positive, that user is far more likely to make a purchase, even if the cost is more than elsewhere online.

I think that there needs to be some differentiation between testimonials and social proof, and while in essence there is a similarity, there is a slight difference. Social proof has the burden of ensuring that the reviewer is real, whereas testimonials are more focused on assuming that the reader will believe. For example, a testimonial on a site will usually have an image of the person, their quote and their name, and 99% of the time that is the testimonial.

Yes, the person represented may be someone you are aware of, like a prominent business person or actor, however, it’s not the burden of the testimonial to be someone that you will actually know or believe that they actually posted that review themselves. Social proof on the other hand will have to show you, the user, that they posted that review themselves, and that their account was validated and real, either through the user knowing that they can not post a review until they make an account and purchase, or the reviewer has logged in and has their social media profile on display (or at least in Facebook..)

The difference, while simple, can be a massive one, as most users will know that you can make up a testimonial, post a picture and attribute it to them and hope that the fake review will fool some people, but social proof is about ensuring that a user knows the review is real, and if done right, is reviewed by someone in their own social circles, extended or not.

In a recent study done by Google, results revealed that online reviews impact 67.7% of respondents’ purchasing decisions. More than half of the respondents (54.7%) admitted that online reviews are fairly, very, or absolutely an important part of their decision-making process.

3rd party review sites

There are a number of review sites online that will allow a user to do reviews of almost any service, and the value of the purchase increases the chance that a user will search out reviews and opinions of other users from other sites. This searching does lend itself to the perception of real reviews that I spoke about earlier, as it’s a third party site, the chances that a single retailer can have access to the site and post fake testimonials is lowered, therefore the trust that the user has in that review is greatly increased.

Interestingly, most people didn’t seem to remember visiting any of the popular review sites. Instead, the brand site that got the most attention was Google+ Local reviews. Another noteworthy finding was that Amazon came in second, with half the selections that Google received. Finally, the stats show that more people look to Wikipedia for information about a company than to Yelp or TripAdvisor.

eWord of mouth

Customers are increasingly using social media channels in their purchase decisions. Before they even go to search, they will go to their social channels and ask people that they feel are informed on the subject for their opinion. This does not have to include social channels where they personally know all the users, they may go to a specialist forum, or Facebook page, where they know that other users of that channel are interested in the same subject as their question relates to.

For example; a person may be looking for a local service provider of SEO; let’s say for the sake of it, they are looking to a Bangkok SEO agency; now a user may go to Google first, then see that there are hundreds of options, of course there is no way to gauge the effectiveness of that agency (I will talk about how you can address this later in the post) but generally a user has to take your word for it.

They may then go to a Bangkok SEO group on Facebook, then ask there for recommendations. The massive difference is that a user KNOWS that all the responses will be from real people, sure some may be from agencies doing self promotion, but they know that real people, who have used their service will be replying.

Also, If someone you know or someone on a group that you’re involved with, lets say a Bangkok Facebook group, posts that they had an exceptional experience with an agency on that group wall, then a large number of people will then favor your agency over others, purely because someone has taken the time to post that review. It’s real, it’s honest and it took some effort for someone to write.

Develop Brand Champions

Developing a brand champion can be a massive shot in the arm to your online campaigns, especially if that champion is someone that has some social influence. Let’s say for example that you find a user that has used your SEO service, and they have a large twitter following of people that engage with them for business advice.

If that person was to start talking about your brand then there is not only the reach that person has to develop your business name through promotion, but the trust that goes along with that persons opinion far outweighs just the message.

As a business, you need to find this person, a social influencer that will love your brand as much as you do, it may involve developing a relationship with them on social media, tweet at them, like their posts, become an advocate of what they are doing etc,. so when you do finally approach them, they know you, or at least they will recognise your name.

Using case studies rather than reviews

If you don’t have the ability to create a brand champion, and you don’t have the ability to get other users to post reviews on third party sites, you are left with a few options. Try to encourage buyers to leave a review after logging in with their social profile. Ask people you know to send you a review and then post them to your site on your own or create a case study.

A case study can do something rather special that a straight posted review cant not; it can create a use case for your product that will allow you to paint a picture for customers about how others used your product, and how it solved a problem for them. It will seemingly move beyond the low trust barrier, as a case study is time consumption to create and it can lay out how it can solve an issue.

If you are brand new, then you may have some trouble finding a customer that has used your product and had it solve a problem, but that is fine; you can create these yourself, make a test case for your different customer persona’s and how they would have used your product. I have spoken at length about creating persona’s and this is the perfect use case for that tactic; developing a case study for every type of person that you are creating content for, and applying their needs and use case against your product.

Let’s say that one of your persona’s is the secretary or personal assistant of the decision maker; you know the person, you know the language that they would use, so you go ahead and write a case study on how X from X company used your service, you solved their issues, let’s say, being able to report to their manager in a non technical way, and it made their job easier.

By working out the use case for your product and then applying it to their situation you can use that as a trust building method, that is far more believable than a standard testimonial on your site.

I think that you can see that building trust on your site is exceedingly important when you are competing in any market. By developing the avenues to garner social proof for your product you will be able to become far more competitive without having to break the bank with marketing.

If you would like to see how DSA can increase the social proof on your site, please feel free to contact our Bangkok SEO and marketing agency today!

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Benjamin S Powell

CEO & founder at DSA global
A Digital Marketing expert and CEO & founder of DSA Global. Ben has over 10 years experience solving complex business problems in both client and agency-side roles.

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