Earlier this month, HBO’s Game of Thrones launched its fourth season to record ratings. Whether or not you watch the show, you surely noticed the buzz surrounding its premiere, as the fantasy drama’s popularity has grown rapidly in the three years since it began running.
How come so many people have started watching, and subsequently become obsessed with, this cable TV show where the subject matter falls into such a non-mainstream niche? It’s because people are hearing about it — from the rampant Twitter conversations that coincide with each new episode, from the crestfallen Facebook statuses on Monday morning after a particularly crushing development, or from friends who can’t stop raving.
If so many people are in love with this show, I need to give it a try.
This is the concept behind “social proof.” In an environment where people are increasingly connected by social networks, and using these platforms to guide purchase decisions, it is vital that any business involved in ecommerce is familiar with the strategy, and is utilizing it effectively.
At its core, social proof (also known as informational social influence) is about conformity, and taking cues from others when assessing how to behave in a certain situation. You’ve probably learned about famous examples in psychology classes, or seen the phenomenon playing out on a regular basis in our present society.
In business, using social proof as a marketing tool is about managing the of your products and brands to convey their (hopefully accurate) depiction as being in demand and popular among consumers — especially consumers within your target demographic.
How to best accomplish this? Here are a few of the approaches we recommend:
Nothing groundbreaking here, but positive customer reviews and testimonials are invaluable. You can tout the greatness of your services all you want, but it’s never going to connect in the same way as when a customer hears it from a real person, particulary someone they know.
One study conducted a couple years ago found that 72 percent of consumers trust online reviews as much as they trust personal recommendations. In the same survey, 52 percent of respondents said that a positive customer review would make them more likely to use a local business.
Obviously the risk here is tied to negative reviews, because those can be just as detrimental as positive reviews can be beneficial. Displaying only the good feedback seems inherently dishonest (though it’s one way to go).
If you believe in what you’re selling, you should be confident that the majority of reviews will be positive. Make it easy for customers to tell you what they think, and then make it easy for those browsing your site to see those reviews.
Social Following Icons
Building up a sizable following on social channels can be challenging, especially when you’re starting from nothing. It takes time, money and effort. Once you’ve reached a point where you have at least a few hundred — or, better yet, a few thousand — followers, don’t be afraid to show it off. Include icons on your site or your checkout portal that link to your Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, etc., and show your follower total on each platform.
In many ways, a high follower count can be superficial (especially since many companies simply pay for their followers) but there’s no question that having a lot of Facebook fans or Twitter followers lends credibility to your brand, especially if you have a relatively small company.
Of course, the flip side to this equation is that a particularly low follower count may tarnish your company’s image, or cause unfamiliar people to question your legitimacy. Wait until you’ve got a solid count to start touting your totals.
User Voting On Products
This falls into the same vein as customer reviews. It’s not too tricky to implement a system wherein users can rate different products and those ratings can be displayed prominently. If a potential customer comes across something they like, they’ll be that much more likely to add it to their cart if they say “95% of customers liked this product” spelled out next to it in green text.
This is a quicker and easier way to convey customer sentiment than posting reviews, and the negative feedback might not be as distinct or persuasive.
Promote Positive Statuses and Tweets
If you’re monitoring your social presence, it will be easy to see what people are saying about your brand. Invariably, there’s likely to be some good stuff and some bad stuff, but don’t be shy about shining a spotlight on the nice things people say about you. Retweet gushy statements on Twitter. Share kind mentions on Facebook. Quote emails from satisfied customers (with permission) on your blog.
Unlike with customer reviews or votes, there’s no implicit expectation that you’ll be providing a comprehensive range of viewpoints in these situations. Feel free to play up all your positive mentions, and when you see negative stuff popping up about you in the social space, try to reach out and address it more subtly.
It’s tough to beat user-generated content. This is stuff produced by people who use (and often love) your products or services, and you can use it in a variety of promotional ways. User-generated content is more of a macro version of the social posts mentioned above, and can range from blog posts to photos to videos and more.
Encourage your loyal customers to create and submit this kind of content by holding events or contests (even Facebook Contests). Come up with creative ways for people to incorporate your brand into things they might otherwise write or post. Incentivize users to pile up views and engagement with this content.
Advertising on Facebook and Twitter
I know that many companies have reservations about the true value of paying to advertise on these platforms, but they are the two largest social channels and both are structured in a way where ads are targeted toward friends of friends. For instance, a sponsored ad on Facebook will carry a message indicating that one a few of a user’s friends already “like” your brand.
A person is more likely to pay attention to a company’s ad if it is quickly made clear that a friend or acquaintance follows or likes the brand, allowing your customers and fans to act as silent advocates. Plus, ads on both Facebook and Twitter are performance-based so theoretically you pay for what you get.
There are many different methods you can try to employ, but when it comes to social proof, the bottom line is clear: Make it easy for potential customers to see what other customers — especially satisfied customers — are saying about your brand. The psychological impact of recommendations from real people and acquaintances can’t be overstated.
All these social proof measures can be implemented in abandoned cart emails, and will serve to push your conversion rates substantially.