Social Proof: How Opinions Influence Buying Decisions

A new restaurant opens in your neighborhood.

You’re curious about the food they serve there, but you haven’t seen it get very busy.

Every time you pass it, you think about trying it out, but you’re just not sure.

The seats are almost always empty.

Then, one Saturday afternoon, you see it full.

There’s a line out the door and wrapped around the building.

If you’re like most people, you’re more likely to try the restaurant out now.

Even the idea of standing in line isn’t so bad, and you might do it without a second thought.

Seeing a busy restaurant and wanting to eat at it isn’t coincidental.

We’ve all felt like that because of an interesting phenomenon known as social proof.

What Is Social Proof?

People tend towards decisions that others have already made.

They assume that when many people decide on a path it must be the right one.

Social proof is the name given to this psychological phenomenon.

Look back at the example I gave before.

The reason you’d be willing to visit the restaurant and even stand in line is that it’s so busy.

You assume that a restaurant must be good for it to be that busy.

Because it would be empty if it was bad, right?

Those thoughts and assumptions are the work of social proof.

This restaurant could be terrible, but you’ll still go because it’s so busy.

“Social proof is a psychological phenomenon where people assume the actions of others in an attempt to reflect correct behavior for a given situation.”

Psychologists have studied social proof for years.

During the 1950s a man named Solomon Asch conducted conformity experiments to see how people would behave among a majority answer.

Using a test where the correct answer was obvious, he put the test subject into a group of insiders who would give the wrong answer.

Without knowing the others were working with the experiment, the test subject would state his answer last.

Asch found that most of the time, people would conform to the answer of the majority, even when it was wrong.

In explanation, most didn’t believe the conformist answer but were afraid of ridicule.

Some believed the group had better information.

But the bottom line is that they would change their answer to match the group.

People will often conform with the majority decision because they believe it is the right action given the situation. Click To Tweet

Robert Cialdini coined the term “social proof” in his 1984 book, Influence.

Bearing all that it’s no surprise that social proof can be used to benefit your brand.

Many do.

Let’s look at it in more detail and find out what it can do for you.

Social Proof Is An Important Part Of Online Marketing

Ok, you get how social proof will bring people into your building in real-time.

However, you’re likely not sure how it’s going to help your online marketing.

One could argue that it does more online than it does offline.

Think about online shopping for a moment.

Nearly any product you can think of can be found on Amazon.

Usually, there are hundreds of variants to choose from.

Unlike a brick and mortar store, you can’t put hands on them or compare them directly.

You must rely on what others say about those products to know if they’re any good.

People make more decisions than ever based on the reviews left by people who have already bought. Click To Tweet

So, you check reviews.

After all, people who own it already know more about it than you do.

Their input can help you compare your choices and make the right one.

Online social proof is even spilling into the brick and mortar space.

Stores are beginning to use reviews of their product on their in-store displays to influence purchases.

It’s not surprising, considering the overall impact reviews have.

But you need to know how to make reviews – along with other social proof – help benefit your brand.

Because you can imagine what would happen how different your results would be.

And you can make them work for you simply.

The Six Kinds Of Social Proof (And How To Use Them)

To put social proof to use for your business, you need to know what kinds are out there and how to use them.

Seems like a straightforward enough concept.

While there are far more forms of social proof than the ones I’m going to share, these are the ones that any small business is capable of using.

Social proof – evidence that buying from you is the right decision – is often easy to get. It’s also accessible for nearly every business owner out there. Click To Tweet

They don’t require extra investment, nor do they require special relationships.

Any small business that takes the time to collect them has them available.

Plus, they’re possibly the most effective ones you can choose.

Often, these forms of social proof are already within your inventory of tools available.

You just need to know what they are.

Once you learn where and how they should be used you’ll start seeing your marketing work better.

It’s time to take a look at what kinds of social proof boost sales and what to do with it once you have it.

Facts And Figures

Here’s the truth: numbers don’t lie.

As the simplest form of social proof to get, the statistics about your business should be on your website and in any relevant marketing material.

Stating how many customers you have, how many successes you’ve had, and other similar numbers are as direct as you can be.

People can see how many others have decided to work with you.

Or how many others have chosen to register for your event.

Those numbers influence them to do the same.

While not as powerful as some of the other forms of social proof, they are the easiest to show.

They’re numbers you should already know as a part of doing business.

Show off how many people your product or service has done well for.

Explain how it’s improved things for them.

Did it save them money or bring them more opportunities?

Offer the tallies of your impact.

When people see how working with you can make things better for them, they’re more likely to pull the trigger.

Statistics should especially find their way onto your website home page or services pages.

Sometimes those numbers can say much more than words can.

Coupling them with other forms of social proof multiplies their impact, too.

Doing so shows your audience that “X” people have not only bought from you but that they’re happy about it too.

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Trust Seals

When you’ve earned a high-profile client, it speaks to your audience.

A brand that could access anyone in your industry has chosen you.

You probably ought to let your potential leads and clients know about that.

As social proof, trust seals show that companies with a little clout back you.

Those companies serve as proof that your company is the right one to hire.

But trust seals aren’t just about the clients you’ve earned.

If your business is part of an industry association, indicate that as well.

Industry associations tend to hold quality standards for their members.

Potential clients who see those associations can look them up and often find a rating for your business.

An even better idea is to list your rating with that association.

Do the same with industry-related awards that you’ve won.

When you can point to big names that people recognize and say “They back us” you have a powerful way to earn trust from your potential leads. Click To Tweet

And, if a publication has written about you, mention that as well.

However, don’t just tell people that you made an issue of Inc.

Tell them what the article said about you.

All this social proof together shows that your company is a great one to buy from.

It builds trust with your audience and eventually draws them to become your client.

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Customer Reviews

Customer feedback is known as high-value social proof.

This is where the opinion of other product owners starts to become apparent.

Anyone can leave feedback about your brand on any available review outlet from Facebook to Google.

That leaves some business owners with anxiety, though.

If anyone can leave feedback, what happens if someone who has never worked with you decides to say something bad about you?

Here’s the trick: negative reviews make the whole set of reviews seem more credible.

So, don’t worry about getting them.

Just make sure you handle them correctly.

Be sure to request reviews from every customer.

But don’t expect them to wait for an invitation.

Search the internet for places your company has already been reviewed and build your collection of customer feedback.

Reviews are an objective look at the quality of your company.

You can use customer reviews in many different places, too.

They work great on key pages (like your services pages) or in search ads.

Turning a good review into a social media post can create a lot of buzz as well.

Adding them to ads, emails, and other marketing material boosts the effect as well.

The versatility of your brand’s online reputation is incredible.

Combining customer reviews with the statistics I suggested earlier makes a great combination.

In showing your audience what others think, you tap into the core of social proof’s benefits.

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Testimonials

Usually a little longer than customer reviews and always focused on the positive, testimonials are solicited recommendations from the customers that love you.

Yes, you have to ask for them.

But this form of social proof often has massive sway on the materials you include it on.

Testimonials often factor as heavily on the purchasing decision as personal recommendations do.

And they can help create 62% more revenue per site visitor.

When your regular customers become brand advocates, your audience begins to trust you more.

That’s some heavyweight social proof.

Displaying customer testimonials on your home and services pages, as well as landing pages, can help sell your brand more effectively.

What’s more, because testimonials are often so positive, they help to create future brand advocates.

Be sure that, when you include a testimonial, you add all the credibility information people are used to seeing.

Including a picture, name, company, and title all help to legitimize your testimonial.

Allowing your audience to check-in and see that the person is real makes the testimonial real too.

Legitimacy in the testimonial adds legitimacy to the product or service it represents.

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Case Studies

Imagine dedicating a whole page on your site to a single testimonial.

But within that testimonial, you’ve also included a review and facts and figures.

Plus, it comes from a company that’s one of your major clients, just like your trust seals.

When you add all that up into a single bundle of social proof, you get a case study.

Illustrating what you’ve done for other clients and how well it came out for them is a great way to prove that your company can provide what the potential client is looking for. Click To Tweet

Case studies are data-driven analysis of the work you did for a client with your product or service.

They highlight all the benefits you provided to the client and what you had to do to achieve those results.

Basic parts of a case study can include:

  • A description of the client and their issue.
  • The goal your client had for the outcome.
  • How you expected the outcome to look when you were done.
  • What you and your team did to help your client achieve their goal.
  • The results you were able to achieve for the client.
  • Your client’s thoughts and opinions about the process.
  • Everything you learned from this that can help your future clients.

While every element I listed doesn’t have to make the case study, it is a situation where more is better.

Showing your clients what the process looks like when it’s successful not only builds trust but also helps alleviate any anxieties.

Letting them know what comes next makes it much easier to move forward with you.

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Social Media Praise

Nothing says real like social media.

And it embodies the “social” aspect of social proof completely.

When people say good things about your company on social media, you want to know about it.

You also want to get as much marketing mileage as possible from it.

If you’re doing your job looking for actionable social media mentions, you’re probably hearing a lot of social noise.

Domino’s Pizza was, estimating that 97% of what they heard about their brand wasn’t an opportunity.

However, among all that noise, there is likely to be some praise.

Praise received through social media is always up-to-date and real. It leaves your potential clients with a better opinion of how your brand will do for them right now. Click To Tweet

Tweets, Facebook mentions, Instagram comments and even TikTok duets are all valuable forms of social proof that you can use to influence buying decisions.

B2C businesses are likely to see the most success with this as more people will talk about their brands online.

But even a B2B brand can see success if they pay enough attention.

One great way to use social media praise is to include a social listening feed on landing pages for products and events.

Whenever someone talks about that product or event, the feed will show it.

That creates a stream of real-time feedback for your potential leads and clients, which shows you aren’t riding ancient successes.

Keeping up-to-date social proof like that only adds to the confidence people feel.

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How Do you Get Social Proof?

I told you earlier that most business owners already have access to these forms of social proof.

However, what happens if you don’t?

Let’s say you’re launching a new service but don’t have customers who have tried it yet.

You need to know what to do when the social proof isn’t there.

First, don’t panic.

It’s OK to not have any testimonials or case studies.

While they provide a better conversion rate, you can still convert without them.

Just don’t fake them.

People know when you’re not being honest, so be patient instead.

While you may get better results using social proof, it’s not required to get people to buy from you. Don’t ever feel the need to create fictional testimonials or reviews. They’ll hurt you worse in the long run. Click To Tweet

But if you decide you absolutely must have some social proof for your service, there are a few things you can try.

Add a quote from an industry influencer about the bigger picture that your product or service tackles.

Making the subject matter your product or service addresses important helps to sell what you’re doing.

Or you could offer your product or service to bloggers to review.

Reviews that come from bloggers fit under Trust Seals as a form of social proof, and they’re usually pretty easy to get.

Last, you could offer your product for free in exchange for feedback.

Most people are more than happy to review a product or service when it costs nothing to get it.

No matter what angle you make, just remember that the social proof has to be honest to work.

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Social Proof Shifts Buyer Thinking

Now that you understand the concept of social proof, get it to work for you.

You can begin influencing your potential clients’ decisions in your favor.

The best part about it, though, is that it uses total honesty to work.

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Social Proof: How Opinions Influence Buying Decisions

by Michael McNew Read in 11 min