Is social proof the best form of marketing?

I was recently talking to an excited medical researcher preparing to give a keynote speech at an international conference. She had been researching for years in the field of phototherapy, an alternative treatment for pain and anesthetic. Finally, the results of her research were being presented on an international stage. 

A researcher knows a new medical breakthrough is nothing without strong supporting evidence. Simply asserting a hypothesis is not enough. No one will take them seriously unless they have trusted results as proof.

As consumers, we tend to think like scientists. Before we buy, we seek some sort of proof of quality, or assurance that the product will meet our needs better than another. Even the most spontaneous spenders rarely make a wholly uninformed purchase.

People rely on many things when deciding what to buy, and there is research that suggests the marketing messages or advertising taglines are not the thing that drives purchasing decisions the most. Often it’s the opinions and wisdom of others about a brand or product that persuades people to buy.

To a marketer, being mentioned or recognised by others in the broader public sphere is a brand’s ‘social proof’. It’s these ‘proof points’ that build a case for how relevant, valued or trusted a company is.

Small businesses rely on happy customers – word-of-mouth stories that recommend a product or service is the best (and most cost effective) sales technique.

Research has found that 70 per cent of consumers are prompted to buy from reading other consumer’s opinions posted online.

Social proof comes in many forms; a customer praising your company or raving about your product to friends; an article in the media or website; a positive online review; a social media mention. It forms the story that people remember about a company (not what the company says about itself).  

It may be a consumer’s first introduction to a brand or the final stamp of approval. Either way, it is highly valued and often difficult to obtain. The good news is there are ways to cultivate and amplify your social proof.

Here are five tips to build and harness your social proof:

Tip 1: Ask for feedback

Real-life stories, or testimonials from customers, are most effective because they tell a story that is highly relatable and believable.  Hearing another person’s experience is very persuasive. You should never pay for a review, but many people freely give feedback to a company or via an online site.

Tip 2: Enlist the help of ‘champions’

In every industry there are experts and their opinions are an extremely powerful form for social proof. Meet them, listen to their advice and build a relationship. Perhaps they use your products and services for themselves? A strong relationship with experts is a signal to your customers that your company is valuable and trustworthy.

Tip 3: Great customer service

A product may be fantastic, but people remember how nice the salesperson was and other small things like free delivery or a friendly follow-up phone call. Customer service is the difference between a happy and completely dissatisfied customer, and determines whether you receive social recognition. With social proof, you get what your customers think you deserve.

Tip 4: Use social media to connect, listen and respond

Social media has helped many organisations amplify their social proof and enhance their reputation. It has enabled company representatives to engage directly with customers in a transparent way – solving problems, offering advice, sharing photos or videos or simply saying ‘thank you’. Don’t’ just have a social presence for the sake of it – use it wisely and widely.

Tip 5: Don’t fake it or try to manipulate it

Social proof is a form of social democracy, and sadly, some may be tempted to manipulate the system. Faking false endorsements or incentivising positive comments through competitions or other rewards is a big no-no.  If customers cannot trust your endorsements are 100 per cent authentic and well-deserved any genuine positive social proof will be worthless. Another pitfall to avoid is trying to edit or remove negative comments or stories about your brand. Instead, try to turn negatives into positives with a generous solution, or just take the good with the bad. In fact, it may be a good thing – a balance of positive and negative stories adds a degree of credibility to your social proof.

There are many ways to tell your story with social proof. How do you build social proof for your company or products?