The Power of Social Proof in Marketing

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very single day, we all make numerous decisions that are influenced by - and further influence - how we think, how we feel and how we behave. We are complex creatures driven by an intricate and dynamic interplay of inputs, thoughts and emotions. But as complex as we are, our resultant behaviour can be characterised by a large range of principles.

Understanding some of these principles - the basic psychological elements that influence how we think, feel and behave - can allow us to better connect with people and to understand what drives and motivates them. From a business perspective, understanding these principles allows us to influence the behaviour of our customers and prospects, and if done correctly, to improve marketing results and revenue. Social proof is one such domain.

Robert Cialdini is a Professor of Psychology and Marketing who has served at Stanford University, the University of California and Arizona State University, and penned the concept of social proof as one of the six principles of persuasion. This theory maintains that people are more likely to perform certain actions if they can relate to the people who performed the same actions before them. Academic but important. Let's talk about why.

Social Proof in Action

For many businesses, the commercial landscape is like a game of Hungry Hungry Hippo, where for every success there is a new challenge popping up uninvited. It could come in the form of a new competitor, a change in consumer behaviour, a disruptive technology, new regulation or loss of skilled talent. The single constant - for most businesses - is the drive for growth despite the challenges. This requires the power of persuasion, so let's go through the four principles and mechanisms of social proof:

  • Uncertainty. When a person is faced by an unfamiliar situation, they are likely to refer to other people for guidance. From cave-dwellers eating a new berry for the first time through to deciding whether to get on the dance floor at a cousins' wedding, uncertainty has been driving social behaviour for millennia.
  • Similarity. Where a person is more likely to adopt the behaviour and attitude of other people who they perceive to be similar to them. This concept is the heart of nearly every political campaign in history, and for good reason; we're programmed to cluster together with those we're most similar to.
  • Expertise. Where a person is more likely to act in a certain way when the influence comes from another person who is perceived as particularly knowledgeable, or slightly more knowledgeable than the original observer. "Drink the Kool-aid". Ok, probably not the best example, but the point is sound. We have all tried a new diet hailed by Doctors and Nutritionists only to find that it is only en vogue for a few months due to resulting health concerns before the new expert fad comes along.
  • Number. Where a person is more likely to believe an idea or take a certain action if a large number of people validate it. If so many people are doing it or believe it, it must be right? Right???

Leveraging Social Proof in Marketing

Looking back to these four principles and mechanisms mentioned above, businesses can persuade their audiences by leveraging the psychological phenomenon of social proof through a number of mechanisms.

Social Media Followership

Increase followership by regularly posting relevant and follow-worthy content to your chosen platforms and sponsoring this content to a wider audience. When advertising on social media, most platforms will offer the option of sponsorship objectives. This means that if you want more followers, you can choose this objective which will alter the programmatic algorithm to encourage followers rather than say, clicks, conversions or impressions. The more followers a business has, the more credible it will seem and the more likely a prospect will be persuaded to buy. So don't be tempted to dive straight into conversion or click objectives if you don't have the numbers.

Audience Targeting

If you use Facebook and your followers are good quality, then sponsor ads to friends of followers. When people see that their friends like a page, they will be more compelled to like that page too. If you don't have good quality followers, first create a custom audience with a list of customers and prospects. This can be done across most social media ad platforms. Add retargeting to the mix to encourage a greater uptake and to re-engage with website visitors.

Influencers

Finding people of influence who have expertise in your industry and having them give you kudos is a great way to influence customers and prospects in both the B2B and B2C sectors. This technique has gained a fair bit of popularity and as such there are a number of platforms that businesses can use to find relevant influencers. Tribe for B2C and theright.fit for B2B are two of many. Approach with caution though and make sure to weigh up the ROI, as it can be expensive and there are a few frauds around.

Testimonials and Case Studies

When a prospect is unsure about whether to engage with your business, providing them with guidance is a great way to give them certainty and persuade them to convert. You can encourage customers to provide testimonials, case studies or google ratings by offering incentives. This could be a gift, a percentage off (offered right before the transaction occurs) or a discount on future transactions. For B2B, it's a bit more complicated as some customers can't accept gifts, but it's a great opportunity to get creative. For example, you could offer to donate to a charity on their behalf.

In generating Social Proof, these suggestions are only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to marketing and persuasion. Every business is different and requires a unique combination of activities as part of a comprehensive strategy. The team at LimeHub are experts in guiding businesses in the development of social proof so don't hesitate in contacting us for an obligation-free chat.

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