Harnessing the Power of Social Proof

Although ‘social proof” might sound like an abstract concept, the reality is that you experience its effects throughout your daily life.  When choosing an auto repair shop, you’re more likely to choose the mechanics that come highly recommended by your friends.  Similarly, when shopping online, you probably pay more attention to the reviews left by past customers than to a product’s description or its place in the site’s internal search results.

Indeed, there are plenty of statistics out there that back up just how powerful the idea of social influence can be.  The following are a few interesting examples to consider that were shared in a recent Search Engine Journal article:

  • According to CompUSA and an iPerceptions study, “63% of consumers indicate they are more likely to purchase from a site if it has product ratings and reviews.”
  • As a result of PETCO’s decision to add customer ratings, PETCO VP of e-commerce John Lazarchic, stated, “Adding customer ratings increased our sales and decreased our costs.”  PETCO surveyed their customers after their order and asked, “What online tool most influenced your purchase decision?” The #1 answer was product ratings and reviews, with site search coming in a distant second.

If you run a website of your own, these statistics should have the wheels inside your head turning…  While the products and services you sell on your site should certainly stand on their own merits, incorporating social proof into your website’s content can help you to create an even more effective buying environment.

But how do you get this social proof, and how should you incorporate it into your site in order to bring about the best results?

Harnessing the Power of Social Proof

The first step in the process is to understand that social proof comes in many different forms – including all of the following options:

  • Testimonials that are embedded within your website’s sales content
  • User reviews left on product-specific pages within your site
  • User reviews left on review sites like Yelp and Google+
  • Brand mentions shared on social media websites
  • Celebrity endorsements and recommendations from authority figures within your industry

Each of these different types of social proof can have a different impact on your website’s sales performance.  Testimonials on sales pages, for example, help potential buyers to mentally reinforce their buying decisions and lead to more sales.  Brand mentions on social media sites, on the other hand, can introduce new consumers to your website by utilizing the power of social influence.

While smart businesses utilize as many of these different social proof forms as possible, it’s important to be aware that each style has its own limitations. Celebrity endorsements – as an example – can get expensive, while adding a user review system to your product pages both requires technical know-how and runs the risk of opening your company up to negative reviews.

With all of these different factors in mind, consider the following detailed information on how to obtain and use social proof according to each strategy listed above.  Then, identify your own business objectives and determine which types of social proof make the most sense for your website.

User Testimonials

User testimonials can be powerful selling tools, as they give potential buyers some personal insight into the buying process.  Sales pages containing user testimonials help future customers to see themselves in the shoes of those who have already purchased and been satisfied – leading to higher conversion rates and more sales.

To gather user testimonials, you’ll need to get in contact with past buyers and ask for their feedback.  If you’ve been diligent about following up with email marketing messages, past buyers should be used to hearing from you – making this type of content seem more natural and less intrusive.  However you decide to solicit feedback, simply ask buyers if they enjoyed the product and – if so – if they’d be willing to leave a testimonial for future site visitors.

Once you’ve gathered both feedback and explicit permission from past buyers to use their comments on your website, integrate these testimonials into your sales pages in a way that works with their existing flow.  Be sure to give your testimonials a unique look so that they stand out from the rest of the page, and add as much personal information about the reviewers as possible (including full names, cities of residence and headshots) in order to increase the credibility of your reviews.

User Reviews on Product-Specific Pages

Though it may sound like a technically-advanced challenge, making use of out-of-the-box solutions like Shopper Approved can make installing review systems as easy as modifying a few lines of code on your site.  Plenty of similar review software programs exist – just be sure that whatever system you choose doesn’t interfere with your content’s ability to be indexed by the search engines!

There are a few things you’ll want to keep in mind when pursuing this particular type of social proof:

  • Site visitors love seeing product reviews, but they hate “ghost town” systems with no actual reviews.  If you don’t sell a high enough volume of product to generate regular user reviews, it may be best to avoid installing this type of system.
  • When you first install your review system, you may need to jump start the process by encouraging past buyers to return to your site and leave their feedback.
  • Don’t delete negative comments!  If you receive negative reviews in your system, respond with a quick apology and then use the feedback to make improvements for future sales.

User Reviews Left on Review Sites

If you’re a primarily offline business, review sites represent a potent source of social proof – as new customers frequently check companies’ Yelp and Google+ review profiles before deciding to do business with them.

To start soliciting this type of social influence, all you need to do is to encourage your customers to share their experiences with your brand on their favorite review sites.  This can be done with a small sign in your physical location, a mention on all receipts that your company prints out, an email to past customers or any other type of contact.

However, a few of the same cautions that applied to product-specific reviews exist here as well.  If you haven’t requested user reviews in the past, you may need to do a little prodding to get past buyers to go out of their way to leave your company online reviews (just don’t push too hard or you’ll risk irritating the very people you’re counting on for good references!).  In addition, if you encounter negative reviews on these sites, don’t get angry.  Instead, leave a professional response and focus on making changes to prevent negative reviews in the future.

Brand Mentions on Social Media Sites

Brand mentions on social media sites represent a different, less-explicit type of social proof, in that they’re rarely as direct as someone leaving a note on your website saying that he liked your product.  Instead, because would-be new customers typically require several points of contact with your company before doing business with you, social proof via social media sites can come from any different type of brand mention, including:

  • Unsolicited recommendations and reviews
  • Shares of your website’s blog articles
  • Shares of your social media profile updates
  • Consumer questions that mention your brand by name

The easiest ways to accumulate these brand mentions are to encourage customers to share your content and their thoughts about your products on their favorite social sites, and to be active on these same networks yourself.  Accumulating social proof through these channels can be as simple as asking for social shares at the end of each blog post, and then making a point to address any brand mentions – whether positive or negative – that occur on social media sites.

Celebrity Endorsements

One last source for social proof comes from celebrity endorsements – which can come from either recognizable media figures (as in, TV, music or sports stars) or from well-known names within your industry.

Pursuing either one of these opportunities comes with a cost.  True celebrity endorsements from media names can be expensive and must be carefully coordinated to ensure that the chosen celebrity reflects well upon your brand (as an example, you wouldn’t want Kim Kardashian endorsing your marriage counseling service).  Even if you’re willing to go to these lengths, it’s important to recognize that a recommendation from a paid celebrity endorsement may carry less weight with potential customers than social proof from colleagues and friends would.

On the other hand, securing a recommendation from a known figure within your industry can be an incredibly powerful source of social proof – though there’s a reason that these endorsements are relatively uncommon!

If you want to get a recommendation from an industry expert, you need to be prepared to spend plenty of time building up your relationship to the point where the authority figure is comfortable endorsing your work.  You may need to exchange messages, help out with favors and promote the expert’s content for some time before reaching this level of confidence – if you ever do.  It’s entirely possible to spend years building a relationship, only to have the authority figure in question decline to offer a much-desired review.

As you can see, each different type of social proof offers a distinct set of advantages and disadvantages.  And while each strategy has its place, it’s also true that some of the techniques described above may not make sense for your business at this time.  Choose wisely how you’ll allocate your time and energy – then, head out and make it a priority to harness the power of social proof on your website!

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