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Social proof may have been updated for the social media era, but it’s a concept that’s been around in various forms for nearly 100 years. Social proof, in short, is a way of convincing people to adopt certain behaviors, opinions or actions by providing a form of “proof” that this is the correct or normal thing to do.
Classic examples of social proof
Social proof is the reason many medications will include a tagline like “The #1 recommended medicine by physicians.” It’s the reason why books always include brief blurbs from other authors on the back cover. It’s the reason why companies obsess over press mentions by respected media sources. It’s the reason why testimonials, case studies and examples of “people just like you who used this product” are so powerful. These are all examples of proof that can be used to get customers to try a product.
Social proof in the digital era
Social media has forced brands to wake up and consider how they are constructing forms of social proof in the social media era. For example, even something as simple as checking how many followers a brand has on Twitter or Instagram can be a powerful signal to consumers. So it’s time to think of ways that social proof can be updated for the way people use social media today.
Social proof in action
For example, consider a new wearable fitness device from a relatively unknown tech company that is trying to market this product to people who want to lose weight. Since the product is new and the company is unknown, it’s important to create some form of “social proof” that it is OK to buy it. The company could take any of the following steps to produce social proof that this fitness device was worth buying:
- Create a “fear of missing out” (FOMO) by building word-of-mouth buzz for the product on social media platforms
- Post Facebook updates of “before” and “after” photos of people who successfully used the device to lose weight
- Update Instagram to show photos of impossibly sexy men and women using the device at the gym
- Post testimonial videos of “people just like you” on YouTube, with them explaining how and why the device worked for them
- Encourage social media influencers to review the product and post photos
What type of proof works best?
According to experts, certain types of social proof work better than others. For example, photos work far better than text for convincing people to buy a product. (Even adding a small photo of a person’s face next to a written testimonial can markedly improve its effectiveness) And recommendations from people “just like me” work far better than recommendations from experts.
Social proof and brands
For brands, social proof can be an extraordinarily useful tool, especially when consumers are uncertain how to act and are willing to follow the advice of people who seem to be in a better position to know. For that reason, customer product reviews are essential for any item. If you are selling items online, you absolutely need to include these reviews.
Ultimately, social proof is a form of social influence. If you’ve ever jumped on the bandwagon of a winning sports team, tried to figure out where the “smart money” was headed in the financial markets, or made an impulse purchase because you saw a celebrity using a product, you can intuitively recognize the power of social proof. If “everybody is doing it,” you don’t want to miss out, do you?