3 Things You Should Know About Social Proof According to Mark Schaefer

Best-selling writer, blogger, and social media expert Mark Schaefer—founder and executive director of Schaefer Marketing Solutions and author of The Content Code—recently joined us for a lively #HootChat all about social proof. Based on the response, we learned there’s a lot of interest and curiosity around this topic. What is it? Why is it important? And, most importantly, how can you leverage it to boost your business?

What is social proof?

We’ve all heard a lot about social proof, but what is it really?

The easiest way to understand the concept it with an analogy, so think about it this way: if you were planning to go to a show and you weren’t entirely sure which one, but you saw that one of your options was nearly sold out, what might that tell you about that show? It would probably signal to you that that show is popular and, you could reasonably conclude, good. Based on those conclusions, you’d probably be more likely to get tickets to that show than to a different one that hadn’t sold many tickets. That’s social proof.

It’s as simple as this: social proof describes our natural human instinct to trust what we learn from the experience of others.

“When we don’t know the truth, we search our environment for answers,” Schaefer clarifies. “Basically any kind of information that validates a claim is a form of social proof.”

The basic concept of proof is evidence, so social proof is really just evidence derived from others. We all rely on the feedback and actions of other people to determine what to do (or not to do) in a given situation. We use those cues as evidence that something is popular (or not) and reassurance that the decisions we’re making are the right ones.

TechCrunch article Social Proof Is The New Marketing outlines five different types of social proof:

  1. Expert social proof: Think “four out of five dentists recommend” toothpaste ads
  2. Celebrity social proof: Think celebrity spokespeople
  3. User social proof: Think Yelp reviews
  4. Wisdom of the crowds social proof: Think of the “Over 1 Million Served” signs outside every McDonald’s
  5. Wisdom of your friends social proof: Think about how likely you are to ask someone you know for advice (this one’s pretty self explanatory)

While the concept of social proof has gained new life in the world of social media, Schaefer explains that it is not exclusively a digital concept. “We do this all the time in the ‘real’ world,” he tweeted. “For example, if there are [a] lot of cars in a restaurant lot, we might assume it is popular! We may even make a decision to eat there based on cars instead of food.”

He asserts that, because we’re so busy in the online world, social proof has become even more vital to our decision-making process.

“We rely on shortcuts like sharing numbers or reviews to help us understand what is popular and who we should believe… In an information dense world, social proof helps people make better decisions… Social proof like social shares impacts purchasing behavior and advocacy. Very powerful stuff,” Schaefer wrote.

Social share counts are one of the most ubiquitous forms of social proof on the social web. After all, what are Facebook and Twitter likes for if not to tell others that the piece of content is worth consuming?

3 insights about social proof from Mark Schaefer

1. It has to do with trust

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“An article with a lot of social shares might get more views than better content just due to the social proof,” wrote Schaefer on Twitter. “In the online world, social proof may be more important than the truth.”

Though this state of affairs may sound bleak, Schaefer’s really pointing to the importance of trust. And there’s data to back up his observations. According to Nielsen’s Global Trust in Advertising report, more than eight in 10 global respondents (83 percent) indicated that they trust recommendations of friends and family. Data from BrightLocal indicates that 88 percent of customers say they trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations.

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You can take advantage of this by including reviews and testimonials on your website. This is where potential customers are more likely to be open to the information. But don’t rely on them too heavily in social messaging, where they tend to turn people off.

Another option is to display client logos (with or without reviews) on your site. Having a page dedicated to “happy customers” is a simple move to include social proof that can really help your brand.

“It is Ok to include testimonies and reviews in ads and on a website as long as it doesn’t look like a NASCAR jacket,” says Schaefer.

That being said, don’t try to game the system. Be sure that you utilize authentic social proof and skip the fake reviews entirely.

2. It’s not all sunshine

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“Research shows that some negative reactions actually IMPROVE the credibility of the reviews,” wrote Schaefer on Twitter. “In a weird way, negative social proof validates and amplifies positive social proof.”

While it may seem counter-intuitive to include less than stellar reviews, don’t be tempted to only include the most glowing, positive feedback that you, your product, or brand has ever received.

By all means, include the good stuff—just don’t stick to only the best of the best.

Schaefer says the success of Amazon is the perfect example. “If you want to go to school on constructing social proof, study Amazon,” he wrote. “They pull you in with recommendations and ratings on products.”

Despite the fact that not all of the reviews posted to Amazon are positive, the online shopping giant includes them all. Just think: if all the reviews were full of praise, would you trust that they were authentic?

3. It has to be ongoing

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“Establishing social proof should be a dynamic process,” wrote Schaefer in a Tweet. “Keep on top of your social proof. Are your testimonials from people who matter or did they just get thrown in jail?”

While that example may sound a little extreme, Schaefer’s point stands: social proof has be an ongoing process. You need to constantly adapt your content to best showcase social proof, whether it’s utilizing share or follower counters, listing client reviews or logos, or bragging (just a little) when you or your business have connected with an influential person or brand.

“If you have been in a newspaper or on a TV show, ‘as seen on’ means something to people,” explains Schaefer. “Validation from a key blogger can have HUGE benefits.”

To learn more about social proof, check out Schaefer Marketing Solutions’ blog {grow} or read one of Schaefer’s social media marketing books.

Keep up to date with the latest and greatest in social media marketing with the industry’s top voices in our weekly #HootChat. Follow along on Twitter and be sure to join in!

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