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What’s ‘social proof’?

Diane Hall


Woman with smartphone shown giving 5 star review

You may have heard these words within your business network and wondered what they meant. Essentially, social proof is how your business is seen by the general public. After all, you can broadcast how fabulous your business is as much as you like, but you’re bound to say that. You’re biased, which is to be expected.

Nowadays, it’s common for consumers to turn to those who have had dealings with you for an accurate picture. 90% of consumers look at what other people say about a business/product before deciding whether to purchase, and 40% discover new brands and companies simply from the social feeds of their friends and family. Your social proof, therefore, could lead to a lot more business if managed correctly.

Review sites, comments on your social media posts, testimonials and case studies…all of these things contribute to your social proof. The only true way of influencing these is to ensure what you sell is of high quality and to give great service, which is what makes this information so reliable.

Instead of investing in their customer service and the product/service they offer, dodgy companies try to buy social proof, by flooding social media and testimonial sites with fabricated reviews via fake accounts. Eventually, their attempts fail when bona fide reviews telling the real story of the business appear, casting doubt in prospective customers’ minds. Social media platforms are always on the lookout for these fake accounts and they can take them down, too.

Humans are social animals, and we often follow what our peers do and act on societal cues. This is one reason why influencer marketing can work as a strategy. A business with a high social proof score will likely find this one of their most lucrative and effective strands within their marketing strategy as, once created and honed, the social proof content will lead new customers to your door without you having to do much. That said, this isn’t a sign you can take your foot off the accelerator in your business though—if your standards were to slip, this would likely be felt by your customers and reflected in less-than glowing reviews and comments.

Customer testimonial message on light box at office desk with connected electronic devices

Customer testimonial message on light box at office desk with connected electronic devices

So, what is within your power, with regards to social proof?

Including facts and figures in your marketing literature helps your social proof, as long as the information is true and verifiable. When including testimonials, adding the person’s first name/initials and their photo strengthens their quote.

Being connected to third-party associations and taking out industry memberships can also further your business’s credibility, though the latter is really a measure of the money you’re prepared to spend, as few organisations of this kind vet their members or apply any sort of interrogation when companies apply to join—which can devalue the membership.

Include user content in your social media marketing. The images taken by customers of your product may not be of professional standard, but what they show is of equal value: a satisfied customer wishing to spread the (good) word about your business.

If you receive a bad review on your business, this may entirely be justified; however, something strange can come over people when they get behind a screen. Fake bad reviews are just as prevalent as fake good ones. That said, there’s something suspicious about a business that never puts a foot wrong and is always ‘five stars’. After all, every business makes mistakes from time to time. A flawless track record can lead some consumers to suspect fake accounts are at play, as mentioned above.

If you do receive less than complimentary feedback, be sure to add your comment to their review. Thank the reviewer for taking the time to share their thoughts (even if, inside, you’re dying to hunt them down and serve some sort of retribution for what you may see as an unfair or unfounded review). Explain where your standards fell short (if there’s some truth in their report), assure them that it won’t happen again and offer them some sort of compensation, like a free meal/another visit, something relative to what you sell). If the reviewer is trying it on or being cruel on purpose, don’t be drawn down to their level. Still thank them for their reply and try to refute their claims without getting into an argument, sticking to the facts. Often, the way you handle a poor review can actually draw customers to you.

As mentioned, much of the social proof surrounding your business will be hard for you to influence in any other way than simply being good at what you do and appreciating your customers. However, following the points mentioned above will give you some control over how your company is perceived.

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