In this week’s instalment of our ‘What is…’ series we explain the concept of social proof and how you can use it to your advantage.
Social proof: a psychological and social phenomenon wherein people copy the actions of others in an attempt to undertake behaviour in a given situation
Ok. So, what does that mean exactly? Let’s look at a ‘real life’ example…
Cast your mind back. Go way back to the time when you were in school and there were the ‘cool kids’, the ‘loners’ and the ‘in-betweeners’. Everyone wanted to be one of the cool kids, right. But why? They weren’t necessarily the funniest, the smartest or the sportiest people. They weren’t necessarily into the same stuff as you. So, what was it that made you want to be them? The answer: social proof.
As human beings, we’re fundamentally social animals and where we lack comprehension ourselves, we look to others to fill the knowledge gap. With a kind of hive mentality, we assume that if a large enough proportion of society think one thing, then it’s probably correct.
In the case of the school popularity contest, if someone appears popular, they become popular.
In the business world, popularity builds a sense of desire – just look at Apple. They don’t (necessarily) have the best hardware, or the best software. But they’re popular – and so people want Apple products.
In a nutshell, social proof is...
While not all of us can expect to have the kind of popularity that Apple has, social proof gives us the potential to convince our audience that we are what they need: whether as a service, product or campaign to align to.
There are other applications too. It’s also what judges might use during awards considerations, what companies might use during tender prospectives, what job hunters might use to decide if you’re the right fit, or what agents might use to decide if you’re offering something valuable enough to invest their time and effort in.
So what counts as social proof?
Examples of social proof include:
Importantly social proof has to be visible. If it’s not visible, it can’t be considered to be social proof. It doesn’t matter if you have 150k people on your mailing list, if that figure isn’t visible, it’s not proving anything.
Quality vs quantity
If, for example, you have 2 million followers on Instagram but 90% of the comments on your posts are negative, all you’re proving is that people love to hate you.
Whereas if you have 4,000 followers, and one of them happens to be, say, David Attenborough who tags you in a post, you can be sure that your social value will increase exponentially, because of the quality of your association. You’ll gain respect, you’ll gain followers.
We see this in the celebrity world all the time with Z-list stars vying for the company of A-listers in a bid towards a meteoric rise in fame. It matters who you are associated with, because it says something about your brand.
Influencers are often used as partners in a bid to raise the credentials of brands for that very reason.
How you engage matters
Social proof is like a seesaw – it can help you rise or it can help you fall. It’s important to engage successfully with your audience to ensure you’re listening to them and giving them what they want.
Are you showing up in the platforms you’re in? If not, ditch them or invest in them. Don’t leave commenters hanging, respond to complaints thoughtfully and compassionately and be human. Even when there is negative feedback, responding positively and appropriately is proof of your maturity, professionalism and responsiveness, which can turn those frowns upside down.
Moreover, positive engagement can create buzz in itself. When brands engage with wit and wisdom it can have a great impact.
So social media can show you to be every bit of the brand your following wants you to be, but what happens when they’re on your website?
How to demonstrate social proof on your website
Social media is only part of the digital eco-system. Your website is another. There’s no point in killing it on your socials if your website doesn’t reflect the same level of social proof.
The first and most basic thing to do to ensure you’re weaving together the whole social proof picture is to make your social media links available and visible on your website. You can also embed social media feeds that show your engagement and your following.
Social proof isn’t just about social media. It’s also about the endorsements that you receive. Have people said nice things about you? Share them in the form of testimonials. Video testimonials are gaining in popularity because, without deepfake technology or some impressive acting, they can’t be made up and they also show the kind of people who are associating themselves with you.
External review sites are sometimes considered more trustworthy than reviews on your own site, so consider embedding your Trustpilot score and reviews from external sites.
Got qualifications from recognised accreditation organisations? Or partnerships with big brands that are recognised and trusted? Or worked with some impressive organisations? Share your affiliations on your website by adding their logos, talking about them in your blog and/or adding case studies.
Consistency is important. Talk the same language across the whole digital landscape or risk coming across as disingenuous. Ensure that what you’re sharing on your socials reflects what is on your website and that if you have something important to shout about, it appears across all areas. It can be frustrating reading about some great venture in a media article only to go to your website and find there’s no information on there. Make sure you join the dots.
Niki May Blane is founder of Big Bee Content – our ‘Queen Bee’.
She can most commonly be found buzzing around her computer, delivering virtual workshops, creating copious amounts of copy and drinking coffee to combat the ill effects of non-sleeping children.
Find out more about Niki
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