5 Ways Social Proof Can Improve Your Marketing Strategy

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As much as marketing is a science, a majority of that science is derived from psychology and an in-depth examination of human behavior. We use certain colors in marketing materials to evoke positive (or negative) emotions. Keywords help drive sales. Just the right, catchy tune in a TV or radio advertisement can keep your brand on someone’s until they’re ready to convert. And quite often, consumers will make purchases in social situations based on what they think is culturally appropriate—a phenomenon known as social proof. Using social proof in marketing is a fairly high-level marketing strategy, but one that’s possible for any business to accomplish if done correctly.

WHAT IS SOCIAL PROOF?

Let’s face it: as individualistic as we are in American culture, we’re also very focused on “fitting in”, at least in terms of our immediate social groups. Every group has its own, often unspoken rules and behaviors that highly influence the actions of everyone else in the group. 

“Social proof” helps define how individuals respond to these perceived norms. Also known as the Informational Influence Social Theory, social proof is the idea that a person unfamiliar with a group’s norms will seek to imitate individuals already immersed in the group. In effect, people will copy what they see in order to avoid standing out from the group, and to appear singularly immersed in that group’s culture.

Psychology Notes HQ also defines a few key mechanisms for how Social Proof works:

  • Uncertainty: A primary trigger for social proof in which the individual feels unsure about how to interact with the new group and looks to others to emulate.

  • Similarity: As individuals immerse themselves into a group, they are likely to look to others who are similar to themselves. These individuals may be peers or perceived peers.

  • Expertise: If the individual sees the group as particularly knowledgeable about a subject the group area, this may be a strong driver and trigger for social proof to occur.

  • Number: When the group is large or numerous, the individual feels more justified or validated in mimicking its members.

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Much of social proof cycles back to some fairly basic principles of persuasion written about by Aristotle known as the Aristotelian Appeals: Ethos (authority), Pathos (emotion) and Logos (logic/facts). Combined, these can be used powerfully in marketing to help influence others to believe that your brand is authoritative, empathetic and attractive, and a factually good choice to consider.  

HOW TO USE SOCIAL PROOF IN MARKETING

Here are 5 interesting ways you can use social proof in marketing:

  1. Create viral or shareable content

  2. Use experts to promote products or services

  3. Encourage and incorporate user reviews into marketing (testimonials)

  4. Provide free samples or discounts

  5. Target often-ignored niches or subcultures

Let’s take a look at some real-life examples of these concepts in action.

1. SOCIAL PROOF THROUGH VIRAL CONTENT

Viral marketing can use any content—memes, videos, blogs, etc.—that gets shared around quickly and widely. Some brands are particularly good at creating viral content, and in fact, often curate their content to make it shareable. Brand awareness and sales can get a boost with content that gets shared through social media channels.

Cultural relevance is often an important equation for viral content, and many brands will play off of what’s already trending. 

For example, when the “blue and black / white and gold” dress was trending, several companies made a point to pick up the trend with quirky ads playing on that content:

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Your business doesn’t need to ride the coattails of already-viral content to create new variations of it for your business. However, viral content does have a certain DNA that’s often required to make it work effectively.

2. SOCIAL PROOF THROUGH EXPERTS

Adding authority to your ads is a great way to help cement the legitimacy of your product or service. This can be done in a few ways and doesn’t have to include using specific paid individuals. 

For example, many companies choose to cite available research as part of the ad campaign. Others include both. Take a look at this Sensodyne toothpaste ad as a primary good example:

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So what’s the point of using an expert and (if you look at the text near the bottom), a few “experts approve” mentions? To get ad viewers to feel they can trust the brand more and helping to validate your business to consumers. 

Verified research helps when it’s available, but you can use experts as spokespersons for a product, which is very common among large national brands.

3. SOCIAL PROOF THROUGH USER REVIEWS AND TESTIMONIALS

Consumers respond well to positive feedback from user reviews and testimonials, especially if those reviews are authentic. You can encourage previous customers to leave or send in positive feedback, and ask permission to use particularly good testimonials in your advertising or on your website. 

If you have a blog on your website, leave the comments section open. Some users may want to leave comments there, and others landing on your page may be encouraged by any positive feedback left there, as well. 

You will want to avoid trying to overly curate your reviews, however. Yes, some customers will leave negative reviews that can hurt your business. However, you can counteract negative reviews you when respond to them positively and visibly. Others we see how you interact with your critics, which can be good for your brand.

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Additionally, avoid trying to pay for positive reviews. This kind of activity can make your business appear inauthentic, which tends to have a negative impact.
(Check out this testimonial page from ChowNow for a good example of how a company uses both text and video testimonials.)

4. SOCIAL PROOF THROUGH PRODUCT PROMOTIONS

Everyone loves free stuff, and there’s hardly a better way to advertise your product to different groups than through offering free products. Note that this is, of course, a marketing expense. But it may be hard to convince others to try your products or services until they’ve tried them first. 

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Customers are more likely to feel endeared to a business that offers an initial service or product for free. They’re also more likely to recommend that product or service to others. 

Grocery stores are some of the biggest users of this advertising method. Major brands like Costco, Whole Foods, Sam’s Club, Publix—these stores thrive on free product samples, and so do their customers. And according to multiple studies, free samples and products can dramatically increase sales especially for products or services that are best understood through the more intimate senses (touch, taste, smell). 

5. SOCIAL PROOF THROUGH TARGETING SUBCULTURES

Marketers often make the mistake of only targeting general audiences. It’s a safe way to advertise, but it can at times be more effective to target subcultures and niches that rarely appear in advertisements. Such advertising can help your business engage with individuals who may commonly ignore your company. 

Take at this Facebook ad from fast food chain Arby’s:

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Not sure what this is? That’s ok, and that’s sort of the point. In this ad, Arby’s is specifically targeting the niche sport known as disc golf. The sport is highly organized, and there are thousands of courses worldwide, but few people outside of the disc golf community know it exists. By posting a simple ad that seamlessly (and wordlessly) acknowledges the subculture’s existence, Arby’s was able to get a good number of positive impressions. 

As you might expect, going beyond the general and focusing on niche groups can be tricky. You have to be genuine, so coming across as inauthentic or worse, condescending, can have the exact opposite reaction you might hope for. Before targeting any subculture, seek out those who are part of that group first to advise you on your advertising.

HOW TO LEARN MORE ABOUT SOCIAL PROOF IN MARKETING

Social proof in marketing is one of the most common advertising methods, even when it’s not used intentionally. However, most successful advertising is calculated and intentional, not accidental. You can create your marketing materials and ad campaigns in house, but you may need a skilled hand to get the best results, especially when you launch those ads through social media. 
If you need professional assistance incorporating social proof marketing into your ad campaigns, contact Madison Ave Media for a complimentary consultation.