Insights Into the Powerful Influence of Social Proof

Social Proof

Social proof is a concept that is as old as time. It has just begun to gain traction amongst online marketers as it explains a lot about the success of some online ventures, and the failure of others.

To put it simply:

Social proof in a social media context is the theory that accounts that have high follower numbers are trusted and followed more often”

It can be used to build trust in a social media environment for your business.

Social proof marketing is not new but often forgotten.

Peer pressure

One of the earliest influences on human development is something we have all experienced…”peer pressure”. When one person within your group of peers pressures you into doing something, you’re not so likely to do it.

When many people within your peer group are pressuring you to do something, you’re much more likely to do it. This will escalate as more people join in.

The world of social media is, as you’d guess, much like the real world. In a social media context, social proof comes into play when web users see that a large number of people already follow, like, shared, or commented on a piece of content. The increased activity is seen as something desirable to join in on.

What video are you more likely to watch?

Another view of social proof is the idea that people will refer to the past actions of other when they’re unsure as to what they should do. When on YouTube, if someone isn’t sure they should comment on a video or not, a large number of comments will say to them “Yes, you definitely should.” No, or few, comments will say “No, not worth your time.”

The search below was for “social media advice,” who are you more likely to watch when you look to viewer numbers?

Social Proof Concepts: Put Your Proof Where Your Social Is 1

Let’s take a look at a more practical setting that we’re all familiar with… television. TV shows have been using social proof for decades.

Watch a sitcom with canned laughter, or laugh tracks, in the background. When you hear those people laughing you’re more prone to laugh as well, increasing your enjoyment of the show and the chance that you’ll watch it more often.

Examples of social proof

There are a number of excellent examples of social proof over on this blog. I’ll summarize them in point form so you can quickly expand your knowledge here before clicking over:

  • Facebook Sponsored stories rapidly increase exposure which leads to more likes, and even crossovers with other social platforms due to their recognition – even algorithms recognize social proof.
  • A key guest blog on a relevant website can increase sales better than an article in the New York Times, or a spot on CNN.
  • Klout is a successful social media tool that actually only measures your social proof.
  • Yelp’s entire designs is centered around social proof – higher star ratings and better comments are a result of customer reviews. You’re more likely to go when more people have given it a high rating – just like peer pressure.
  • Bloggers have been promoting their number of subscribers for years. More subscribers = more trustworthy.
  • Endorsements on your website from major news outlets is a HUGE social proof. If you’re blog says “appeared on CNN, ABC, PBS, The Washington Post” along the bottom, expect your social proof to increase dramatically.
  • Customer testimonials have been used in commercials for years. Some real, some fake – both are examples of social proof.

These are all more advanced forms of social proof. That most immediate one, and the one that people will see the most often and make the highest number of judgements on, is quite simply your follower numbers.

A low number of Twitter followers leads to few people taking you seriously. Few subscribers on YouTube leads to people thinking that your videos aren’t any good.

What aspects of social proof should you focus on for success?

We just spoke about your follower numbers as a key aspect of social proof, but what else do you need to think about?

Here are 5 points to consider:

1. Positive social proof is better than negative

Negative social proof is the type of bullying behavior that we all resent. To look at the most basic examples in the Twitter images below, which are you more likely to click on? You’ll never truly win people’s trust with negative social proof, just like those schoolyard bullies.

Social Proof Concepts: Put Your Proof Where Your Social Is 2

2. Money is less persuasive than social proof

A study in the Wall Street Journal showed that consumers were more likely to make decisions based on social proof than the potential of saving money.

In the study, “Your neighbors are already doing it,” was more persuasive than “you’ll save $54/month” when it came to influencing consumer behavior!

3. Use pictures to make your social proof real

Social media is the perfect platform for building social proof as it gives you a nearly limitless number of ways to attached pictures to your social proof. You can post photos with calls to action that breed comments that lead to social trust. You can take comments, with the author’s permission, and post them to your website along with their photo. You blog posts can be filled with images of success enjoyed by your products or services.

Check out this excellent tweet that shows a brand with a story to tell, and with a picture added for visual impact:

4. Your best social proof may be the stories you tell

Statistics are great for bored, sorry, board meetings, but they are hardly ever going to truly interest people on social media. A compelling story, from a customer with a positive experience, could be a positive social proof that increases engagement more than any other thing you do. People understand stories, people relate to stories, people are entertained by stories – statistics are work and are often ignored.

For bonus points, get one of your customers to shoot a video:

5. Influencers: The friendly online bullies

As discussed in the point form notes above, nothing quite equals the positivity of having a respected leader say something positive about your products or services. Their behavior is able to “bully” their users with their positive influence. They’re much more likely to trust  your product when someone they trust speaks of it positively.

Social media is an absolute dream for this type of social proof – no more paying celebrities for an expensive commercial, just cut right to the key influencers in your industry!

Social proof is more than an ego

Social proof is something as old as the human race itself, but social signals and social media have made it something tangible for modern marketers to use. Remember the next time you make a push to increase your followers that you’re not stroking your own ego, you’re trying to show the next person that finds your account that you are worth their time and trust.

Guest Author: Matthew Yeoman is the social media writer over on the Devumi Social Media Blog. You can find him there every Friday, and at least one other time during the week, writing about YouTube, Twitter, Google, SoundCloud, and Pinterest in an online marketing context.

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