As we go about our lives each day, we’re constantly making choices.
These choices vary between conscious decisions and unconscious decisions. Research goes so far to suggest we make up to 35,000 individual choices every day. That’s roughly 2000 decisions an hour, or 1 every two seconds.
The reason we can manage this without our brains melting into sludge is because the majority of choices we make are unconscious – they just happen.
Making decisions unconsciously saves our brains a lot of energy, but the trade off is that we’re often unaware of the influences and motivations that lie behind them.
In the marketing industry, it’s very important to understand not only the conscious triggers that motivate people’s decisions, but the unconscious triggers as well.
It’s here in this grey area of marketing psychology that the concept of social proof resides.
A powerful concept when used effectively, social proof has the ability to transform marketing strategies and have a profound impact on business endeavours. But what is it, and how does it work?
Imagine two coffee shops, side by side on a busy street. As they enter your view, you notice the customers waiting around. One of the shops has no line, and only a few people milling around inside. The other is full of vibrant energy, with a bustling queue stretching right around the corner.
If you just so happened to be in the mood for a cappuccino, which shop do you think you’d drop into?
Almost immediately, whether conscious or not, you’ve made a mental decision to note that the busy coffee shop must be better.
All of us, no matter how wholeheartedly we believe ourselves autonomous individuals, fall into these traps, often without ever realising.
But why? Having never actually been to either cafe, how are you able to make such a definite decision?
The long answer is complicated – the short answer is social proof.
Social proof is a psychological phenomenon, based on the idea that the decisions we make are heavily influenced by the decisions & actions of others.
It bears many similarities to peer pressure, but differs in the fact that no actual ‘pressure’ is applied – it’s all inside our own heads.
Whether you like it or not, seeing the decisions of other people often makes us call our own behaviour into question.
A human desire to conform is backed heavily by science, with research going back as far as the mid-20th century. The findings are clear – whether you like it or not, seeing the decisions of other people often makes us call our own behaviour into question.
As human beings, we’re hardwired to fit in. We’ve evolved to do what others are doing, because that helped our ancestors ensure their survival. Despite adapting to an entirely new way of living in the 21st century, that evolutionary desire to fit in hasn’t changed.
This idea that the actions of the majority can dictate the actions of the individual can be a powerful tool for marketers. So how can you leverage it, and what exactly can it do for you?
Think back to the coffee shop analogy. The same idea – ‘busy must mean popular must mean good’ – has numerous applications in marketing.
Consider social media, one of the most popular mediums for modern marketing. In the current age of mindless infinite scrolling, social proof dictates that a post overflowing with reactions, likes, comments & shares will attract mountains more attention than one with no engagement at all.
Upon realising that so many other people consider this post worthy of their time, we immediately think that it must be worth ours as well, regardless if we’re interested in what they’re advertising.
The same logic applies to eCommerce. When looking to purchase something online, the majority of us will look to user reviews as part of our research, to see if other people were satisfied with their purchase.
If other people liked it, then we probably will too.
While the power of social proof stretches to areas far beyond our control, it’s important to understand where we can actually leverage this idea to our advantage.
When utilising social proof in your marketing efforts, your goal will always be the same – to convince people they should be interested in your offers, by showing them that other people are.
In knowing this, what are some of the ways you can use social proof in your campaigns?
As previously discussed, generating good levels of engagement on social media can provide a significant boon to your marketing efforts.
Striving to improve the number of followers on your pages can help create a greater sense of authority for your brand, and pivoting to a strategy with a greater focus on engagement can go a long way for customer retention.
Most social media platforms struggle with an overload of paid content, so identifying what can help you stand out is very important.
Above all else, strive to create content that people actually want to engage with.
Consider your audience and what they might find interesting, funny or engaging. Test different styles, find a brand voice that appeals to people, and continue posting content with the intention of standing out in a sea of overwhelming content.
Don’t be another business, be a personality. Inform, interest and engage. Don’t just try and sell, be memorable.
Strive for engagement to boost your credibility, and the benefits will pay for themselves.
Delivering great service to your customers should always be priority number one. Strive for 100% satisfaction, and you won’t have to worry about negative reviews or discussion dragging your name through the dirt.
Positive reviews are one of the most important forms of social proof any business can strive for, but they’re largely out of our control.
So what’s the best way to get good reviews, other than providing great service? Simple – ask for them!
Ask your customers to rate their satisfaction, leave a review or post a testimonial. Send out emails to your database asking for feedback, put the best ones on your site – whatever you do, don’t just sit around hoping they’ll appear. Ask, and you shall receive.
One of the most effective ways to get your products in front of people is by placing them in the hands of others.
Whether it be a tangible product, durable good or a valuable service, people will always trust the word of a friend, colleague or acquaintance more than they will a business.
This is why user generated content – of any kind, on any platform – is so valuable.
How do you go about acquiring UGC? One of the best methods is to ask for it, simple as that. From there, you can get as creative as you like.
Encourage customers to post a photo using a specific hashtag, ask for before & after photos, host a competition for people to share their images or videos in – the possibilities are endless.
When we see those around us enjoying something, we want to know what it is, where it came from, where they got it. Now, thanks to the interconnectedness of the internet, it’s easier than ever for people to flout their latest acquisitions on social media.
Once acquired, this content can be repurposed in any way you like. Don’t hesitate to ask – that’s usually all it takes.
While it’s always great to have customers raving about your business, there are few things more powerful than having the same done by someone in a position of influence.
In today’s highly streamlined, interconnected digital world, that usually means influencers.
Influencer marketing is one of the most lucrative branches of digital marketing to emerge in the 21st century, and for good reason.
People follow an online personality for a variety of reasons, but usually it’s because we enjoy their content, recommendations, or feel a personal connection to the individual.
This creates a powerful connection for marketers, by which we can leverage third party influence to get our products in front of potential customers, with a shiny tick of approval stamped on the front.
Influencers on platforms like Instagram can be a powerful tool when used properly, allowing you to get your brand in front of a whole new audience, generate discussion and strengthen your reputation.
When seeking endorsements from online personalities, always have your target audience in mind. Is there any point advertising via an influencer with a predominantly young, female audience if your product is more popular amongst middle aged men?
Finding the right fit is key, so don’t jump at everyone you set eyes on. Take the time to find someone who’s right for you, fits your budget, and will deliver a message to the right kind of audience.
As you can now tell, there’s no shortage of ways to incorporate social proof into your digital marketing strategy.
You’re only limited by the scope of your creativity, so get brainstorming, think outside the box, and find out what seems to work best of all.
Above all else – test. Too many businesses grow comfortable with things as they are, oblivious to the opportunities that would await them if they were willing to step outside their comfort zone.
When harnessed effectively, social proof is a powerful tool. The only thing left to do now is get started.