How to use Social Proof Influence in Marketing and Sales

in Content Marketing

The basic premise of Social Proof is that people are influenced to do something by what other people are doing. Take a simple example of a tip jar in a coffee shop – if it’s empty, most people won’t leave a tip. But, if the store clerk seeds the jar with several $1 bills, then people see that others are tipping at least $1 and will be influenced to do so themselves.

Robert B. Cialdini has researched and studied the psychology of influence for many years. In his seminal book, Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion Cialdini defines the 6 “Weapons of Influence” as:

  • Reciprocation – give something to get something.
  • Commitment and Consistency – people tend to honor commitments.
  • Social Proof – people are influenced by what others do.
  • Liking – people are more easily persuaded by someone they like.
  • Authority – people are inclined to obey an authority.
  • Scarcity – the perception of scarcity fuels demand.

An example of Social Proof in action is an experiment Cialdini did with hotel bathroom towels. We’ve all seen the cards placed in hotel bathrooms about the environmental benefits of reusing your towels. Research showed that about 40% of guests reused their towels at least once. Cialdini tested Social Proof influence by changing the message on the cards to ‘The majority of guests who stay in our hotel reuse their towels’. An additional 26% of guests reused towels in response to the revised message.

Marketing and Sales are fundamentally about influence – using marketing to influence people to look at and consider your company/product/service/solution, and then using sales to influence them to buy. Social Proof is a powerful influencer – if people see that others like them are doing it, there’s powerful influence for them to do it too. Two key elements for Social Proof to work are that many others are doing it and that they’re similar to whom you want to influence. The towel experiment communicated this by using ‘majority’ (many) and ‘guests’ (similarity).

The most common use of Social Proof in marketing are testimonials from other customers. Although customer testimonials are good Social Proof influencers, widespread and indiscriminate use in Internet marketing diminishes the influence. There are also such incredulous claims made by some Internet marketers to raise suspicion about the authenticity of their customer testimonials.

How to use this information to benefit your business

  • Social Proof is a powerful influencer to use in your marketing and sales programs.
  • Use appropriate Social Proofs depending on who you want to influence – ensure that there is appropriate similarity and credibility in the proof provided.
  • Consider variations of customer testimonials such as interviews, videos, podcasts, case studies, virtual site visits, etc. to provide the Social Proof in a manner that is relevant and meaningful for your prospective buyers.
  • Consider other types of Social Proof besides customer testimonials that may be relevant for your business. Awards, affinity memberships, recommendations by respected authorities, professional certifications and social networking are some examples of other Social Proof you can use.
  • Don’t use Social Proof as a sledgehammer to slam out your message. This is about supporting information to influence and persuade buyers.

Copyright © 2009 Ingistics LLC and Marketance™

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