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Social Proof: Our Online Marketing Reality

Social proof lives on bookshelves, where a glimmering “O” sticker signifies certain novels as worthy of Oprah Winfrey’s approval. Social proof greets us on highways, as we whiz past “Over 247 Billion Served” signs attached to those famous golden arches. Social proof breeds in everyday conversation, as we make product or service recommendations to friends and family.

It’s “the positive influence created when someone finds out that others are doing something” (Lee, Tech Crunch), and it dominates Internet marketing as a cost-effective solution that works.

The web has obvious boundaries that make it impossible for retailers to recreate the brick-and-mortar experience online. Being unable to touch, taste, or trial products can deter people from having confidence in online shopping. Social proof strategies work to compromise those boundaries by giving users experiential knowledge to help them make decisions.

To illustrate what this looks like, let’s go over to Yelp, a consumer review website that millions of users flock to every month. You can browse by category to find reviews for local restaurants, real estate agents, pet groomers, plumbers, and other services. Today I’m going to scour reviews for Matchstick Coffee Roasters, a shop in Vancouver where my friend Jacob serves sweet caffeine beverages. What do I find?

Star-ratings, user profiles that promote legitimacy, and thoroughly honest reviews with “pro-tips”. Nice!

I could browse all thirty-nine to find some gossipy little tidbit about Jacob, but let’s get to the point: scanning these reviews could influence my actions in many ways. I could decide:

  1. Whether I wanted to make the trip out to Matchstick at all.
  2. What might be pleasant to order once I get there.
  3. When would be a great time to go; perhaps I want to avoid the mid-morning yoga mom rush?

And on and on: location specifics? Atmosphere? Price range? User reviews give you the details on places and services that would otherwise be discovered after you had invested the time to check it out for yourself.

Call it the Internet’s trump card.

With a great product or service to market online, you can integrate social proof strategies into your advertising budget. Talk is cheap; creating influence through user conversation doesn’t have to cost much. It gets expensive when you try to promote something that simply cannot catch on.

So what do your customers think about your produce or service today? Let web users spread the word. Testimonials are a great social proof strategy that can encourage customer conversation, and start with the clients that have experience with your product or service. We’ll chat more about effective testimonial pages next week.

We all want to showcase our businesses as exceptional. What will consumers talk about when they recommend your product or service?

Lee, Aileen. “Social Proof Is The New Marketing.” 27 November 2011.

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