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02/26/14

How to Use Social Proof for Massive Conversion Increases

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As a marketing tactic, social proof is when a company prominently features praise for their product or service from people that their target audience identifies with.  There are two ways you can make the audience “identify” with the featured person.  The first is by choosing someone that the audience will see as their peer.  The second is by choosing someone the audience aspires to be like.  But whichever option you decide to pursue, social proof is a highly effective tactic for increasing conversion rates for your business.

Here is why social proof works so well:  when human beings are unsure how to behave, particularly in situations that are new to them, most often we will decide how to act by observing other people and then following their leads.  And when you think about how much uncertainty and anxiety people often feel when they are making a purchase, it’s no wonder social proof is such an effective tactic.

Before we make a purchase, we worry about the possibility of a better price somewhere else; that we’re picking the wrong brand for the type of product we’re purchasing; that we’re paying too much for the deluxe edition when the standard would do just fine, or that the standard edition is poorly made and we should spend more for the deluxe version; or any number of other concerns.  And the bigger the purchase, the higher the pressure (and therefore the more social proof your company should consider using).

The nuance to using social proof is that we are far more likely to emulate someone we see as a peer or a role model than someone we see as having an identity dramatically different from our own.  This is why choosing examples for your testimonial that your target audience will see as either similar to them or as someone they look up to is so important.  If you feature a person your audience does not relate to, the chances of your prospects wanting to emulating them (and therefore buying from you) fall dramatically.

Testimonials are the most common form of social proof that use peers of the target audience, while getting a “celebrity” endorsement or spokesperson is the most common way to use people the target audience sees as a role model as social proof.  The word “celebrity” appears in quotes because you don’t need to hire a Hollywood actor, only someone whom your prospects will recognize and whom they aspire to be like.

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Here are some tips for using each type:

Testimonials

The key for creating successful testimonials is making sure that the people you use appear to the target audience as their peers.  While superficial elements like age, gender, race, and geographic location are certainly important, the tone of the testimonial also needs to resonate with the target audience.

You need your testimonials to use the same key words and phrases that your target audience would use to describe their problems (which your company has successfully solved in the testimonial).  When one of your prospects looks at your testimonials, they should see images of people that would fit in their closest group of friends, and read a description of how your company solved their problems that matches how the prospect describes their own problems in their minds.  When you can achieve this kind of alignment between your audience and your testimonials, it will make your prospects feel that your product or service is designed specifically for them, which will ultimately close more sales for your business.

“Celebrity” Endorsements

To reiterate, “celebrity” endorsements do not need to be given by people who are constantly followed around by paparazzi.  And sometimes you don’t even have to pay for them.  All you need is for someone whom your audience aspires to be like to say something positive about your product or service.

The most obvious route is to pay someone to become your spokesperson in advertisements or on your website, which can work extremely well if you have the budget.  However you can get the same effect for free using social media with a little effort and some luck.

Start by researching the people whom your prospects admire, and then identify the ones that aren’t well known outside of your particular niche.  If your company is fortunate enough to be in a position where people your audience looks up to are already giving you positive feedback, all you need to do is follow them on social media and when they give you a good review save a copy to share on your site.  However if, like most companies, you don’t have the “celebrities” of your niche posting about you, what you can do is pitch them to try your product and leave a positive mention on social media if they like it.  This could be as simple as a tweet giving your company a metaphorical thumbs-up or a picture on Instagram of them using your product or service.  If you have a physical location like a restaurant or event space, check-ins on Foursquare would also work.

While this isn’t a guaranteed strategy, if you pick the right “celebrities” and come up with a strong pitch, with a little bit of luck you’ll get your prospect’s role models to endorse your company and your prospects will follow suit by buying from you, too!

How can your company leverage social proof to improve its conversion rates? Let us know in the comments!