What is Social Proof and Why Should I Care?

You’re always looking for quality shortcuts. Anyway and anything that can help you make a good decision (I don’t Need help making bad decisions…). The Internet has taught us all very well:

  • 80% of consumers search for a product or service online before purchasing it.
  • 70% read online reviews before making purchase decisions.
  • 68% of consumers begin their decision-making while searching for a keyword.
I know that I always begin my search for a purchase or more information about something that may result in a purchase (even something like the weather differences between the Oregon coast and the California coast….could result in a short vacation decision sometime…) by reading reviews and recommendations of many kinds. It’s a way of figuring out who to trust.  Unfortunately, we’ve all heard tales of the system being gamed: bogus reviews on Amazon, Expedia, or Yelp, Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest followers purchased, questionable endorsements on LinkedIn, and numerous “thumbs-up”s or “+1″s purchased or comped in some way.

What’s real and what isn’t?

I discussed customer reviews and testimonials in an earlier post, but the more general term of social proof covers a lot more area and includes some things that entail a greater understanding of network psychology and online behaviors. Fortunately, you don’t need to have a psychology degree to get a grasp of this, but some background is good.

First, social proof is not new. Early research goes back to 1935. A relatively academic definition of this is “a psychological phenomenon where people assume the actions of others in an attempt to reflect correct behavior for a given situation. This effect is prominent in ambiguous social situations where people are unable to determine the appropriate mode of behavior, and is driven by the assumption that surrounding people possess more knowledge about the situation.” (Wikipedia) The “correct behavior”, in the case of your prospects, is making the best purchase decision. The cues they take are numerous.

A recent post by Mark Schaefer (actually a presentation…the link to the slides is on the blog post) entitled 10 Ways to Drive More Social Proof goes into a number of approaches to enhance the kind of social proof that will impact your business effectively.

While not going over each one here, the ones that really jumped out at me are:

  • Promote content “As Seen On…” – While your company may not have a front page article on the New York Times or a mention on a top industry web site, you may have had a feature article in the regional news, a short story by a local news station (with a link to the video on their web site) or a number of pictures and mentions in conjunction with a trade show or event. These are all GREAT and you should not be keeping them secret.
  • Request endorsements – On LinkedIn, the endorsements are the skills that others “endorse”, while recommendations are the verbatims that customers and colleagues write for you. While endorsements are much easier for obtain (all your colleague needs to do is click a button), asking for a recommendation from a key business partner or valued and influential customer will have huge impact. They stay on your profile forever, and you can them promote the daylights out of them.
  • Collect Kudo Tweets – When people tweet compliments, save them as favorites. You can them link to them as a public record of recommendations. This is terrific validation and grows over time.
  • Publicize ClientsGivers gain. By displaying who you work with you establish further credibility. Display your clients’ and partners’ logos on your site to add additional visual impact to the proof.
Shallow social proof exists, for sure. While things like Facebook Likes or Twitter Followers can catch the eye of a casual visitor, the serious business prospect will go deeper and expect much more. Invest in the real thing and real business can take off!

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