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Leverage the Power of Social Proof to Increase Conversions July 11, 2014

The principle of social proof is wired deep into the core of the human brain. It’s impossible to dispute the fact that one of the primary ways we decide what is “correct” is by examining what other people like us think is “correct.” In particular, we are most vulnerable to the influence of social proof when a situation is new, unfamiliar, or uncertain to us — like just before we make a new purchase!

Think about the conflicting emotions that we feel before we spend money. We’re excited by the promise of what our new acquisition will help us do, but worried that it won’t live up to the hype. We’re worried that we’re going to choose the wrong brand or model for this particular item, but we know that we need it so we have to choose one. We’re worried if we could get the same performance from a cheaper model, or if we should splurge for the deluxe model because it will be the most durable and high quality even though it costs more. Talk about uncertain!

This is why social proof is such an effective sales tool, especially online where con artists and scams are rampant making it difficult for legitimate companies like yours to gain a prospect’s trust. Here are three examples of how to use social proof to help your company increase sales and conversions:

1. Testimonials are probably the most familiar form of social proof, and they’re pretty straightforward to execute. All you have to do is collect customer feedback and then post it on your sales page. Showing a picture can help make the testimonials seem more legitimate, since there’s a face attached to the name that the quote comes from. Even though it’s just as easy for dishonest businesses to add a fake picture to a made-up testimonial, because we’re social creatures when we see a face along with the testimonial it feels more legitimate.

Another way to make your testimonials seem more realistic is to include some that are not completely positive, but that have minor criticisms thrown in. This makes it seem like you are providing a more balanced viewpoint of the product.

Finally, if you’re in a B2B environment or just starting out and looking for your first testimonials, there is nothing wrong with asking your customers or clients if they would mind approving a testimonial for your company that you will write. Your clients are probably extremely busy — that’s part of the reason they hired you! — so asking them to take time out of their day to do you a favor is a recipe for being put off. But if you write the testimonial for them, all they have to do is say “yes” or provide some tweaks to the language. This is a lot quicker for them, which means it’s far more likely they’ll go along with it.

2. Referrals are another form a social proof, because they come from someone the prospect trusts and therefore imply you and your business are also trustworthy. Most business owners and salespeople are familiar with the idea of asking their existing customers for a list of other people or organizations who might also benefit from what your company has to offer. There’s another way to obtain referrals that can be even more helpful though. Instead of asking existing customers, you can salvage a failed sales pitch by getting referrals.

If you are meeting with a prospect and they turn down your sales proposal, perform the reject-then-retreat technique and follow up by saying “I understand you’re not able to commit to purchasing our excellent product at this time, but perhaps you could help me by giving me the names of other people (or businesses) who would benefit from our offering.”

Since you or your company spent time and possibly money securing this sales lead, simply letting it die is a waste. If you are able to get them to give you some referrals, you will still extract value from that contact, and then when you reach out to those referrals you can say that the failed prospect “recommended I reach out to you.” Simply mentioning the name of a mutual connection can sometimes be all it takes to close the sale.

3. Notable Press Mentions are another form of social proof. Including quotes from major publications lends credibility to your business, since those journalistic institutions are viewed by the public as unbiased, thorough, and trustworthy. Even if every press mention you got slammed your company, sometimes it can help just having familiar logos from notable outlets on your website along with the phrase “As seen on…” near them. Most people won’t bother to check what those outlets actually said, they’ll just see the trustworthy news source associated with your company and immediately have more faith in your products and services.

Game theory discusses how humans are influenced not only by an object they are exposed to, but also what they know about other people’s opinions of that object. So if we’re listening to a song for the first time, we won’t react only to the quality of the music, we will also react to what we know other people have already said about it. These opinions may not cause us like it necessarily, someone who lives in Williamsburg and wears skinny jeans probably wouldn’t react positively to a song they know is a top-ten single, but it doesn’t change the fact that knowledge of what other people think has an impact on our decisions.

This brings up an important point about using social proof though. You need to make sure that your social proof comes from the right sources for your audience. If you were marketing a membership to a club for Republicans, having a positive testimonial from President Obama probably wouldn’t help your sales figures. If anything it would hurt them. But using an attack on the group from the president could definitely help! So remember, it’s not just the fact that a testimonial for your product or service has nice, positive words in it, it’s also about who is saying those words. A rave review from someone your prospects dislike will probably turn them off, whereas you might actually be able to spin criticism from a source that they despise to help your case.

Now that you see the value of using social proof to increase conversions, share your company’s best testimonial with us in the comments!

Nick Cuttonaro

Nicholas Cuttonaro is an Internet Marketing professional specializing in search engine optimization, lead generation, and online reputation management.

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