Social proof — difficult to wrangle but priceless when you’ve got it — is one of the more elusive aspects of any brand strategy.
Independent of a brand’s size or industry, gathering positive social proof is one of the most effective ways to grow your business. But that doesn’t mean it’s easy.
Social proof, or informational social influence, has been around as long as marketing. What was once shared via print ads in glossy magazines or newspapers has now transformed into digital reviews, social media posts, and promotional YouTube videos.
And though social proof doesn’t necessarily guarantee success, it definitely encourages brand growth through increased trust and loyalty signals.
So, how can a brand harness the power of social proof? Where do you need to start? This article will explore the aforementioned questions and more.
What is Social Proof, and Why Is It Important?
For decades, social proof was a peppy testimonial in a print ad or a celebrity endorsement on a radio show.
Take Marilyn Monroe and Chanel No. 5 — having notoriously stated that the perfume was the only thing she wore in bed during a 1952 interview with Life Magazine, the perfume’s sales subsequently skyrocketed.
Everyone wanted to smell like Marilyn — they trusted her taste and aspired to emulate her style.
Even as recently as 2015, 59% of the general population in the US still hold a positive opinion of the perfume. That is some truly impressive positive social proof, Marilyn!
In many ways, social proof has evolved alongside technology, and, today, is more often found in online reviews, recommendations, and endorsements.
From influencers’ social media posts to websites like Trustpilot, consumers are incredibly receptive to social proof and will go out of their way to find it — often before they even try a new brand.
And that’s not to say that social proof is always positive. In many ways, bad reviews or rescinded endorsements can have an even larger impact on your brand’s success.
Therefore, it’s incredibly important that you keep a close eye on what consumers are saying about your brand online. If you are receiving a good deal of negative feedback, make sure you address it publicly, remain polite at all times, and show proof that you’ve taken their feedback on board.
Who Cares About Social Proof?
According to a 2019 study by Trustpilot, 93% of global consumers read customer reviews in an effort to research an unfamiliar digital retailer before making a purchase. Another 34% ask friends if they’d recommend a brand and 27% check the brand’s social media channels.
What do these statistics tell us? Consumers know what they want — and they know where to find it.
Whether they’re reading reviews online, asking friends for opinions, or scrolling through a brand’s Instagram feed, they're doing their due diligence.
So, the real question is: What do you want them to find? The answer: Positive social proof.
Ideally, it’s naturally occurring and doesn’t need to be too heavily encouraged or incentivized. But, as long as the proof is there, potential customers will take it into consideration.
That being said, it’s in your best interest to generate as much positive social proof as you can. So how do you go about doing that?
How Can I Generate Positive Social Proof For My Brand?
To be fair, this question doesn’t have a universal answer. What counts as effective positive social proof is highly dependent on your industry and product.
For example, a new vegan hair care line that focuses on environmental sustainability and social justice would be a great fit for Influencer campaigns on Instagram and YouTube.
With the ability to reach millions of potential consumers — which fit neatly into their target audience — this new brand could leverage the power of social proof through their chosen Influencers.
They could also team up with well-known environmental and social justice organizations, which would allow them to add their partners’ logos to their own website, lending them credibility — social proof of another (but just as important) flavor.
On the other hand, a new, breakout science fiction author would need to rely heavily on positive reviews on a platform like Goodreads or Amazon. In July 2019 alone, there were just over 90 million reviews written by users on the Goodreads platform — and those numbers have been trending positive for years.
While a social media influencer promoting their book might be helpful, user-generated reviews still reign supreme.
They could also gather reviews from other prominent authors, aka expert testimonials. After all, people are more likely to use a product recommended to them by someone they trust.
Essentially, what counts as positive social proof differs depending on your industry, product, and service. But one thing remains constant — if you want to encourage a positive buzz on the internet, deliver a top-notch experience.
Nothing attracts consumers to a brand more than high-quality products and services, amazing customer service, and an overall consistently positive brand experience.
Who’s Done Social Proof Right?
While we can’t provide the exact answer you may need when it comes to generating social proof for your brand, we can take a look at a few companies that have excelled in their own industry.
1. Canva: Leveraging Happy Customers
Back in the early 2010s when the easy-to-use design tool Canva was starting out, they made the conscious decision to rely heavily on social proof. Instead of rolling out thousands of paid ads extolling their tool’s virtues, they looked to their users to do it for them.
And, oh, did they! Early adopters were chomping at the bit to share just how amazing the tool was with the rest of the internet. From joyous tweets to word of mouth, early Canva users were sharing their experience with the tool left and right.
This social currency Canva created allowed them to gain credibility and build an impressively loyal customer base. It also got the attention of big-time publications like TechCrunch and Forbes — which spread the word of their do-it-yourself graphic design tool even further.
But how did Canva do it? While most of their social proof was earned based on the excellence of their product, they also consciously worked with social influencers to get the word out. By hiring Guy Kawasaki as their “Cheif Evangelist”, they were able to leverage his influence and credibility.
Consequently, he provided the most powerful social proof available — the willing and enthusiastic support of a highly respected pillar of their industry.
2. Peloton: Making Smart Connections
While social proof often comes from consumers themselves, it can also come from other powerful brands.
In an effort to gain the trust and confidence of potential customers, Peloton worked with established brands such as Forbes, Good Housekeeping, and Best Health to promote their products.
By gathering endorsements from such big names, they were able to prove to consumers that they were part of an exclusive club of well-known and respected brands. Ergo, some of the big-name brands’ influence was passed to Peloton.
Partnering with more established brands is a great way to increase your brand’s positive social proof. Just keep in mind that these collaborations often involve some fees — meaning it may be a pretty expensive way to garner attention.
3. Netflix: Playing into Psychology
Though it may seem somewhat basic, Netflix uses social proof in a very intuitive, psychological way.
Not only do they arrange each users’ homepage according to their individual history and likes, but from “Popular on Netflix” to “Recommended on TV”, Netflix is also constantly showing users which movies and shows their peers have enjoyed.
After all, if everyone is watching something, it has to be good, right? (Wrong.) Still, knowing other people are interested in a product or service increases our own interest — we’re just wired that way.
Furthermore, Netflix allows users to share content to numerous other social platforms, from Instagram Stories to Snapchat to Messenger — making peer recommendations an easy and straightforward process.
In this day and age, the power of online reviews cannot be overstated. As of 2021, 31% of online shoppers reported reading 4-6 reviews before making a purchase decision. The same approach applies to something like Netflix — people read reviews online and rely on the opinions of others before they make decisions.
This is the power of social proof.
Social proof comes in many forms — online reviews, peer recommendations, trusted logos in website footers, and more.
Understanding what will work best for your brand is up to you. But you’ll need to consider your resources, marketing goals, and overall brand strategy to come up with the right approach.
Before you nail down your social proof strategy, take a look at some of our previous articles on how to increase brand engagement on social media and how to use negative comments on social media to your brand’s advantage — as both topics will help you further your positive social proof plans.