Social proof works, which is why companies use it in their marketing strategies. And that’s also why some people try to game it. From fake Amazon reviews to stretching-the-truth partnership details to out-of-context testimonials, it can be hard to know what social proof is authentic and which isn’t.
In this article, I discuss:
- What is social proof?
- The types of social proof a company can use
- The problems with social proof
- Inauthentic reviews
- Testimonials that are out of context
- Partnership details
- How to create social proof that works and is authentic
What is social proof
Social proof happens when others talk about your product and influence other people’s buying decisions. It’s a significant piece in driving credibility and sales.
Any company can use social proof, including new ones, according to the bestselling book “Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion.” Even new companies can show the trend of where things are going and what customers are hoping for and expecting in the future.
The types of social proof a company can use
There are several ways companies can get social proof. One is reviews, and – depending on the company – there may already be many. I know I leave unsolicited reviews of companies I’ve hired. Companies can use these reviews – through an embed, for example – on their website.
You can also ask customers to leave reviews directly on your website. For example, I use the Rich Reviews plugin for that.
Consider asking people for reviews after checking out or finishing a project with your company. Make it easy and ask them for the review where it’s best for your company. For example, for a company that does business locally, Google reviews might be most beneficial to help them rank for “nearby” searches.
Website testimonials are a fancier way of saying “a positive review.” Reviews can be left on many sites and places, while testimonials are handpicked and often driven by marketing with specific customers.
Sometimes companies may ask consumers to consider writing a testimonial for their website. It’s the same thing as asking for a positive review for the website.
Website testimonials most commonly come in the form of the written word and look something like this:
“I used xyz to update my team’s workflow and love their customer service, their product is super easy to use and I love that it works on all my devices.”
- Christoph Trappe, <title and company>, customer since <year> (if it’s been a while)
Video testimonials are just the customer or several customers sharing what they love about working with the company. I love video testimonials because you can see the person, read their body language, and know the quote is them talking. Videos can be edited, and there certainly are in the case of a montage of customer testimonials. But, videos show what a person most definitely said. Anyone could have drafted a written quote.
Short-form audio is emerging, so it’s time to consider audio testimonials. These could even be taken off existing video clips. But why not ask customers to record a quick audio testimonial?
Read next: Audio branding for companies
Listing all the logos of companies that have worked with you is a great and visual way to communicate social proof quickly. Especially if the companies are well-known and recognizable. There’s the power behind looking at a host of companies that have chosen to work with somebody.
You can also play back what you hear from customers overall:
- 9 out of 10 customers love this feature…
- Many customers have said…
The problem with some of this verbiage is that people might question its validity. Just think of Instagram influencers that “pop on” and say, “Everyone is asking me about… so I want to explain.” Indeed, not EVERYONE is asking, which brings me to problems with social proof that companies run into.
The problems with social proof
But there are also problems with the concept that companies must be aware of and try to avoid. For one, proof of how great we are must be believable and real.
And it doesn’t help that some companies are pushing fake reviews. For example, an entire industry reaches out to online influencers and asks them to “review” their product after they send them a “free” product.
Of course, those reviews lead to positive reviews, but are they authentic?
Other times, testimonials might be out of context. For example, let’s say a company got a testimonial for how great they were working on their content strategy. But now, they no longer offer content strategy but have pivoted to podcast production. So that testimonial can now be out of context. Maybe that company was good at content strategy but can’t produce or distribute a podcast to save their lives.
The logos of customers are great but can also be slightly misleading. There’s a difference between having one 30-minute consulting call with a company or working with them for two years straight, for example. Of course, those are details that can’t and shouldn’t be discussed in a sea of logos, but think about whose logo should be included and whose is a stretch.
How to create social proof that works and is authentic
It does start with making it easy for customers to submit the social proof you need. Ask them to submit a review/testimonial after interacting with you. Offer different ways to leave feedback – written, video, and audio.
From there, thank them and when you use their feedback, make sure it’s within the context and given the right amount of weight in your messaging.