For reasons that are wholly regrettable, 2020 looks set to permanently alter the way the world does business. Covid-19 has impacted our lives in ways none of us could have imagined, plunging an estimated 4 billion people worldwide into some form of lockdown.
The result of which was and is a dramatic increase in global web traffic, brought about by an overnight shift in consumer behaviour. Global Internet traffic in April was up by an estimated 30% compared to March, with similar or greater increases predicted for the months to come.
Long story short – more consumers than at any point in history are setting their sights on digital channels. From buying products to procuring services to hiring consultants and so on, we’re doing more business online than we’ve ever done before.
For the time being, people are generally being cautious with their cash and sitting tightly on their wallets where possible. Give things a few more weeks and a wave of pent-up frustration is expected to be released across the UK, as we get back to business and spending patterns resume.
The good news is the near-universal prediction that the UK economy will return to strength pretty quickly. The bad news being that anyone running an online business needs to be well prepared for post-Covid-19 competition.
Whatever kind of online business you run, it’s entirely likely you’ll be facing unprecedented competition in the wake of the Covid-19 crisis.
For one thing, your competitors that were already in business prior to lockdown will undoubtedly be upping their efforts to do more business online. Additionally, you can expect a wave of new business start-ups looking to take advantage of digital’s newfound popularity.
The Power of Social Proof
All of the above will inevitably result in the most enormous wave of digital marketing efforts ever to be fired the way of the general public. Most of which will fall on deaf ears, given our growing tendency as a society to discard and dismiss all conventional marketing messages.
Increasingly, social proof is emerging as the marketing tool of the 21st century. Something that’s likely to further intensify in the post-lockdown era, when people are more sceptical and selective than ever before as to who they do business with.
Social proof goes beyond all conventional approaches to marketing by proving your value and worth to your target audience. Rather than attempting to convince them of your credibility in your own words, social proof – aka social signals – does it for you.
It’s worth remembering that in the days before Covid-19 was even discovered, evidence showed that around seven out of 10 shoppers were already using customer reviews to guide their purchases. Even more remarkably, real-life customer reviews and recommendations were found to be 1,200% more powerful and influential than a conventional marketing message direct from a brand.
Social proof like this was powerful in the past – its role in the future of all digital marketing efforts will prove even more critical.
Where Does Social Proof Come From?
Absolutely anything that speaks volumes about your products, your services or your brand that comes from outside your business is a form of social proof. When anyone or anything sings your praises on your behalf, it’s exponentially more impactful than anything you say yourself.
Social proof can come from a variety of sources, though is at its most influential when it is 100% unbiased and provided without payment. Hence, customer reviews and recommendations are considered the ultimate form of social proof, though celebrity endorsements and expert reviews can also be useful.
Contrary to popular belief, incentivising third parties to review your products or services isn’t a bad thing. It’s only frowned upon if you attempt to sway their opinions by buying their favour, rather than having them voice their impartial opinions.
It’s also worth remembering that negative feedback can be just as valuable as approval, as it gives you the opportunity to address your shortcomings and improve as a business.
Seven Sources of Social Proof to Prioritise
Looking ahead, the best way to look at things is from a perspective where each and every individual who visit your website is sceptical. If not, downright suspicious about your business in general. Rather than expecting them to trust you or take your word at face value, it’s your job to give them a reason to trust you and to prove your worth.
Social proof exists in a variety of forms, which can help build trust in your target audience before, during and after their interaction with your business. Some forms of social proof are more influential than others, though the key to leveraging the power of social signals lies in combining as many different types as possible into your marketing strategy.
That being a key point to remember – social proof should, if anything, form the very basis of your marketing strategy for the foreseeable future at least.
Here’s a brief overview of the seven most important sources of social proof you should be prioritising right now:
1. Customer reviews and testimonials
Right off the bat, absolutely nothing has more power or influence than genuine customer reviews. Whoever you are and whatever you’re looking for, you’re instinctively pre-programmed to listen to and heed the advice of your fellow shoppers.
This is why taking a passive approach to the collection and publishing of customer reviews and testimonials is a fundamentally catastrophic error. You should be doing anything and everything you can to encourage feedback from customers, displaying it as prominently as you can in all the right places.
Collecting Google My Business reviews in particular can be useful, helping you climb the rankings as part of your wider SEO efforts.
2. Facts, figures and statistics
Technically an exception to the rule, the facts and figures you publish on your website (and elsewhere) come direct from you. Nevertheless, there’s nothing more reassuring than seeing how popular and downright fantastic a business is by way of a few impressive statistics.
175,000 satisfied customers to date, 1.3 million app downloads, £5 million in collective savings for your customers, 99% of deliveries received within 48 hours – all the kinds of things that never fail to win over selective audiences.
Just be sure to keep things honest and avoid fabrication or exaggeration, which could land you in trouble if you’re ever asked to verify your claims to fame.
3. Brand associations
Likewise, you cannot simply claim to be associated or affiliated with other brands you’re not really connected with. Nor can you draw attention to a brand association of any kind without first seeking the permission of the third party in question.
That said, logos and brand names in prominent positions on your website can be the ultimate ‘badges of honour’ for your business. The more brand associations you can claim (honestly) and the higher-profile the associated brands are, the more likely you are to be viewed as credible and worth checking out.
Even if your association with any given third party has been relatively minimal, there’s no harm in asking if you can add their brand logo to your website for added impact. Chances are, they’ll probably be happy for the free backlink.
4. User generated content
As the name suggests, user generated content (UGC) refers to any kind of content created and submitted by your customers. UGC is most prominent on social media, where it’s become the norm for customers to share images and videos of themselves using the products and services they buy.
This is something that can and should be tied into your collection of customer reviews and testimonials. Rather than simply asking for a few words and a star rating, why not invite your customers to submit a video review, a recorded snippet or a simple photo of them doing their thing?
Again, incentivisation can help grease the wheels – just as long as you make it clear you want honest feedback. Something like a 20% discount voucher or some kind of freebie for all user generated content sent your way can be surprisingly effective.
5. Case studies
A case study is more like an expanded customer review, wherein you dig a little deeper into the benefits and applications of your products/services. Rather than simply showing how highly rated they are, you share stories on how they’ve in some way improved the lives of those using them.
Of course, case studies are only effective when a decent proportion of their content is user generated. It’s not really your place to preach about how fantastic and life-changing your products are – you need to get those using them to do so on your behalf.
Case studies aren’t always appropriate where simple products and services are sold, but can nonetheless be worth their weight in gold elsewhere.
6. Social signals on social media
Assuming you operate at least one social media presence, it’s worth dedicating some of your time to collecting and encouraging social signals. Social proof on social media exists in the form of Likes, Followers, Shares, Hearts, Plays, Favourites and so on – anything that paints a picture of quality and value in the eyes of other users.
The slight issue with social signals on social media being that there’s no shortcut to accumulating them. You can encourage your audience (or ask them outright) to Like you, Follow you and Share your posts, but they’re unlikely to do so unless you give them a reason to do so.
If you’re struggling to collect social signals on the platforms you use, it’s probably time you stepped up your social media game in general.
7. Collaborations with influencers
Nail it with an influencer collaboration and you’re golden. By contrast, pay an influencer to talk up something they’re clearly not interested in simply for the cash and the whole thing could backfire spectacularly.
It’s been proven time and time again that influencer recommendations can be up to 800% more powerful than traditional marketing messages. Though this only applies if the recommendation is legit, as opposed to purchased.
Investing in an influencer strategy comes highly recommended, but isn’t quite as easy as simply throwing money at famous faces and asking them to endorse your brand. They might do it, but there’s a good chance the whole thing will come across as artificial. Hence, it’s advisable to only ever approach those who are likely to take a genuine interest in your products, your services and your brand in general.
A Note of Caution on Spam Social Signals
The more difficult and time consuming it gets to collect social proof, the more tempting it becomes to seek short-cuts. Precisely why the market for fake social proof is booming, though should be avoided at all costs.
From Google My Business reviews to Facebook followers to YouTube Comments to LinkedIn Endorsements, you can buy pretty much anything you need these days for next to nothing. Unfortunately, given that the social signals you buy are synthetic, they’re likely to have the exact opposite of the intended effect.
Today’s web user is far too savvy and sophisticated to buy into 100% fabricated reviews and fake accolades from completely random sources. Speeding things along with spam social signals can be tempting, but almost always turns out to be a costly mistake.
Having factored in all of the above, now’s the time to take a step back and assess whether or not you’re using social proof effectively. Are you leveraging the impact and appeal of various types of social signals? Or are you still expecting your customers to take your word at face value?
As part of a broader marketing strategy, social proof can be powerful and influential on a level nothing else comes close to. Precisely why now’s the time to start taking social signals seriously, before your competitors beat you to the punch.