A practical guide on social proof and how to use it to improve conversions

Believe it or not, everything you do in marketing (outbound, inbound, whatever — just name it) is intended to leave its mark on only one factor. In fact, marketing would be inevitably redundant if that golden factor could magically increase by itself.

The golden factor I’m talking about is “trust”.

You do your best to provide the best answer to your audience’s query on search engines to prove your knowledge, you design a professional-looking website or landing page to convey you’re as professional as you look, you choose your copy meticulously to make sure your message rings a bell in your audience’s mind and makes them like you. The list could go on but the reader’s digest version of it is that you’re doing anything you can to make your audience trust you. Social proof is only your conscious effort to increase your audience’s trust.

What’s social proof and why you should use it:

Social proof is the offspring of out innate desire to be socially accepted, also called normative social influence. Normative social influence creates the fear of being a social outcast, and it’s sometimes so strong that it propels us into conforming to the most ridiculous social norms. Check out this social experiment from Brain Games. 

Standing up with the sound of a beep seems the most awkward thing a person can do, yet once it’s a social norm, well . . . it’s becomes the right thing to do.

Social proof a form of social conformity where people look for others to decide what’s the right thing to do. As Wikipedia explains:

“Social proof is considered prominent in ambiguous social situations where people are unable to determine the appropriate mode of behavior, and is driven by the assumption that the surrounding people possess more knowledge about the current situation.”

Now according to this definition, social proof seems to be the ideal solution for converting your customers especially when they are doubtful and don’t know if you or the path you’re offering is the right choice.

Here are 4 social proof types and how you should use them to increase conversions:

Testimonials:

A few sentences from your previous clients complimenting and recommending you could do wonders. These sentences are the closest to word of mouth (which is the greatest and most reliable form of marketing) and if done right will probably have the same impact.

As a rule of thumb, make sure to use your testimonials in the most critical areas of your website such as landing pages and sales pages to help alleviate the entry barriers.

Jacob McMillen showcases a few of his clients’ testimonials in his content strategist page which is probably the most important page on his website.

There some points you should consider when featuring a testimonial:

  1. Use pictures of the people who give testimonials or get featured as case studies. One study shows that using a picture could increase people’s acceptance of a claim.
  2. Be more specific about the person giving the testimonial: Mention the person’s name, company, role, and if possible a link to their website or twitter handle. Testimonials from more popular people such as social media influencers have higher impact.
  3. Feature someone your visitors know well and can relate to: Testimonials and case studies work better when they come from brands or people that are well-known in your industry.
  4. Use Videos. It goes without saying that videos are often more believable and engaging than text.
  5. Avoid the general and be specific: A good testimonial or case study highlights a benefit, explains how the benefit solves a problem, and is specific in the achieved results.
  6. Link to off-site reviews: People know that you’re only featuring a handful of positive reviews on your website. If you link to the reviews on another website, chances are people will trust you more. Jonas Sickler’s post on how to remove bad Google reviews is a great help here.

It’s also a great idea to use your testimonials whenever you can in your sales copy as well (not just as an element on your website). I see this frequently in Ben Settle’s emails. Here’s one example (part of his email):

Don’t be afraid to ask for testimonials. If your clients don’t have time to write original testimonials, provide some guidelines for them, or send them some questions and ask them to use their own answers to write testimonials. Some people are even ok with approving your pre-written testimonials. Osifeedback is a great tools for collecting and managing testimonials.

Trust Icons

Those little icons of your previous clients could have special meaning for your new visitors. And the more famous the companies are, the bigger the impact would be.

Even some established companies use this method. These are the icons of some of the most famous companies that have used HubSpot as their CRM. Although HubSpot is almost known and trusted by everyone in digital marketing, they’re still using trust icons.

Trust icons are easier to recognize and ensure that your visitors will have a great first impression. In a study, I found that trust icons are second most popular social proof type among top business websites.

Numbers/data:

Numbers/data might not have the impact that testimonials and trust icons have, but still they are valuable. These impressive numbers are included on Moz’s homepage.

One great way to increase the impact of your numbers/data is using them in the context of testimonials or case studies. Talking about how you could get results for your clients and revealing the real numbers is always very interesting for your future clients.

A very interesting tool for showcasing the number of your sales and customers is UseProof. You can show the number of visits, sign ups, purchases, etc. in some notification boxes. They claim that their tool can increase your average conversion by %10.

Case studies:

It makes total sense that case studies should be considered the most effective social proof types you could use to increase your customers’ trust. As part of a successful content strategy, case studies are mostly used down the funnel for building trust between you and your doubtful customers. They also have the potential to make great lead magnets.

The reasons are obvious: for one thing, with case studies people have the option to envision the kind of results they can expect from you. They are more interested to see your theories in action than simply take them for granted. For another, case studies have the form narratives and are more enjoyable to read. They have characters (i.e. your customers), they involve some kind of plot (how your customers managed to overcome their obstacles), and they give your readers a great feeling at the end because all the tensions are resolved.

All in all, you can’t afford to miss case studies in your content strategy.

Joel Klettke’s case study on how he could increase HubSpot conversions by %100 is a great example of how a case study should be done. Although he published the case study on his client’s website (he wouldn’t have got a better exposure otherwise), it’s still a very strong proof on his copywriting skills. And he still has this case study pinned on his Twitter since 2017.

He goes deep into the nitty gritty details of his process and provides solid data to back his claims. Providing the how-to information gives you the feeling that his claims are real.

There are some points you should consider when writing a case study:

1- Be specific with the problem and your solution: what were the issues your customers were facing before using your product? How did they find you? What were they hoping to achieve when they used your products? These are the questions you need to answer in detail.

2- Gather enough data: specific data about your client’s before and after states would give more credibility to your case study.

3- Include quotes from your client: interview your client and tell your story from their perspective. Let them narrate the story of their struggles, how they found you, and how they saw results from using your products. This case study by WordStream is a good example.

4- Be clear and bold in presenting the results: bear in mind that you’re going to use the results of your case study in your sales pitches. Your sales team will use these as the best persuasion tools when dealing with your leads’ doubts and issues. Bigger and clearer results will have more impact.

Trust is your goal:

Ken McCarthy, the founding father of internet marketing once said, “trust may be the single most important word in business.” From collecting leads to increasing brand loyalty, everything you do demands a certain level of trust between you and your customers to be successful.

There are different ways you can increase your trustworthiness (such as looking and acting professionally, being responsive to your customers’ needs, etc.) but social proof is the most active effort to do so. The psychological effects of using social proof is so high that even the most famous companies still use its various forms to increase their conversions. Testimonials, trust icons, numbers/data, and most importantly case studies are some forms of social proof you could use immediately in order to increase your conversions. 

Charles has been building and promoting websites and services in New Zealand, Australia, the United States and China for nearly 20 years.

One thought on “A practical guide on social proof and how to use it to improve conversions

  1. Steve says:

    Really Awesome article Charles. Great Guide!
    I find all the information, given in this post useful. Some are really good points like trust icon and Joel Klettke’s case study.
    I couldn’t agree more.

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