The Varying Effectiveness of Social Proof – Whiteboard Friday

Posted by randfish

Whether is it's a tweet from a colleague or a face pile on a site, social proof can be a wildly effective form of marketing. But like all marketing, the effect can vary greatly for a number of reasons.

In this week's Whiteboard Friday, Rand discusses different ways to approach your social proof and tactics to increase the potential conversion rate by increasing the specificity of your efforts.

What do you do to enhance your social proof? Has anything really worked great for you? Share and discuss in the comments below!


Video Transcription

"Howdy SEOmoz fans, and welcome to another edition of Whiteboard Friday. This week I want to talk a little bit about the power of social proof. Now social proof is a psychological, like behavioral psychology type of phenomenon whereby human beings are interested in what other human beings are doing, and by showing that other humans are interested in something or are taking some activity, you can actually encourage people to take that same activity.

It's not that we're all sheep or lemmings. It's just that we like each other. We tend to follow each other. We tend to be interested in and remember the behaviors of those around us.

This gets used all the time in inbound marketing and web marketing all over the place. You can see this, for example, in search results. Think when you perform a search on Google and you see all those star ratings, and it's been rated by this many people, and it's 4.5 out of 5 stars. Now they've got the Zagat ratings and local. They have product ratings. You can see the number of times that someone has +1'd something, so it will say, "This is
+1'd by 3000, 4000 people." There will be their profiles on the right-hand side. Google is clearly doing this.

You can see this in Yelp and Urbanspoon, places like that, that rate local restaurants. You can see this in all sorts of places that rate hardware, rate software, rate anything. You can see this on a lot of people's websites, where they've got the Facepile widget installed, and they show the faces of people like you who have subscribed. If you're logged into Facebook, they'll show you, "Oh well, Rand, your friends, Mike and Adam and Sally, they've all subscribed to this email newsletter." All right. Great. Or they've liked this brand on Facebook.

This sort of social proof stuff is used all over the place, and primarily the activity that you're trying to drive toward is some type of conversion. You're trying to get someone to engage in an activity like share something socially, like something, +1 something, click on something, or you're trying to actually get them to convert. But social proof has varying degrees of effectiveness, and that's what I wanted to talk about a little bit today.

There's been a lot of research into this area and a lot of interesting tests performed online. I might try and cite some of those in the link here or on the page here or maybe in the comments below. You can see this type of varying effectiveness. So saying something like, and you'll see this on the front of a lot of websites or on their landing pages, where they'll say, "40,000 small businesses use" Or you might see, what's a good example? has something where they say, "92% of Fortune 500s use Box. Why aren't you? You should give us a try." That kind of thing.

What's essentially being said here is, "Lots of other people use us. Therefore, this is a good data point to indicate that we're reliable and trustworthy and we're popular." Usually even better than this generic is when you get much more specific. There's been a lot of good research to this effect. So, "141 restaurants in Portland, Oregon use GetListed to manage their online listings and SEO." Oh, well, if I have entered my information and GetListed knows that I'm a restaurant in Portland, Oregon, wow. This essentially says to me that may not be nearly as many as the 40,000 number, but this says, "People like me. My peers, my equals are doing the same thing. They're using this product. Therefore, this must be a good product." In fact, this proves out to be, generally speaking, much more effective in converting than the generic ones, and the more specific you get, the better it gets.

We talked about the Facepile widget saying, "141 restaurants in Portland, Oregon, etc., and your friends." Then these are your friends that are logged in from Facebook or from LinkedIn or Google+, whatever it is. These people in your network, especially if you've already done an email connect of some kind, and you can show who those people are, now this is very, very effective. You might be saying, "Well, okay, but this is a pretty specific use case. You've got to have a lot of information about somebody before you would be able to say, even the specificity of this, although you can get pretty specific if you know who your target customer is." Including the Facepile or something like that gets much harder because you have to get someone to log in with a social network, provide those details. Facepile, obviously, if they're already logged in, you get it automatically, but this actually works tremendously well for social networking itself.

One of the things that we do here at Moz is we look at multi-touch attribution, and we look at where people have seen us and those types of things. We can actually see with some effectiveness that a lot of people, who eventually take a free trial of Moz or make a purchase or those kinds of things, have seen us, been exposed to us on a social network. In fact, they probably followed a link to us from a social network, often Twitter, at one point or another in their buying cycle, which by the way is usually about seven visits long.

In here, there's a lot of social proof in social networks themselves. If you've seen several people in your network mention a brand or a product or a place or a person, you are much more likely to think positively and to have a brand memory of that place. Seeing tweets like, "I just used GetListed to check my local listings," and you see that from two or three of your friends, and the funny thing that happens here is that people, who are exposed to just a few messages from close inside their network, often have a belief that a product is much more popular than people who see messages like this saying, "40,000 small businesses."

The fact that it's in my network, "oh well, if two people in my network mention it, it must be a huge product." As opposed to, "Well, it could just be that it's doing really well in your network." This isn't the psychological belief that we tend to have as people. So this can be very effective. Hence, social media as a branding tool becomes very effective for providing social proof.

Then perhaps not surprisingly, one of the really interesting ones to me, this is in offline use, but in person, if you are out with a group of folks, let's say you're at a conference or an event or a dinner or something like that and someone says, "Oh, have you heard about They're a great site to do these local listings," and someone else at the event says, "Yeah, they're awesome." These people who have never heard of it before will actually have the most positive impression and the highest likelihood to have a positive brand memory because that in person social behavior is so incredibly powerful.

We have to assume that they're actually going to remember it and that they'll have a brand association from that memory. But this in person stuff is the most powerful one. This is, in fact, why you will see . . . I think there was some great research done. I can't remember exactly the book. I'll try and pull it up. There's some great research done about online auctions versus in person auctions and why Christie's and Sotheby's continue to do auctions, a lot of expensive places, charity auctions, continue to get people together in person. It's because our social behavior and the power of social proof in person, when we're standing together next to each other and hearing from each other, is so much more powerful, and that turns up the dial on what people are willing to spend, how high they're willing to bid, and therefore all the big art auctions and charity auctions and these kinds of things still do in person because the web is not yet providing the same power of social proof as a psychological behavioral modifier that you see in these other ones.

Still I think these can be tremendously effective for your marketing efforts. I would urge you to try these out, if you're not already, on your landing pages, in the search results that you're trying to get, in your social media efforts, in your email subscriptions. Social proof, a very, very powerful tactic.

All right, everyone. Hope you've enjoyed this edition of Whiteboard Friday. We'll see you again next week. Take care."

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