It's In The Pudding: How To Earn Social Proof
Trust. It’s hard to get pretty much anywhere without commanding it. No matter how good your product, service, or content may be, it’s only as valuable as it's perceived. So how can you get people to trust, value, and ultimately invest in your expertise? For that you need to know how to earn social proof.
Here are 12 ways to improve social proof and compel a captive audience.
1. Cultivate brand ambassadors
Everyone has someone. It doesn’t matter if you’re the “cool” kid or not, everyone has at least a few pairs of ears primed to hear his/her voice. It’s no different for a business. Those ears are your existing audience.
The trick is to convert your existing audience into enthusiasts who themselves promote your brand and extend your message to your greater target audience.
Why is their promotion better than your own? Because this strategy strikes both quantity and quality.
Due to a psychological phenomenon know as “multiple source effect,” people lend greater credence to ideas associated with multiple sources.
An internal study run by IBM found that traffic generated by employees through social media converted at a rate seven times higher than traffic generated by other IBM sources.
Your brand ambassadors could be your friends, your employees, your customers, whoever. The key is to get them involved.
This could be done by:
- Simply asking that they share relevant news and articles
- Creating a rewards system for their advocacy of the brand
- Fostering a shared brand identity that entreats positive social expression
- Any idea that gets people excited to be involved. Excitement is contagious
2. Be present and responsive
This one is crucial. Your presence speaks volumes. You need to be present in force on social media, industry blogs, groups and forums. Leaving a large footprint is in itself legitimating.
Neil Patel recently wrote an article sharing some great monitoring methods to help you establish a dominant web presence. In it he referenced - among other tools - Google Alerts and Warble.
Use these tools to look out for conversations that mention your business’ keywords. Answer questions where possible and direct people to helpful resources. If those resources positively associate with your product/service, all the better. But don’t force the issue. At this stage the point is to build trust, not to sell.
Remember to be on top of your own web space. It’s important to promptly respond to any comments on your own blog or social channels. Aside from nurturing one reader’s interest, you will engender the appreciation of others with your responsiveness.
3. Entangle yourself in the broader market
Entanglement is key both because it entrenches you as an industry fixture and because it offers a path to leverage networks beyond your own in a mutually beneficial manner.
Reaching out to other non-competitor companies in the industry to run joint events, co-host webinars, or just guest post on each other’s web spaces is an opportunity to make your brand more prolific.
The same goes for influencers. Requesting an influencer interview is a great way to build a rapport and get your name out there. Their credibility - to some extent – becomes your own by association.
4. Create a positive feedback loop with your customers
You’re brand authority relies on social proof which relies on the opinions of others. Those opinions come in the form of customer feedback.
63% of consumers indicate they’d be more likely to buy from sites that have ratings and reviews. Think about that for a moment. Two out of every three people are swayed in their purchasing decisions by the opinions of total strangers on the Internet.
It's not necessarily rational, but being aware of it could help you use social proof to your advantage. So how do you optimize your reviews? Basically you need two ingredients: A lot of reviews and good reviews.
By integrating and incentivizing a request for feedback in your products/services, you will have a data bank with which to work. Mining the results, you should come up with some good reviews. Reach out to the people behind the feedback and ask if they might be willing to be featured on your clients/testimonials page.
5. Don’t waste people’s time
All of your other efforts towards social proof go right out the window if you’re not backing them up with quality content.
If you don’t have valuable content to offer, don’t post. Quality should always win out over quantity. Ultimately it’s the value you present that determines whether people respect you.
Laura Ries demonstrates this point well. She only posts on her blog about once a month, but delivers excellent content. She has a wide following and is considered a marketing influencer.
6. Communicate effectively
It’s important to bear in mind that the theory of content marketing cuts both ways. If good, clear, helpful content can improve your general market standing and ultimately drive sales, then confused, wordy, and vacuous writing drive your business into the ground.
These days, ineffective communication is on frequent display in the form of bad newsjacking. There’s nothing wrong with newsjacking when it’s done well – think Oreo and Super Bowl XLVII – but when it forces two clearly unrelated things together it just descends into marketing gibberish.
A perfect example of ineffective communication can be seen in Godiva’s 2013 Thanksgiving campaign. This is the sort of thing to be avoided if you want people to take you seriously.
7. Dress to Impress
Presentation matters. If your website doesn’t look sharp no one will think you are. See what your competitors are doing in terms of design and presentation, survey the industry, comply with norms and improve on standards wherever possible.
Looking sharp extends to your graphics, design, and online imagery – which literally need to be sharp. BrightEdge found that content featuring high quality video and imagery can generate a 13% increase in click-throughs.
You must look the part, being market appropriate both digitally and in real life.
Perhaps this point is best exemplified in the case of Apple and its late CEO, Steve Jobs. The company known for sleek, minimalist modern design, and the man known for his chic but relaxed look in a black shirt and jeans.
8. Make promises to keep promises
Nothing wins trust better than delivering on it. You must make it your company’s mission to never disappoint those who have invested their trust in you. First and foremost, this means your customers.
But what if you’re not being given the opportunity to prove your trustworthiness often enough? There’s a simple trick: Promise things.
Promises are obligations and most of us tend to avoid any unnecessary obligations. But in marketing a promise is also an opportunity to level up your trust profile.
Companies can make price matching guarantees or promise to honor mistaken pricing. In those cases, whatever value is lost in uncovered costs will more than be made up for in credibility.
Airliners are a common example of this strategy, with airlines such as Qantas dramatically and positively raising their profiles by honoring “glitch” pricing.
In a more conventional approach, giveaways and competitions are another great way to deliver trust where you would otherwise have no reach.
9. Have a moral code
Human ethics evolved specifically because of their utility. They govern successful and sustainable collaboration and cooperation.
If you make a habit of navigating the grey areas, you may do all right in the short term, but make no mistake, it is not sustainable. People prefer those who play nice and will ultimately enforce that natural order with a vote from their wallets.
If you manage to build your reputation in accordance with your moral code you should be able to expect not just trust but also preferential treatment.
Think of the shoemaker Toms and their rise to prominence. In the face of cheaper (comparable quality) alternatives, they rode their One for One® promise to market dominance.
This is effect is even stronger in B2B, where the contact between buyer and seller is defined by a much more direct, personal relationship.
10. Always do your homework
Nothing complicated about this point. If you want to command trust you need to back it up. If you’re going the route of content marketing you need to be a subject matter expert.
You’re in the business so there’s little doubt that you know your specific realm. Still, you need to study up and intimately familiarize yourself with the areas of the industry beyond your specialty.
It’s important to realize that you’ll never arrive at a complete state of expertise. It’s a process and your homework will be ongoing.
You must always admit to yourself when and where your knowledge is thin and then get to work beefing it up. Faking it simply will not work
11. Be inspiring
No one wants to read boring things and no one wants to defer to boring people. If you want people to trust you, you darn well better show some passion for what you’re talking about.
If your prospect is looking for information on a particular challenge – or pain point – that he's is contending with, he’s much more likely to hitch his wagon to the person that cares about and understands his pain in a human way, beyond the zeros and the ones.
It should come as no surprise that the companies Americans find most inspiring also happen to be the companies flush with the most social proof.
If you can demonstrate your passion for the subject and get others inspired in the process, you’ll have them in your corner for the long haul. If your emotional connection to the field also happens to showcase some quirk, then so be it. The more relatable you are as a human-run organization the better.
Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield excelled at this and its one of the main reasons why their eccentric eco-minded ice cream outfit is now the most trusted and beloved name in dairy deliciousness.
12. Keep it real
This point actually cuts across all the others and should be borne in mind and integrated into everything that you do. Keep it real and go the personal route.
If you’re featuring customer reviews and/or testimonials on your site, seek out interesting anecdotes. Believe it or not, most people find stories a lot more persuasive than statistics.
Similarly, a picture is capable of driving a point home in a way that words never could. Studies have shown that people are more likely to trust the same testimonial if it’s accompanied by a picture.
Introducing a humanizing element, gives people somewhere to place their trust. It’s worth remembering that at the end of the day, corporations don’t make connections, people do.
Social proof has to go hand in hand with an amazing social media strategy. Read The Ultimate Social Media Guide for B2B Companies to help you navigate the social media world.