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To say that the Internet has changed the way people do business is a pretty egregious understatement… Social proof is HUGE.

Online interaction and the “social” elements of consumer behavior have completely revolutionized the way the average customer makes a purchasing decision, and if we want to keep up, we marketers have to adapt to the new way of doing things.

FACT: Over 70% of Americans say they look at product reviews before making a purchase.

And that’s a huge part of how the consumer landscape has changed…

The classic model is a 3-stage buying funnel:

• Step 1: Your customer sees an advertisement and inquires about your product
• Step 2: The customer considers the product
• Step 3: The customer makes a decision to purchase

In today’s world, however, people are so much more connected – and because of it, everyone now has an opportunity to share their opinions and experiences with the rest of the world…

So nowadays, the buying funnel looks a lot more like this:

• Step 1: Your customer sees and advertisement and inquires about your product
• Step 2: The customer considers the product
• Step 3: The customer researches the product and its competitors online
• Step 4: The customer reads product reviews, consults friends and family, researches the company reputation on forums and other websites, asks for opinions on social media, etc.
• Step 5: The customer makes a decision to purchase

…Just a little bit more complicated, right?

All of this research, review hunting, social media discussion, etc. are examples of a little something called “Social Proof.”

Social proof, in other words, is the collection of real life accounts of customers’ experiences with your company. This includes online reviews, the things people are saying about your company in forums and on social networks, product demo and review videos on YouTube (unsponsored by you, of course), and even the general opinions of the people your customers may turn to for advice…

So how do you get social proof to work for you?

There are few tactics you can use inside of your own business to make an impact, but be warned – if you want positive reviews and an outstanding reputation, you’d better be doing everything in your power to give your customers the greatest advantage, experience, and results you possibly can!

Here you go:

1. Testimonials

When people are researching your company and products, they will inevitably end up on your company website – so make sure they have some social proof waiting for them!

Including positive feedback from real customers helps let researchers know what kind of experience they can expect when doing business with you…

For an even greater impact, include pictures! When site visitors associate a story with a photo of a real live human, the testimonial itself is legitimized.

If you need testimonials, ask for them! Reach out to your most loyal and satisfied customers and ask them to write an account of their experience with you…

Create opportunities for recent customers to leave feedback after making a purchase, or even send follow up emails to customers a few weeks after a purchase to check in – their responses can serve as glowing endorsements of your products and services.

2. People Respect Their Peers

In a general sort of way, people tend to lean toward things they can easily identify with – including other people. When presenting social proof to your prospects, this has a tremendous impact on the best sources of social proof…

Because people tend to trust and identify with people similar to themselves, your prospects will be much more likely to trust social proof that comes from their peers.

The idea of implicit egotism suggests that we subconsciously like things that resemble ourselves, and that the more closely we identify with a source of information, the more likely we are to believe it…

To make this work for your business, do your best to promote the social proof that comes from your ideal and most typical type of customer – whether that’s corporate CEOs or fashion-minded teenagers.

3. Storytelling

It’s one thing for a customer to vaguely say they like your product, that it works like it’s supposed to, that they’re generally pleased with the experience…

It’s another thing entirely for the customer to present a firsthand account of your company solving a major problem in their life…

Here’s the thing – people are moved by stories.

It’s why fiction and fairytales remain popular throughout the ages… It’s why reality TV is such a big deal…

People want to get into the nitty gritty of life experience. This is part of the reason that photos are so important with testimonials – they add depth to the story.

Statistics and other data only go so far, and generic “this product is great!” messages only go just a little bit further – a real, genuine story, though, shows the whole transformation from life before a product or service, to a better life after…

Stories help prospects put themselves in the shoes of an already satisfied customer, and start to internalize and identify with that customer’s problems – as well as the ultimate solution they received from your company.

4. Authority

This is essentially the other side of the implicit egotism coin. Beyond easy identification with people like themselves, most individuals also have an inherent respect for “experts,” “celebrities,” and other people of perceived influence.

This is why celebrity endorsements can also function as social proof…

If you have high profile customers, exceptional success stories, or do business with well established and highly regarded companies, you can leverage this angle of social proof to show that even the best of the best are happy to be your customers!

Because people tend to look up to highly influential people and companies, they associate the products and services they use with the success they achieve – and that means an increase in positive opinion for you and your business!

Remember, to be social proof, it has to be genuine…

These tips are about what to do with those positive reactions once you have them. When you establish yourself as the best possible choice in your industry, with the greatest experience and the biggest advantage, your customers will take note…

And in the age of social media, they will likely share their experiences with others.

Social proof will establish itself whether or not you’re prepared to take advantage of it, but by incorporating your customers’ resounding messages of success and support into your marketing messages, you can make that social proof really start to work to your benefit.

What are some successful strategies you’ve used to develop social proof?

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