Social Proof: Beyond Testimonials

Testimonials, while definitely important, are not the only (or even the most effective) type of social proof. If they were, PR companies would’ve gone out of business along time ago and every business would be flooding people with stories of how much people like their stuff rather than pictures of how pretty their stuff is.

Social proof comes in a ton of different forms but there are three main ones that we tend to focus on in marketing.

First Generation Social Proof: Testimonials & Video Testimonials

Testimonials are almost always effective, however the format matters – as does the placement. Video testimonials offering specific points of interest are the holy Grail of first generation social proof because we can see the excitement of the person who is speaking, and have absolutely no doubt that another person thinks highly of you. Written testimonials, especially ones that are unsigned or not signed specifically with a company name or last name tend to be disregarded (think “Kayla B.” versus “Kayla Belzile, owner of”). The reason for that is how easy it is to fake written testimonials – we’ll never get to actually meet the person who loves your stuff so much, so if you’re just giving us the first name & last initial, we’ve learned to take it with a grain of salt.

Placement of testimonials is also incredibly important. Putting testimonials all on one page titled….(you guessed it) “Testimonials” is a surefire way to make sure nobody ever sees them or use them. Sprinkle your testimonials – whether video or text –  throughout your website, throughout your social media marketing, and through your email marketing right beside your description of features and benefits. Then they are being used as subtle backup of your points, rather than being viewed as  humblebragging.

Second Generation Social Proof: Case Studies

The next type of social proof is something you can do yourself: Case studies. In a case study the client has agreed to let you talk about everything you did for them and to discuss in detail where they were and where they are now. Case studies differ from testimonials in two important ways: first, you’re the one writing it, and you are writing it for a specific purpose: to highlight specific attributes or successes that your clients have had; and secondly it’s quite a bit more detailed and dry – meaning it’s not really social media fodder (excluding on LinkedIn, of course.)

The credibility is there, because what company would let you lie about them! And they can be a great start to a warm introduction online. The downside is that case studies are much more work intensive, so we would only recommend them for people whose products are pricey enough to have them make sense.

Third Generation Social Proof: Reviews

There are a few inherent truths about social proof, and one is that testimonials are often viewed skeptically. Reviews on third party sites on the other hand are often trusted inherently (much to business owners’ dismay, given their loss of control) and are better thought of as referrals with a long, long reach. And they don’t have to stay where they are posted – take screenshots and share the best of the best! Share when you hit a milestone of stars on Google, or when you have hundreds of recommendations on Facebook.

Facebook reviews, Google reviews, Amazon reviews, Yelp – the list is extensive. When people check you out for the first time they want to know the “truth” – by which they mean “who hates you and why”- and the place they go for honest feedback is to…your reviews. Reviews work precisely because they’re out of your direct control. You can’t shape them, choose them, edit them, or change them. Some people reading this are hitting the PANIC! button because they’ve gotten negative reviews in the past, or fear they might get them in the future if they allow Facebook reviews or if they have a Google My Business presence.

But even negative reviews are good. No, really. Negative reviews are a chance to show new prospects and current clients (other than the reviewer) that you are a good business who: 1. values their customers; and 2. is able to stay calm in the face of negative behaviours. Responding properly to all negative reviews is essential.

Proper responses to negative reviews are timely (within 60 minutes), communicative (not cut-and-paste with no reference to the actual complaint), and ask the customer to take the conversation further (off line, of course) to fix the problem. By responding in this way, you are showing all of the other people who will hit your account that you do your best to make things right.

What to avoid in negative review responses:

  • Sanctimonious replies: A former client (notice I said former) responded to a valid negative review with a laundry list of what he, the manager does all day and why he was too busy to return a customer’s call.
  • Defensive language: You’re Goliath in this tale so far, you’re already the bad guy. Remember that and come with the generosity and humility. You’ll hate doing it, but it will pay off.
  • Dumping your side of the story: No one cares, and we will be uncomfortable reading it.
  • BONUS: Not having Facebook reviews turned on makes us assume you’d be flooded with bad reviews. Just suck it up if you’ve screwed up before, turn them on, take the heat if it comes, and improve.

Fourth Generation Social Proof: Numbers, Baby!

The fourth type of social proof is third-party again and way more vague than the other two. This is where you get to use numbers  like “over 1000 sold!!!” the second that you hit 1001 or “over 100 satisfied customers” or what McDonald’s did on their signs in the 90s until they hit a number so big that they had to make up new ones (jk).

Celebrating big numbers is another form a valid social proof because to get those numbers, whole bunch of people had to really like you. It’s crowdfunding but for referrals.

So how many do I need? 

When you’re looking to implement social proof into your marketing, go in order: video testimonials, written testimonials, case studies (if applicable), reviews, and numbers. They’re all important, and they need to make up at least 30% of your marketing strategy.

The number one thing that holds people back from asking for reviews, testimonials, etc, is fear. It’s uncomfortable to ask a near-stranger for a compliment – go ahead, and do it scared.