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Social Proof: What It Is, Why It Works and How to Use It

《Social Proof: What It Is, Why It Works and How to Use It》

We’re all familiar with the standard “best practices” of CRO. Always use social proof, always reduce form fields, never use image sliders, etc.

As someone who believes that best practices are merely common practices, I’m always looking to test the tried and true to see how, well, true it really is.

First up? Social proof. Does it really work as well as we all assume? Why? And more importantly, what’s the best way to implement it?

First, What Is Social Proof?

Social proof is based on the idea of normative social influence, which states that people will conform in order to be liked by, similar to or accepted by the influencer (or society).

When you’re browsing a landing page and see a testimonial from an industry expert you respect, that’s social proof. When you’re cruising a pricing page and you see that an industry giant is already using the tool, that’s social proof. When you sign up for a demo because you see the tool solved the exact problem you have for a similar company, that’s social proof.

Essentially, it’s borrowing third-party influence to sway potential customers.

3 Experts on Whether Social Proof Really Works

I asked a panel of conversion and growth experts whether they think social proof is effective. Here’s what they had to say…

《Social Proof: What It Is, Why It Works and How to Use It》

Talia Wolf, GetUplift.co:

“Social proof is an important part of executing your landing page strategy. As customers we buy products that make us feel good about ourselves, products that change us and make us better. By using social proof in the form of testimonials, reviews and trust icons you’re helping customers make a decision, feel confident about their choice, and a part of something bigger.

The form of social proof that you choose can instigate different emotional triggers. Planned carefully, you can spark specific emotional triggers that influence customers’ feelings towards their purchase and your business.”

《Social Proof: What It Is, Why It Works and How to Use It》

Mat Carpenter, ShipYourEnemiesGlitter:

“As someone who is constantly building and testing landing pages, I always include some form of social proof on them, whether it’s product reviews, testimonials, or even social media share buttons; it’s a no brainer for me.

From a statistical standpoint, social proof has proven to be absolutely worth the time and effort it may take.

For example, a study conducted by the Wall Street Journal focused on how to persuade customers to decrease their energy use in the summer by turning to fans instead of air conditioners. Consumers were told they would save $54 a month, that it was socially responsible, that it would prevent the release of more than 262 pounds of greenhouse gases monthly, and that 77% of their neighbors had already started using fans.

The majority of individuals who agreed to switch to fans admitted they were doing so because their neighbors already had. This is a great example of how persuasive social proof can be, particularly when it is prominently placed on your landing and important sales pages.”

《Social Proof: What It Is, Why It Works and How to Use It》

Joel Klettke, Business Casual Copywriting:

“Social proof is immensely important for landing pages, to the point that it’s one of very few elements I’ve never seen reduce conversion rates in my own tests. Third party proof does so much at the same time – sets expectations, gives leads a comparison party to weigh themselves against, reinforces your messaging and substantiates your claims.

Is it always a good idea? There are no absolutes in CRO, but I can say with confidence it’s never NOT present in the baseline comparison variants I create. It can be executed poorly – for example, choosing sources that don’t reflect your customers, or choosing social proof that seems fake / flimsy.

It’s not so much about different types of landing pages – more just how you use it. I try to include social proof in areas of friction, like near pricing, or next to claims that seem to be too good to be true at first glance.”

Ryan Holiday, author of The Obstacle Is The Way, summarizes it best: “Of course it depends on what the landing page is for—and what the goal is. But generally, a better way to look at it would be: When do humans not want to see social proof?”

Since the best of the best are still standing by this practice, let’s look at how it’s most commonly used.

6 Basic Types of Social Proof (with Examples)

There are six types of social proof that you’ll see, well, pretty much everywhere. Choose one type to use in your baseline variant. You’ll want to choose the type you use based on your specific industry and goal.

1. Case Studies

Data-driven, in-depth analysis of the product or service you provided a current customer with. Use this if you’re marketing B2B software, agency services, etc.

Neil Patel, founder of QuickSprout, uses a short-form case study from Ben Huh, a widely recognized name in tech, to encourage conversions.

《Social Proof: What It Is, Why It Works and How to Use It》

2. Testimonials

Simple, short-form recommendations from happy current customers. These are fairly universally applicable. They can be as effective on a landing page for a free eBook as they can be on a landing page for a $49 / month SaaS package.

《Social Proof: What It Is, Why It Works and How to Use It》

Picture, name, company, role! Don’t forget to legitimize your testimonials. Give them credibility before you use them to give your product or service credibility.

《Social Proof: What It Is, Why It Works and How to Use It》

Raphael Paulin-Daigle, SplitBase.io:

“A type of social proof that works over and over again is testimonials. Whether it’s in video or written form, they’ve helped increase the conversion rate of my clients’ landing pages in every case.

When building a landing page, you can say all you want about your offer, but how can you prove what you’re saying is true? Authentic testimonials, preferably with a picture of the person, will take care of that for you. Test it, and I’m sure you won’t regret it.”

3. Reviews

Think of reviews as testimonials’ more objective cousin. Use these for products that are overly technical or in industries that are crowded / highly competitive.

《Social Proof: What It Is, Why It Works and How to Use It》

Reminder: Customers aren’t waiting for an invite to review your product or service. Check forums and review sites (like Yelp and Google) regularly to monitor what’s being said about you (and mine for landing page content).

4. Social Media

Praise from current customers and/or brand advocates in the form of tweets, Facebook posts, Instagram comments, etc. Save every positive thing people say about your product or service via social media. This type of social proof is most effective for B2C products and services, but that doesn’t mean it never works for B2B.

Social Media Examiner uses social proof on their conference landing page to show how many people are talking about the event year-round.

《Social Proof: What It Is, Why It Works and How to Use It》

5. Trust Icons

If I had to question one form of social proof in particular, this would be it. TechCrunch covered your Series A funding announcement 4 years ago, so you added their logo to your landing page? You belong to the Better Business Bureau, so you added their logo to your landing page?

《Social Proof: What It Is, Why It Works and How to Use It》

Logos and icons might technically be social proof, but they are seriously lacking on the social. What did TechCrunch say about you? What are your BBB reviewers saying? Consider taking a cue from movie and book landing pages, which often include snippets of reviews instead of just publication names / logos.

《Social Proof: What It Is, Why It Works and How to Use It》

6. Data / Numbers

Customers served, number of invites remaining, etc. A single number can be worth a thousand words. Combine this type of social proof with another. By doing so, you’re saying, “Not only have X people bought our product or service, but here’s how much they are loving it.”

Hootsuite and Buffer both use “X customers served” style social proof to encourage conversions.

《Social Proof: What It Is, Why It Works and How to Use It》

3 Innovative Types of Social Proof (with Examples)

I ran a simple A/B test to experiment with social proof a few years ago. My results? A 20% lift without social proof.

The problem with best practices is that once we know something works, we use it over and over again until eventually, it works a little less. And a little less. And a little less.

Raphael agrees…

The ever-so classic press logos are now on almost every website you’ll visit these days. Do they still work? Yes, but probably not as well as they did 5 years ago. Most visitors are so used to seeing them that this method is starting to suffer from the banner blindness syndrome; it won’t hurt, but you’ll need much more to persuade visitors to take on your offer.

To avoid this issue with social proof, it’s important to break away from the six standard types from time to time. In your next variant, test one of these three more innovative spins on social proof against your baseline.

1. Storytelling Social Proof

If you’ve constructed your landing page correctly, it’s telling a cohesive story to every visitor. Mat launched ShipYourEnemiesGlitter and used testimonials in an unconventional way. He didn’t talk about the benefits, he didn’t try to address objections. Instead, he used language that supported the story his landing page was telling.

Mat’s story was a little offensive, really funny and unbelievably effective in terms of conversions (five figure revenue in 24 hours). Very rarely is a screenshot of the “reviews” section of a landing page featured in a Mashable article.

《Social Proof: What It Is, Why It Works and How to Use It》

2. Implied Social Proof

Most social proof you see today is direct. “John Smith of Startup #9389 tried Product X and thought it was amazing.” Sometimes, the most persuasive argument is the one the visitor doesn’t know you’re making.

Take my friend Timothy Sykes, for example. He trades penny stocks (think Wolf of Wall Street) and teaches people how to recreate his success. How does he convince people to register? By implying social proof (note: he uses the standard forms of social proof as well).

《Social Proof: What It Is, Why It Works and How to Use It》

Tim uses “do you have what it takes?” style messaging on all of his landing pages. The implication? He doesn’t want you to take his course, you need to take his course.

《Social Proof: What It Is, Why It Works and How to Use It》

3. Activity Social Proof

Every other landing page has “X customers served” style social proof. I can’t deny that it works more often than it doesn’t. However, it can be improved upon. Showing how people have recently used your product or service can go a long way.

“Not only have X customers been served, but these 5 customers recently used the product or service to do Y.” or “X customers are currently using the product or service right now.” Timeliness adds to your social proof, making it more persuasive and trustworthy. Look at AngelList and BittyBay, for example.

《Social Proof: What It Is, Why It Works and How to Use It》

How & When to Use Social Proof on Your Site

So, now we know that social proof really does work more often than it doesn’t, making it important to most landing pages. Joanna Wiebe, co-founder of Copy Hackers and Airstory, thinks that the real question is how and when to use social proof:

《Social Proof: What It Is, Why It Works and How to Use It》

Joanna Wiebe, Copy Hackers & Airstory:

“Good social proof is useful for all landing pages because people trust other people more than they trust marketers. But there are caveats, of course.

Every landing page is essentially an argument or a case you’re making to convince the prospect (e.g. a member of a narrow market segment) to choose to opt-in for your freebie or to buy your product, and so every line of copy on the page – including social proof, like testimonials and data points – needs to support that argument.

This means your testimonials need to counter actual objections, not just praise your product or counter non-existent objections.

Your testimonials need to appear at the right part of the argument, not just pop up whenever your designer wants to add a speech bubble or two. They need to be like highly credible witnesses in your case – with photos, full names, professions and examples of what you’ve done for them – not just marketing copy in quotation marks.

We’ve seen that strong testimonials that leverage future pacing – i.e. help the prospect visualize their improved life post-purchase – are best positioned near a call to action. And groups of testimonials are fantastic on long-form sales pages.

To our surprise, we have not seen testimonials outperform regular copy in headlines, so we tend not to replace critical copy with social proof; instead, we test and recommend testing social proof as supporting copy.”

All social proof is not created equal. It’s not enough to test your landing page with / without social proof. This old Manpacks landing page with photos and Twitter usernames likely outperformed this old Golden Sands Experience landing page with nameless (and faceless) testimonials.

《Social Proof: What It Is, Why It Works and How to Use It》

Thanks to Unbounce for these landing page screenshots.

It’s less about testing whether or not to include social proof and more about testing how and when you use social proof. Here are a few of the elements of social proof that you should be constantly optimizing:

1. The type of social proof. Try the six standard types, the three new spins and the dozens of other options available. Social proof works, but how you present it can be optimized for more lift.

2. The content of social proof. Don’t stop looking for social proof once you have filled the three testimonial slots on your landing page. Always be mining for it so that you can rotate the content and test for the best results.

Try testimonials that address objections, testimonials that talk about the benefits, testimonials that use your core keywords, etc.

3. The placement of social proof. We’ve all seen the three testimonials at the bottom of the landing page design. Push back when your designer recommends hiding your social proof away at the bottom every single time. You want to be designing for conversions.

Angie Schottmuller, a well-known growth marketing expert, is literally writing the book on social proof. Her model for grading the persuasion quality of social proof is known as C-R-A-V-E-N-S. Is the social proof credible, relevant, attractive (emotionally), visual, enumerated, nearby and specific?

《Social Proof: What It Is, Why It Works and How to Use It》

Angie Schottmuller, Growth Marketing Expert:

“The social proof psychology principle says that when people are uncertain, they’ll most likely look to others for behavioral guidance. In order to harness this concept for persuasion, marketers must first identify the uncertainties of their customers and then buffer accordingly with appropriate social proof.

Customer words, numbers and visuals can boost credibility, convey relevance, answer questions, and counter objections. The conversion impact of inspiring confidence is roughly proportionate to the social proof quality and the percent of ‘uncertainty’ friction preventing CTA completion.

In other words, if there’s little uncertainty, social proof will have negligible impact. If there’s notable uncertainty and weak social proof, negative conversion impact is possible. If quality social proof buffers notable uncertainty, get ready for some remarkable conversion impact — in some cases up to 400% improvement.”

Try your social proof in a popup, near the CTA, near the POS, etc. Don’t be afraid to test social proof throughout the funnel, either.

To summarize, you should…

  • Use social proof as supporting copy near a call to action or at a point of friction.
  • Use social proof to counter objections. What are the reasons someone might not convert?
  • Use social proof strategically. General praise for your product or service won’t help you convert as well as targeted messaging will. Use your social proof to support the argument you’re making and the story you’re telling with the rest of the landing page.
  • Use social proof to humanize your marketing. A one line testimonial from John Smith is meaningless. Put names to faces, list companies, link to their Twitter pages, etc. Don’t leave out the social.

Brian Massey of Conversion” sciences> has some additional insights based on tests he’s run in the past on landing pages and product” pages>:

《Social Proof: What It Is, Why It Works and How to Use It》

Brian Massey, Conversion Sciences:

“People don’t seem to care how many Facebook likes you have or which of their friends liked you. Or, they do care and leave your landing page to be social. Leave social network badges off of landing pages. Save them for the thank you page.

For catalog ecommerce sites, product pages and catalog pages are often landing pages. Ratings and reviews don’t get tested often. They are either implemented or not. If you have them, display the stars and review counts near product images to increase buying confidence.

Display the metrics for your product in a positive light. ‘3,413 customers can’t be wrong…’ and this (still being tested):

《Social Proof: What It Is, Why It Works and How to Use It》

Beyond this, placement of social proof should be tested. It’s just different for every audience.”

So, Which Type of Social Proof Works Best?

As Joel says, there are no absolutes in CRO. All of the experts in the world can’t tell you, with absolute certainty, which type of social proof to use for your baseline.

Chris Goward of WiderFunnel agrees that you have to test the different types of social proof to figure out what works for your specific landing page audience and goal.

《Social Proof: What It Is, Why It Works and How to Use It》

Chris Goward, WiderFunnel:

“WiderFunnel has done a lot of A/B testing on various social proof tactics on landing pages. On most consumer-facing landing pages, social proof lifts conversion rates in our tests. (Though, sometimes it loses too.)

There are many ways to present social proof and not all work well. Testimonials are overrated, and sometimes social media counts can lift credibility, but only over a critical mass of followers, for example.

Also, the numbers themselves play a role. The order of the digits in follower and customer counts is surprisingly influential.

Most importantly, the response rate to social proof tells us something about the target audience and their persuasional triggers. We’ve seen that some target audiences who are motivated by ‘social inclusion’ triggers respond well. We then show our clients how to build on those insights to influence their other marketing activities.”

However, if you’re looking for some test fodder or if you’re unable to test, we conducted a little study of our own to see if we could identify the factors that make social proof effective.

《Social Proof: What It Is, Why It Works and How to Use It》

Here’s what we found…

  • The different types of social proof didn’t differ significantly in how quickly they attracted users’ attention (average of 8.3 seconds to first fixation).
  • People recalled high profile client logos more than low profile logos.
  • Testimonials with photos were significantly more effective at generating recall than testimonials with no photos.
  • Photos are memorable, but logos and numbers are not.

All in all, that means…

  • If you have great testimonials from industry authorities, use them. They’re a huge selling tool.
  • That said, all testimonials draw attention. So if your testimonials are just ok, think twice.
  • High profile client logos, testimonials with photos, and press mentions are the most memorable.
  • Testimonials should always have photos.
  • High profile client logos are likely the best social proof to have as they balance high recall with low cognitive load.

How to Get Your Social Proof

So, what if you’re just starting out and you don’t have social proof yet? A classic “the chicken or the egg” situation. Oli Gardner, co-founder of Unbounce, says he gets this question all the time. Here’s what he suggests…

《Social Proof: What It Is, Why It Works and How to Use It》

Oli Gardner, Unbounce:

“One of the most common questions I get is what to do when you don’t have any testimonials. For instance, if you are launching a product that nobody’s used, an eBook that nobody’s read or a service that nobody’s paid for, what do you do to add social proof to your landing pages?

There are 4 main ways that I suggest going about it.

1. First, be okay with not having any. It’s not the end of the world. Yes, you might get a higher conversion rate with testimonials, but please never fake them. People can smell BS a mile away, so just be patient, or do one of the next three things.

2. Give your product or service away for free. Ideally to influencers in your community or industry. Then ask them for feedback.

3. Instead of having someone talk about your product or service, find a quote from an influencer that backs up the bigger picture concept.

For instance, on the International CRO Day landing page, in the absence of a testimonial, I put a quote from Rand Fishkin saying that conversion rate optimization is really important. He wasn’t talking about the event, but he did say that the subject matter of the event was important, which by proxy makes the event more important.

4. Ask bloggers or reporters to review your product or service.”

Conclusion

Trust in online advertising and branded websites is actually increasing. According to Nielsen, word of mouth recommendations are still the most trustworthy at 84%. 69% of respondents trust advertising on branded websites and 68% trust consumer opinions posted online.

The good news is that your copy isn’t as untrustworthy as some outdated statistics have led you to believe. Still, you can’t beat good old fashioned word of mouth.

Finding a new way to package that marketing power via social proof and use it on your landing pages can pay off, if you do it right.

9 experts, 9 opinions… It seems they still agree that social proof really is that important. But how you use it is what will make or break your landing page. Move away from the standard uses if you want to move beyond the “banner blindness syndrome” and really tap into the power of social proof.

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