Social Proof, and How You Can Get Some

You’ll hear this term casually dropped on several sites that cover copywriting, but few experts ever go into detail to explain social proof. They mostly say, “Make sure you back up your claims with social proof,” and then move on to discuss something else.

Meanwhile, you’re sitting there thinking, “Great. And social proof is what, exactly? You just implied it was important, so now I’m afraid I’m not doing it. Except you didn’t tell me how to do it. Now I have business anxiety. It’s all your fault.”

Never fear. James is here.

Defining Social Proof: What Is It?

There’s a whole psychological explanation on social proof, but the basics come down to the theory that if you see someone doing something and that person survived the experience, it’s relatively safe to assume that you can also do what they did and survive as well.

Think of high school, when the girl’s bathroom was backed up and only one toilet was working. There was a long line up for that toilet during lunch hour. After a while, though, one girl would get brave and decide that she was going to walk into the boy’s bathroom – where all five toilets worked just fine and there was no lineup at all.

Suddenly all the girls were heading towards the guy’s john. That’s social proof.

Social proof can also mean that someone bought a product and found it useful. Or they read a blog and learned something new. Or they’ve tried a service and got results. They’ve experienced something before you, and they survived – they even liked the experience!

Your perception is one of increased safety and less risk. You feel more comfortable becoming a customer, signing up as a reader or walking into the boy’s john.

Very few people want to go first. No one really likes to be the guinea pig, after all. No one likes to be the first to get burned. No one likes to be the first to discover a scam. No one likes to be the first to buy a product and discover it’s a waste of money or that the advice damaged a business.

So we use social proof to make a decision. Social proof is our personal gauge of risk, and businesses everywhere, across all industries, use social proof strategies to let you know that risk is minimal. That someone has gone ahead. That it’s safe.

If you see five stars in the reviews section of a book at Amazon, that’s social proof. If you see a Feedburner chicklet showing 8,000 readers, that’s social proof. If you have testimonials on your website from happy clients who are thrilled about your service, that’s social proof. If people are referring other people to a business, that’s social proof.

Other people have gone before, and nothing bad happened. On the contrary: Great things happened.

Where Do You Get Social Proof?

Most of the time, you just ask for it. You can solicit social proof by asking people to check out your product or service and give their opinion of it. It’s that easy.

If you have people who already trust you and are prepared to buy your new product or service or have already bought products you have, you can get social proof from their testimonials. Send them a free copy. Have them take a look and provide you with their comments.

Aim for big-name people, if you can, or widely recognized businesses. Those people have already built up such trust among their audience and clients that their word is extremely valuable. Piggyback on their existing social proof and get some of it for yourself.

Even if you don’t know any big names, or you can’t get them interested, or they don’t have the time, you can use this technique of asking with any person you know who’s willing to try out what you want to sell. They get it for free, and you get some valuable social proof that what you’re offering is pretty great.

Use statistics as evidence of social proof. If 50% of your clients refer other people to you, that’s great social proof. It shows that your clients like you so much that they want other people to enjoy the benefits of working with you.

Do you need to mention the names of all those people? Not at all. Social proof is simply showing that someone out there likes you – the more someones, the better.

Any time you have an example of someone who has done what you want someone else to do, point it out. Show a case study. Post a list of recent clients. Put proof that other people have gone before – and they’ve enjoyed what they bought.

Who’s got a good example of social proof, either of being persuaded by it or using it to persuade?

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