The Power of Social Proof in Online Advertising

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Way back in 2011 (which, in the ultra-fast paced world of online advertising, might as well be 10 years ago) TechCrunch was touting social proof as “the new marketing.” We know that social proof continues to play a major role in spending habits of both consumers and businesses today. So now that these concepts have been floating around for a couple years, how can marketers capitalize on social proof in their online advertising practices?

Let’s start by revisiting the concept…

What is Social Proof?

As Aileen Lee explained in the article, social proof is essentially the influence that is created by a collective group that directs the assumptions of an individual regarding correct situational behavior. The example Lee provides of social proof in action is that of a line of people waiting outside of a club behind a velvet rope, which creates interest among those passing by about what the wait is all about. But there are also examples of this concept nearly everywhere you go online. How often have you purchased one product over another because of consumer reviews? Or felt slightly influenced because there was a glowing testimonial about a service you are considering? Probably more often than you think.

Social proof is a bit like word-of-mouth advertising with a snowballing effect: the more people whose idea of appropriate situational behavior is influenced by the actions of a collective group, the larger the group becomes—thus increasing their overall influence. Lee then goes on to outline five specific types of social proof, briefly described below:

  1. Expert Social Proof hinges on source credibility to create audience approval. In the general marketing sense, this might mean supportive studies conducted by scientists or certifications and approval from organizations. In the digital realm, expert social proof can come in the form of popular bloggers, websites, or online publications.
  2. Celebrity Social Proof includes radio spots, magazine ads, billboards, and television commercials that use celebrity endorsements to sell products. Online, the same idea applies, with sites like and featuring William Shatner and Danica Patrick respectively to promote their services.
  3. User Social Proof includes success stories and testimonials. Think of sites like Yelp and Angie’s list, and why most businesses include testimonials and case studies on their website to build trust with potential customers.
  4. Wisdom-of-the-Crowds Social Proof includes companies touting how many happy customers they have served over the years. For online marketers, promoting the amount of social media followers, fans, Likes, or shares a company or product has builds trust.
  5. Wisdom-of-Your-Friends Social Proof is perhaps the strongest of the social proof types. Marketers both online and offline continually strive to leverage the influence our friends and family have over our purchase decisions. When it comes to online social influence, 81% of users say that social media posts from their friends directly influenced their purchase decisions.

How Does Social Proof Apply to Online Advertising?

So now that we know what social proof is and have a basic understanding of how it is related to general marketing strategy, how do we apply its principles to the practice of online advertising?

In order to develop a comprehensive online advertising strategy that incorporates the principles of social proof as much as possible, it’s important to dig into your existing data. Look at various online metrics influenced by social proof, including: website traffic from social sources (Facebook is a good example), page views, time on site, social media followers, fans, likes, customer testimonials, product reviews, etc. Do a Google search and figure out what people are saying about your products or services around the Internet.

Next, try out some strategies that leverage social proof for advertising influence:

  • Promote Customer Feedback: With 63% of consumers reporting that reviews and product ratings increased their likelihood of making a purchase, having user feedback and reviews prominently displayed can play a major factor in campaign performance. We recommend placing your best client testimonials on your website and landing pages, as well as highlighting facts about customer satisfaction in your ads wherever possible.
  • Highlight Popular Products: Try labeling appropriate products as “Best Selling” or labeling similar or ancillary product pages that site visitors engaged with as “Customers Also Viewed/Bought.” This can give your customers social cues as to what fellow visitors believe is the best option among all the choices. From an advertising perspective, this strategy influences the greater value of a particular option and makes it “stickier” to the visitor while they make their purchasing decision.
  • Make Everything Shareable: Naturally, a big part of increasing a brand or product’s social proof lies in the realm of social media. Begin by making sure that nearly every product/service page, landing page, blog post, video, etc. features social media sharing options and follow/link buttons. When they have converted (such as in purchasing a product), give them a chance to share their action with friends and followers. These strategies will allow you to build and capitalize on social proof in your audience pool.
  • Establish Expert Credibility: Promote that your business has the stamp of approval from the most important consumer-influencing sources. Whether that includes consumer reports, quality standards, expert opinions, etc., you will automatically build more trust with consumers when they know that the quality of your products or services have been tested and approved.

Finally, go back and review the results of your socially-imbued advertising collateral and landing pages. You’ll hopefully find that not only are you getting better overall results (be it more conversions, traffic, shares, etc.)—you are also better able to influence the decisions of your site visitors towards the behavior you want them to take (more sales of higher profit items, bundling purchase options, etc.).

At the end of the day, social proof in advertising will only work as well as the product or service you’re promoting. If you “social-ize” ads, pages, or products that are especially poor in quality or service level, social proof can backfire on you because your customers will influence others based on negative perceptions of who you are as a brand and what you produce. But if the product or service you’re offering is looking good enough to sell itself, adding the element of social proof can be one of your biggest catalysts.

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