Positive and Negative Social Proof

Positive vs. Negative Social Proof: How to Get it Right

Using social proof influences the reader’s decision to take action. For online businesses, this means improved conversions. Some types of social proof can even widen the reach of your brand, such as with social media. However, doing it the wrong way – creating negative social proof – can be worse than using it at all.

But let’s back up for a second.

There are two sides to social influence: positive and negative. Positive proof works. Negative social proof works against you. Knowing the difference between the two is a crucial element to using this powerful tactic successfully.

Positive Social Proof

This is what helps motivate people to buy the product, subscribe to the newsletter, or do the thing you want them to do. Adding a social influence to your copy or CTA’s could be something simple like “Join the 27,000+ people who have done this.” The point behind these proofs is to let your visitors know they are not alone in taking this action.

Adding emotion to any marketing strategy often increases its efficacy. Testimonials take the social influence and attaches emotional ‘proof’ that the action was beneficial: Jane Doe writes, “I was lost in my struggle before I did this, and now everything worked out!”

Negative Social Proof

Negative social proof influences the reader in the wrong direction. It sends the message that lots of people are doing what you don’t want them to do. It doesn’t matter what the consequences are, the focus is on what the majority of people are actually doing. This kind of proof will turn against you quickly and without mercy.

Comments like, “Don’t be like the 97 million that do this and regret it,” or, “Too many people do this; be better than them and do this instead,” reinforce the actions you don’t want them to take. Using them in your marketing strategies undermines all your previous work on advertising, writing copy, and building followers.

Tips To Stay Away from the Negative

So how do you keep away from using negative social proof? Here are a few guidlines:

  1. Isolate the desired action. Know what you want to influence your readers to do, and focus on examples of them doing that. Watch out for ‘not’ and ‘don’t’ to steer the action toward something instead of away.
  2. Find the diamond in the rough. Use surveys, incentives and focus groups to encourage customers to leave feedback. Choose a few bloggers or YouTubers your audience can identify with and send them your product in exchange for a review. Look for the examples that really inspire the action you’re going for.
  3. Think outside the box. Don’t want to wait for feedback? Look for statistics that suggest many people are already taking the action you want, even if indirectly. How often do others buy products like yours worldwide? Use your knowledge of the industry to show people they are not alone in a general sense, even if you don’t have anything specific to your brand just yet.

Other “Social Proofing” Obstacles

Even using positive proof can be ineffective in some cases. Watch out for these mishaps before you learn the hard way.

  • Too Much: Too many testimonials to read. Visitors want concise information, not a book of lengthy comments. Shorten them to the essentials that reference your brand, and maybe highlight a few outstanding examples.
  • Not Enough: Too few cause your brand to look less popular. Remove the proof until there’s enough to prove credibility.
  • No Accountability: Include pictures, links, or social media to connect comments to real, verifiable people or statistics whenever possible.
  • Out Of Touch: You’re marketing to the average John, but your social proof is filled with high profiles. Dig for the gems that really represent your audience.

Although negative social proof can be devastating, using positive social proof is an incredibly powerful marketing tool. It sends the message that an action is socially accepted, dramatically increasing your conversions. Stay on the plus side and reap the benefits of using social influence in your marketing tactics!

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