Positive Vs. Negative Social Proof: How To Get It Right

It's no secret that social media has taken over the world. In fact, according to a recent study, there are now 3.196 billion active social media users worldwide. That's a lot of people!

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When it comes to social proof, there’s a lot of debate about what works best: positive or negative. As a marketing director, virtual assistant, or for people that want to start an online business, it’s important to understand the pros and cons of each approach so you can make the best decision for your brand. Whether you’re starting a business or already have an online store, keep reading to learn more about positive vs. negative social proof and 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, as in 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.

What Is Social Proof?

Social proof is a psychological phenomenon that occurs when people take cues from others in order to make decisions. It can dictate what people are more likely to do if they see others doing it. This herd mentality has been proven time and again, in everything from scientific studies to marketing campaigns.

One famous example is the Asch conformity experiments, conducted in the 1950s. These experiments showed that people are more likely to conform to the majority, even if that majority is clearly wrong.

And while negative social proof can be devastating (just think of the power of reviews on sites like Amazon), using positive social proof is an incredibly powerful marketing tool.

How Social Proof Can Benefit Your Business

Social proof can be an incredibly powerful tool for businesses, both online and offline.

Some types of social proof, such as product reviews and testimonials, can help improve conversions by providing potential customers with reassurance that your product or service is good. With that said, nowadays we have all seen how that’s been abused by canceled culture. 

Other types of social proof, such as social media followings and influencer endorsements, can help widen the reach of your brand. And still other types of social proof, such as awards and accreditations, can help build trust and credibility.

Social proof can be used in a number of different ways to benefit your business. 

Here are just a few examples:

– Include customer testimonials on your website

– Make sure your products have plenty of positive reviews

– Get endorsements from social media influencers in your industry

– Use social media to showcase your brand’s

Let’s not forget 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

The warm fuzzy feeling of trust 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 attach 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 guidelines:

  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, digital products and platforms, available 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. Use your search engine optimization wisely here especially if you’re a small business owner.
  • 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.

How To Use Social Proof Digitally?

You’ve set up a site featuring a product or service you believe will be beneficial to your market, written great content to inform and engage your readers, and leveraged marketing strategies to draw in traffic. Everything is ready to go and working like a dream.

Yet there’s still something missing; visitors need a little extra motivation to convert into customers. How can you help them make that decision with confidence? Enter the psychology of social proof.

Your business is still just a tiny island in a vast ocean online. Putting your brand on the map takes more than SEO and well written articles. The missing element is something that will influence your audience. These visitors want a form of social proof that your brand is what it claims to be before they buy. 

5 Types of Social Proof

1. Users

Customers, members, subscribers, and anyone else that has had an experience with your product, brand or service are all users of your brand. User social proof is one of the most commonly referenced types of social influence in marketing. Yelp, for instance, relies on user reviews of other companies. Testimonials, such as those on infomercials, and case studies conducted to analyze your customer base are other methods of social proof involving users.

Outside the box, social media comments made by your customers can also be considered user influences. These may be seen as reviews or testimonials, but they often lack the intentional evaluation typical of other methods. Customer comments can be one of the most genuine forms of proof, making it extremely powerful.

2. Crowd Count

Anything that suggests a large amount of people are doing the same thing is a crowd count. Counting customers, products sold and other general statistics show visitors the scale of the crowd. The larger the crowd, the better this type of social proof does to impress upon your potential buyers that you have a good product or service. Some newer methods of counting the crowd include the number of social followers, article shares, and subscribers to your newsletter.

3. Ratings

Ratings are a simple scale stating how your brand compares to others. They come in forms of customer reviews, trustpilot, and Google reviews. Amazon allows users to rate both products and sellers, providing a simple social evaluation for their customers. However, ratings can also be a third party analysis, like with Google’s “Trusted Store” certification and score.

Other methods of rating involve highlighting the top performers, affiliate marketer, such as best selling items, high volume sales and popular articles. Social media sites encourage interaction by featuring trending topics, for example. Comparing products with similar ratings is an example of adapting this method for greater influence.

4. Known Figures

Reviews or testimonials from known figures, like celebrity endorsement (e.g. influencer marketing) is a time-tested type of social proof. The practice of sending a product to leading authorities and other popular figures in your industry is a proven tactic.

Paid endorsements from celebrities, such as cereal companies often do, are a common use of known figures. As a side note, unpaid endorsements or reviews tend to be more effective if available.

Trust seals and certifications from known brands also add social influence. A BBB stamp of approval, for example, informs your audience that you are in good standing as a trustworthy business. The better known the certification, the more influence it will have.

5. Referrals

Don’t underestimate the power of customer referrals as a social influence, either. WOM (Word of Mouth) goes a long way. if you want to have a successful online business, then embrace your users and their families. For example, DropBox employed the use of referring family, friends and even coworkers to initially grow their user base with great success.

A suggestion from the right person can be just as powerful as proof from thousands of strangers. This type of social proof, otherwise known as word-of-mouth marketing, often creates some of the most long-lasting customers.

Influence Of Society

Growing up, you may have heard your parents ask, ‘If everyone jumped off a cliff, would you do it too?’ Though the question was meant to encourage you to make decisions independent of your peers, it reveals a fundamental truth: social actions influence our choices. We may fight against it at times, but we can’t deny most of us are influenced in some way by the actions of others.

Social proof uses that basic influence to encourage a specific behavior based on the experiences of others in a similar situation. Put simply, if you learned that those jumping off that cliff lived through the experience (perhaps it was a safe, short drop into a pool of water!) and enjoyed it, you might seriously consider following them. If your friends bragged about how fun the dive was, you may decide to try it too.

Likewise, if visitors knew many of your customers were happy with their purchase, they would be more inclined to buy for themselves. Someone just like them made that leap and tested the waters already. In this way, visitors can make the conversion into customers, reassured that your brand will help them as well.

Why Does Social Proof Work?

Humans are naturally social creatures. We are designed to learn from each other’s mistakes and successes, persuaded by what we see as a majority opinion. Being ‘part of the crowd’ makes us feel accepted and validates our decisions. A choice made by many others is therefore thought to be more accepted with less chance of disappointment.

While each customer evaluates the information for themselves, adding social proof gives them the opportunity to validate or reassess their decision. If a visitor isn’t interested, the influence probably won’t force them to buy anything. However, for those on the brink, the influence can provide an additional way to rationalize the purchase. Think of it as kinder, gentler marketing by persuasion.

Adding Social ‘Influencers’

Ultimately, social proof works best when visitors can identify and connect with those giving testimonials or reviews. Pictures and background stories help visitors draw parallels to their own lives. Taking this route means acquiring a variety of customers with different backgrounds to reach more deeply into your target market.

Other ways to add social influence include adding literal influences: have an authority in your industry, create a review, or endorse your brand. Even a simple buyer counter or rating can be used for similar results. The idea is to have third party proof in your company that others can trust.

Final Thoughts

Social proof isn’t just another marketing hoop for you to jump through. It’s a very real psychological phenomenon that has been extensively studied by many marketers and psychologists under the more scientific name of “informational social influence”. To see it in action, just stop by Amazon.com and look at the reviews. It doesn’t matter how much you want a product; if you see negative reviews, you’re much less likely to buy.

As you think about ways that you might garner, build and display social proof, be careful. There’s a line between no proof and enough proof, where the influence will actually work against your efforts. For example, a counter of two buyers won’t compel the same as 200 or 2000 will. Until your site gains momentum, err on the side of caution before including social proof into your strategies.

Obviously, the proof must be genuine. Falsifying testimonies or promoting “popular” items that aren’t selling well are tactics that not only don’t work for long, they’re also illegal. Finding reviews can take time initially, but the result will be worth the wait.

If you need guidance with your website and sales, contact us for a consultation. We specialize in finding and removing the weak spots in your marketing efforts.

Editor’s Note: This article is a compilation of a few older ones. I’ve updated them to be more current with today’s marketing styles, SEO guidelines and Google standards.

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It's no secret that social media has taken over the world. In fact, according to a recent study, there are now 3.196 billion active social media users worldwide. That's a lot of people!

Today's Author


Interested in Guest Posting?
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Leave a Reply

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This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

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