Photo by George Pagan III on Unsplash

By Tatiana Gutierrez

Apply the 6S: Sum it, score it, say it, sign it, show it and shine it.

Social proof is, without a doubt, one of the pillars of persuasion in the digital world. A wide range of companies and brands make use of it, but not many understand how to make the most of it.

Psychologists have studied for a long time how our society and close communities influence us. In the past decades since the advent of the Internet, the concept of social proof, also known as informational social influence, was first coined by Cialdini in his 1984 book, Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion. In simple words, social proof is evidence from others, like us, that reduces fear or uncertainty. It’s an authentic way to show that your message, your claims about how good your brand and your products are, are real and liked by people; it’s a stamp of approval and endorsement.

When something is unknown to us, it’s hard to make a decision, and so we want a second opinion, we seek validation or a recommendation, and we want it instantly. We tend to follow what other people do and say; it’s part of our non-conscious behaviour. Social proof helps us trust strangers, people we’ve never met; it helps us trust the Uber driver who’s rated 4.5 stars and even the Airbnb from another country we’ve never visited before.

Back in the pre-internet era, buying in a physical store gave us some level of confidence that whatever happened with our product or service, we had a way to come back and claim. In the digital space, where sometimes we’re not sure if there’s a human behind the screen, giving the customers that level of confidence can be hard, especially for new and small businesses. If you, as a customer, have to commit to a product or service, if you have to add your bank details, if you have to trust someone or something that you can’t see, the friction and barriers increase, and thus it’s the social proof which helps overcome this.

The first thing that may come to mind when saying social proof is views, likes and shares. And yes, that counts, but its impact is based on three aspects: perception, relevance and numbers.

Perception: Does the evidence look trustworthy on my website and comms, or does it look fake?

Relevance: Is it shown in a visible area where people evaluate your product and are ready to make a decision? Is the evidence closely related to the product I’m promoting?

Numbers: Are they genuine numbers, or do they reflect real customers? Can customers corroborate this information elsewhere?

The 6S Framework

An effortless way to assess if you’re making good use of your social proof is by reviewing the 6S format proposed by the well-known growth marketing expert Angie Schottmuller. It’s useful to brainstorm what type of your content might fit in that spectrum and test it:

Sum it: It relates to quantitative data. How many reviews, fans across your social media. How many questions have been posted or photos have been uploaded. How many customer stories you’ve gathered.

Score it: It’s more qualitative. It refers to the ranking, star rating, net promoter score (NPS) or the per cent of your customer satisfaction.

Say it: The decision is not whether or not to include social proof but where and how to do so. We most commonly think of reviews, but here it’s appropriate to fit in expert Q&A, comments and forums, case studies, customer stories or testimonials. It doesn’t have to be only written. Make use of photos, video or audio formats; they prove to make it more believable.

Sign it: Who said it? It refers to the signature that goes along with the testimonial or your fans’ names; or the third-party rating and reviews tool. It also accounts for stamps, badges, logos of brands you’ve worked with or made collaborations, influencer endorsement, press or media mentions. These symbols can take the form of star ratings, checkmarks, thumbs up, logo endorsement, user-generated content or avatars. You can also include date/location stamps or flags.

Show it: It’s the combination of the four factors above made visible where it matters; carefully positioned on your website, your ads, email and any other marketing channel, in adjacent sections where your customers decide to purchase such as the price or subscription forms. Social proof has to be genuine; it can’t look fake.

Shine it: It’s an elevated version of ‘showing it’ through creative design and copywriting. Use words that convey the emotions your customers feel and pay attention to the small details; it’s not the same to say ‘2,000 designers use our software’ than ‘2,132 designers prefer our software’. Another kind of differentiation is whether it’s action based or preference based; if you sell a product, you could say X people preferred your product over X people ordered your product. For a video, you could say that 1,000 people liked the video over 1,000 people viewed the video.

Now, you might think that as ‘sum it’ is the very first step, it’s all about the numbers, but quality trumps quantity. Numbers can mean nothing if there’s no context or authority. If it doesn’t convey high quality, it’s not sufficient, so don’t get hung up on quantity. One good robust review can enhance your business more than 100 standard opinions; the power of your social proof depends on the quality of your testimonials.

As a marketing strategist, I’ve heard from clients who claim they have tested social proof on their website, and it didn’t work as expected; I doubt this is the case. As a rule of thumb, if your rating is above four or above your immediate competitors, it gives a good baseline of confidence to your customers. If your score is below four, you can’t blame social proof for not helping your business, you either need to improve your product or you need to further engage with your customers. Also, it would be best if you addressed how you executed and measured its success.

It’s important to understand that social proof is not a one-time implementation; it’s not static. The same way that you regularly update your website design, images or messaging, you should keep an eye on how your social proof evolves, and it’s updated. Firstly, ensure you’re covering the 6S format and then shape your messaging to find out what works.

In a fast-moving market, showing what your customers think about you and your brand is one of the most important tasks to do. Let your social proof grow with your business; it will undoubtedly help you scale up.