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I see an ad pop up in my Instagram feed. It features a beautiful woman in a bikini with an amazing body and smooth legs. It immediately catches my attention because bathing suit season is just around the corner and, man, I wish I had those legs! I read on and determine the ad is for a cellulite cream. I click to the product website to learn more. I stumble upon some testimonials on their website from real people, just like me. I then read their blog, “How to get rid of cellulite, for GOOD.” I’m beginning to think this is something I really should look into. I go to their social feed to look for more validation and I see tons of success stories. Could this be the product for me? As I observe this social proof, I get closer and closer to making a purchase. I’m sold.

Does this scenario sound familiar? Not the cellulite, per say, but the quest for validation of a product or service prior to purchase? Aside from my shallow example above, I do this daily. Last week, I did a Google search for a great children’s dentist near me, read the online reviews and asked for my friends’ opinion on Facebook. Before I went on a recent business trip, I scoured Trip Advisor to find a hotel that was comfortable, affordable and in the right location. Yes, I could have just rolled the dice and randomly selected a hotel, or a dentist, or cellulite cream, for that matter, but there’s no need. The proof is out there. Social proof, that is.

Now, if you’re reaching for your smartphone to open Instagram, stop right there – social proof isn’t all about social media. Social media provides the channels of communication that brings certain types of social proof to life, and, while it certainly plays a role in the social proof game, it is only one piece of the puzzle.

So, what is “social proof?” It’s confirmation of beliefs and perceptions around a brand. Social proof makes us believe that what is being offered has value. Social proof shows up in many forms that can be used in a variety of marketing scenarios. Here is a breakdown of where you might find social proof and why this is incredibly important to brands.

1.       Testimonials and Endorsements

One of the most popular forms of social proof is the customer testimonial in which a single person shares something positive about a brand’s products and services. You can find customer testimonials on television and radio, and in digital and print formats. This form of social proof can vary drastically in style and tone, sometimes taking place in a formal setting and other times taking on an impromptu, candid feel. Customer testimonials are impactful because they establish trust and put a face to a brand. Like my experience with the cellulite cream website, consumers are much more likely to believe a regular person’s unbiased opinion. In fact, according to statistics collected by Big Commerce, 92 percent of consumers read online reviews and testimonials when considering a purchase, 88 percent trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations and 72 percent say positive reviews and testimonials make them more likely to trust a business.

If you have a social media profile, chances are you’ve seen an influencer endorsement somewhere in your feed. Essentially, influencer marketing happens when people with large social followings promote a product or service on their page. This could take the form of a post, a story or even a geofilter, and these endorsements are very powerful, reaching thousands, if not millions, of followers, depending on the influencer. Data compiled by Collective Bias indicates that nearly 60 percent of consumers have considered a blog review or social media post viewed on a smartphone or tablet before making a purchase in-store. Influencers are the latest trend in word-of-mouth marketing and it looks like their sway over buyers is only growing.

2.       Blogs and White Papers

Nowadays, you really can’t go wrong with incorporating long-form social proof into your marketing strategy. In-depth blog articles and white papers are an excellent way to expound upon a topic, establish thought leadership and improve SEO. While the typical blog article averages at about 1,000 and 2,000 words in length, white papers are usually much longer, running anywhere between 4 to 15 pages. White papers are very industry specific, highlighting a niche topic or providing a solution to a very specific issue. People seek out white papers for crucial data, including testimonials, statistics and more. According to the 2017 Content Preferences Survey Report, 76 percent of buyers will exchange their personal information, like an email or phone number, in exchange for white papers.

3.       Case Studies and Data-Driven Proof Points

Case studies also provide powerful social proof. They are primarily made up of three parts: Problem, Solution, Result. This easy-to-understand approach clearly establishes how your brand achieved a goal or solved a problem. Case studies are a great place to showcase proof points, like testimonials and statistics, because their intention is to validate with real-world data. Case studies tell a story and call attention to the what, why, and how success was achieved, which further establishes brand recognition and industry leadership. If complete case studies are not feasible, data driven proof points can be used to provide validation. They are simple, short statistics that back up a product claim. With so much access to data, this information is more readily available than ever before.

We no longer live in a world where an advertisement on its own can stimulate the masses to make a purchase decision. It takes more. With information literally at their fingertips 24/7, consumers are savvy and demand more. They are information seekers and expect that information to be easily accessible. They want brand validation, social proof that what they want will satisfy their emotional need. Using multiple methods of social proof helps brands make a stronger emotional connection with the end user, eliciting response sooner. Stronger emotional connections translate into adoption and generate a loyal fan base for your product or service.

As a consumer, this emotional connection resonates, and I will continue to seek out social proof for the products and services that I want to purchase. From cellulite cream to my kids’ new dentist, social proof gives me peace of mind because I know I went with the most well-informed choice.

And I’m actually looking forward to hitting to the beach this summer.

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