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Principles of Influence Part 6: Social Proof is Positive Proof

Note: This is the sixth and final in a series of blog posts devoted to principles of influence found in Dr. Robert Cialdini’s seminal psychology book entitled Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion. It is essential reading for any marketer.

For our last principle of influence, we have left perhaps the most important and potent one: social proof. Social proof is a form of consensus that can help affirm or destroy a marketer’s reputation and credibility, provide substantiation for its claims, and cause potential customers to lean in or turn away. Another way to think of social proof is that it is simply a powerful form of word-of-mouth advertising, which is often referred to as the best form of advertising there is. In today’s era of social media, its importance cannot be underestimated. According to a study by Fan & Fuel Digital Marketing Group, 97% of consumers polled indicated customer reviews factor into their buying decisions, and 92% indicated they would hesitate to make a purchase if there are no reviews.

The challenge with social proof among traditional direct marketers is that it is often difficult to peg just exactly how such noise directly effects or detracts from a sale.  Given that many proponents of DR are used to a direct cause and effect with their marketing efforts, this can be problematic because proving the inherent value of social proof can be imprecise, even fuzzy. Nonetheless, it is essential that every marketer devote substantial resources to the care and feeding of their social proof ecosystem. This requires human capital to respond to online reviews (both praise and gripes), and other forms of customer care and reputation management. It also demands significant resources be devoted to content marketing to help prime the social proof pump. That could be videos on YouTube that inspire consumers to share and respond, Pinterest boards to spark ideas, or tweets that keep the public engaged. Such efforts require a comprehensive game plan, and constant, daily tending, lest a marketer lose complete control of their brand voice. Too often, efforts are willy-nilly because management does not maintain a true commitment given they cannot make sense of how such efforts relate to dollars and cents.

Don’t get me wrong: at the end of the day the marketer really does not control their social proof. What they can do, however, is nurture and influence it. Those marketers who choose to ignore what is being said about their products risk completely ceding that voice to the marketplace – and their competitors. The prevalence of fake review sites masquerading as impartial opinion is just one way that unscrupulous competitors hijack leads and sales. But being too passive can have other, negative consequences. Here’s an example: one marketer heavily advertises a product in the kitchen category and is a top long form advertising spender. A competitor, meanwhile, gained the early foothold on Amazon and has far more (hundreds) of favorable reviews and a great overall star rating. This competitor does no advertising, but must have understood the old marketing adage: “First in, wins.” Meanwhile, the TV advertiser’s ad drives traffic to Amazon, where, according to at least one study, 55% of consumers go to begin their product research. The result? The first adopter of Amazon – the one that spends nothing on TV advertising – enjoys 20 times the sales as the one who populates the airwaves.

In short, social proof can work for or against a marketer. The ability to shout any opinion from the top of a mountain the height of a computer mouse makes it essential that one mind what is being said about their product or service. Proof positive that social proof isn’t just a spoke on the wheel of the integrated marketing communication plan; no, it is rapidly becoming the hub that influences everything, because everything sprouts from it.

Rick Petry

Rick Petry

Author: Rick Petry is the CMO/EVP Client Services of DirectAvenue and a seasoned direct marketing professional and thought leader with experience spanning three decades. He has had a hand in campaigns generating over $1 billion in sales and is conversant in all facets of performance-based marketing including off-line and on-line media planning and buying, research, analytics, creative, production, and back-end management, Rick is the author of over 200 articles on direct marketing best practices, and is a past Chairman of the Board of the Electronic Retailing Association (ERA) and a recipient of ERA’s Volunteer of the Year award, as well as the Direct Response Marketing Alliance’ Member of the Year award as voted by his peers.