Social Proof: What It Is and How to Leverage It for Your Influencer Marketing Campaign

GRIN also recommends: Quick Guide to Earned Media Value 

Person reading an online review

Word-of-mouth marketing is easier said than done. Brands are learning how to partner with creators to harness the social proof needed to increase inbound lead generation and sales.

What is social proof?

Social proof is the idea that people copy the actions of others to help inform their own actions. 

Some of the most common types of social proof are online reviews or recommendations from friends, family, and influencers. Rather than trust the biased opinions of the brand itself, buyers consult the experiences of other buyers.

Social proof typically comes from various forms of user-generated content (UGC), which is any content mentioning a product/brand coming from someone other than the brand.

Is social proof trustworthy?

Short answer – yes! Marketers that leverage quality UGC on behalf of their brand want to help customers make informed decisions.

To judge the quality of your own UGC, here are three things to keep in mind:

  1. Is customer/expert feedback true and authentic? Fake or insincere comments, reviews, and UGC give the impression that your brand is good, but after buyers take a closer look, they feel lied to. When leveraging social proof for your brand, you will achieve best results by building relationships with those who genuinely love your brand and products. This will ensure l that theUGC produced is accurate and truly reflects what your products can and can’t do. 
  2. Is customer/expert feedback informative and helpful? Consumers crave reliable information. One of the greatest benefits of social proof is the potential for verified buyer insights on how a product or service is good, bad, or average. The more in-depth this feedback, the more helpful it is to other shoppers. If you have a relationship with your biggest brand fans, encouraging them to share substantial reviews and social posts will appeal to more thoughtful, loyal buyers.
Screenshot of Amazon review showing social proof
Image via Amazon

  1. Is there a substantial amount of customer/expert feedback spanning an extended period of time? A few raving reviews in a matter of weeks could be a fluke, but mounting positive feedback over many months and years is no accident. This social proof shows buyers that you consistently put out excellent deliverables for your audience. It’s very difficult to fake that kind of long-term, positive feedback, whether through reviews, social media tags/shout-outs, influencer endorsements, or word-of-mouth recommendations.
Screenshot of Amazon review demonstrating social proof
Image via Amazon

Why is social proof important for ecommerce brands?

Before ecommerce became Americans’ favorite way to buy, most shoppers preferred to visit a physical store. The challenge for online brands over the last 10 years has been to demonstrate that their products are what buyers are looking for without buyers examining the merchandise in person.

With the growth of reliable information online, more and more people prefer to scroll through a user-friendly website from brands that people recommend. It’s more convenient, and in many ways, a more enjoyable experience. 

Thanks to social media, search engines, online marketplaces (Amazon, Google Shopping, etc.), and influencer marketing, consumers have many ways to research before making a purchase. UGC provides the social proof necessary for consumers to try new products from brands they’ve only heard of from people they trust.

Social proof can continue to nurture customer loyalty among brand fans as they inform one another of other products and how those products compare to ones they’ve already purchased. 

What are the different types of social proof?

1. Reviews

One of the first things that buyers consult when shopping online is buyer reviews. Gathering first-hand accounts from peers about how the product worked for them helps consumers visualize whether that product is good for them.

Bar graph of "How many reviews do you expect when looking at a product online?"
Image via Statista

As a marketer, you don’t have to sit back and wait for reviews to roll in. Reaching out to your best customers and asking them to review you online is a great way to gather those reviews for your brand. Ask them to share as much detail as they can about their purchase and the product. The meatier the review, the more helpful it will be to other consumers.

You can also connect with those who review products in your industry for a living, such as influencers, affiliates, or key opinion leaders. These people create blogs or vlogs (long-form videos) that act as a buyers guide for members of their audience.

2. Authentic endorsements

“For a creator/brand relationship to have any shot at success, consumers need to believe it’s the real deal. This means taking critical steps to build trust and authenticity with your creators—a.k.a good old-fashioned relationshipping.”

– GRIN, Creator Management: Inspire Belief

Endorsements from athletes, subject matter experts, influencers, and creators is another popular way to gather UGC. These individuals maintain the respect and admiration of thousands of people, and a sincere shout out significantly boosts your brand reputation.

3. Case studies

For more complex products and services, customer case studies are compelling forms of social proof to help buyers make informed purchases. Many B2B businesses use the case study model by partnering with one of their top clients and sharing a before/after story alongside the brand. 

4. Third-party credentials or certifications

For products and services where premium quality is a key selling point, brands can seek accolades or certifications from industry organizations. A classic example of this approach occurs when a drug, food, or supplement brand seeks FDA approval.

FDA logo
Image via FDA

Different certification logos
Image via Wine Enthusiast

Depending on your industry, there may be several organizations that verify the quality of your products and services. Getting their “stamp of approval” promotes confidence in your brand and helps you stand out from the competition.

5. Earned media value (EMV)

EMV measures the impact of third party mentions of your brand. While marketers use different means of calculating EMV, the idea is that you know how much a third party mention is worth.

Venn diagram of Earned Media, Paid Media, and Owned Media, the digital marketing trifecta
Image via Business 2 Community

Brands with high EMV have powerful word-of-mouth working in their favor, typically through various social media channels. The quality of their third-party mentions resonates with buyers and enhances those brands’ social proof.

Influencers and social proof – How do creators factor into marketing with social proof?

“80% of marketers find influencer marketing effective. 71% of marketers rate the quality of customers and traffic from influencer marketing as better than other marketing sources. 89% of marketers say influencer marketing ROI is as good or better than other marketing channels.”

Mediakix

The most effective way to generate social proof for your brand is to partner with social media creators. Because creators and influencers use their personal brands to build engaged online communities, any genuine brand mention can motivate followers to visit your website, research your brand, and/or buy.

How different creator types gives brands credibility

Depending on your brand, different creator types will generate different results. What’s critical is that you know what you want to accomplish (goals) and have a way to track performance (KPIs).

Bloggers

Bloggers “journal” their experiences in a way that captivates their readers. These creators are great for generating brand awareness and informing audiences about products, lifestyles, and industry “insider” information.

Vloggers

Similar to bloggers, vloggers use video to connect with audiences through the use of long-form video and live streaming. The leading platforms for vloggers include YouTube and Twitch. 

The advantage of vloggers is the visual appeal. Creators film themselves unpacking  a product and using it in real life.

Celebrities and Athletes

Well-known personalities often leverage their name to align with other brands. The best celebrity endorsements come out of direct relationships and shared values. Fans often like to mimic the style choices of their favorite musicians, actors, and athletes, and these individuals are great for generating brand awareness.

Key opinion leaders (KOLs)

KOLs are industry thought leaders and subject matter experts. Most are credentialed from a reputable institution or have achieved a high level of success in their field.

KOLs like to help their audience achieve success, improve their quality of life, or increase their skills. They are also great for raising awareness and driving sales.

Podcasters

Podcasters appeal to niche audiences who prefer specific kinds of entertainment or education. These creators have replaced traditional radio for Millennials and Gen Z-ers. They can easily raise awareness, inform buyers, and drive sales for their brand partners.

Artists

Most creators consider themselves a type of artist and can include photographers, crafters, videographers, musicians, and more. They may also exist as KOLs, vloggers, brand ambassadors, or influencers.

Trend setters

“Influencers” is the common term for trend setters on social media. These individuals take their brand partnerships seriously and maintain strong relationships with their audiences.

Brand ambassadors

Brand ambassadors can be artists, influencers, athletes, or anyone that is passionate about promoting a few select brands with whom they share values.

Some brand ambassadors are lesser-known creators, such as micro/nano influencers or social media users with a few hundred followers. But they all have an engaged community of like-minded people with whom they can drive sales.

5 Ways to leverage influencers for social proof

1. Product reviews and features

One of the most popular ways to leverage creators and influencers for social proof is through product review posts, videos, and blogs.

Brands gift creators select products, and those creators unbox the gift and use the products. By providing an honest assessment, creators give consumers a good sense of whether your product is a smart buy for them.

2. Positive interactions with UGC

Bar graph of "What Impact Does a Brand Engaging with Their User-Generated Content Have on the Relationship of US Consumers with the Company?"
Image via Insider Intelligence

When sponsoring a creator post, one of the best ways to build social proof is by interacting with UGC. First and foremost, you should make sure that your interactions are positive and helpful.

Not only will your replies demonstrate that you care about your customers, but it will also boost that post’s engagement and discoverability online. More people will see the post and want to engage your brand directly.

3. Whitelisting

In an influencer whitelisting campaign, your brand gets advertising permissions on a creator’s profile with whom you have a strong working relationship. When promoting a post from your creator’s account, you can target new audiences (that follow neither the influencer nor your brand page) and publish creator content as an ad that looks more organic.

Consumers are more likely to engage with those posts since it comes from someone outside your brand. It can also help you and your influencer get more followers.

4. Influencer-hosted live events

Live events allow fans to see creators discuss your product in real time. These events are great for hosting product releases, FAQs, or doing an activity that uses one or two of your products.

For best results, you can co-host the event with your creators and assign a team member to the comments section to answer viewer questions. 

5. Case studies (Best practices)

For some brands, making sure that your customers know how to use your products correctly makes all the difference for your social proof. In those cases, case study content or best practices posts are best.

With this type of content, your creators or clients can demonstrate success confidently, since they are familiar with your products/services. This approach works well for both B2C and B2B brands.

3 ecommerce brands succeeding with social proof

There are many brands who’ve demonstrated how to successfully build creator partnerships to generate credibility with their target audience. Here are just a few:

1. Sene Studio

Sene is not a big brand, but everything that they do “packs a punch.” That’s because they’ve mastered two things – creator management and product personalization.

The brand has partnered with multiple fashion, celebrity, and fitness influencers to endorse their clothing lines. Creator posts featuring Sene are consistently authentic and informative. To target specific audiences, the brand also leverages their best creator relationships to launch whitelisting campaigns.

2. SlumberPod

Screenshot of Slumberpod's resource directory
Image via Slumberpod

SlumberPod makes pop-up tents for babies, toddlers, and pets to allow parents to rest in the same room as their child/pet. To promote the “pods” as safe and effective, the brand committed to a word-of-mouth marketing strategy.

By partnering with experts and brand ambassadors, customers trusted the brand more quickly, shortening SlumberPod’s customer journey and lowering acquisition costs. The company website offers a wide range of resources for young parents and new customers.

Today, the brand outsources content and customer advocacy initiatives to loyal brand ambassadors. These creators generated lifestyle content that are easy to repurpose on the brand’s website, social posts, paid ads, and email newsletters. Additionally, these ambassadors nurture a thriving brand community of SlumberPod customers.

3. Emotive

Screenshot of Emotive's options
Image via Emotive

Emotive is a SMS, two-way messaging platform built primarily for ecommerce brands. As a B2B provider, it’s critical that the marketing team create content demonstrating the effectiveness of two-way text message marketing.

Because the industry had a negative reputation for spam, Emotive invested in customer support and integrated customer feedback to improve the platform. With a large batch of happy, influential customers, the brand could then lean on those ecommerce brands to create in-depth case studies.

These case studies demonstrate social proof to other ecommerce brands about the effectiveness of Emotive’s tools. Many of those customers also leveraged the platform to launch social proof campaigns of their own with the help of industry influencers encouraging audiences to sign up for texts for fast customer service and limited-time offers.

Conclusion

Approaching your marketing with social proof in mind decreases the time it takes for buyers to trust your brand. It also lowers your customer acquisition costs and increases customer loyalty. 

Creator partnerships help you earn that social proof with your target audience. They are in tune with the needs of their community and will always seek to deliver value through accurate information and authentic brand endorsements.

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