Social proof can boost your conversion rate, but it can also work against you.

These five mistakes will eliminate the benefits of using social proof, and one of them could completely destroy your business.

One of the most powerful ways to increase conversions on your landing pages is through social proof.

Research shows that people are highly influenced by what others are doing. They will try out a restaurant if it always seems to be full and will purchase a product if it has been recommended by a trusted community.

People are especially likely to rely on social proof when they are undecided, and in the online business world, where anyone can publish a website, trust is hard to come by. Web marketers can use the wisdom of the crowd to increase conversion rates by demonstrating to potential customers that their products are being used frequently by fellow consumers.
 
Social proof can be demonstrated in a variety of ways. You can display testimonials from customers and/or influential figures.

Community-submitted ratings and reviews show that a large number of people endorse your product. Security seals, trust badges and press logos can all increase credibility. Including impressive numbers counts of subscribers, social shares or social connections can encourage viewers to join the party.
 
But just like any marketing tactic, there’s a right way to do it and a wrong way.

If you do it the wrong way, social proof can actually driving prospects away. In order to maximize the impact of social proof on your landing page's conversion rates, you need to go about it the right way, which means avoid the following mistakes.

1. Testimonials without headshots

You might be tempted to skip placing headshots next to each happy customer quote. It can be challenging to obtain usable images from each person you're citing, but it's 100% worth it.

Photos boost the trustworthiness of testimonials, increasing the sense that these are quotes from real people and not fabrications.

Are photos actual evidence of a truthful testimony?

No. But customers have repeatedly demonstrated a preference for human faces when evaluating a purchase.

The portraits you use should be high-quality, and ideally, their subjects should have inviting, friendly expressions on their faces.

If you’re using a template-based landing page builder, you can upload customer photos with just a few clicks. Consider placing your CTA next to the testimonials with text that encourages potential customers to join these already satisfied customers.

2. Endorser-persona mismatch

You're the marketing director of a 30,000 employee company, and you’re looking for high-powered data analytics software.

You’re browsing a service page and you see a testimonial from John Smith, owner of a 15-person IT business. It’s a fantastic testimonial, but here’s the problem...

It doesn’t really mean anything to you.

Your buyer persona doesn’t match the endorser’s persona. The fact that this service worked for a 15-person business doesn’t tell you it will work for your MUCH bigger business.

Don't simply run the first bunch of testimonials you can get your hands on. Instead, invest in the foresight to curate your testimonials to align with your buyer personas. The whole point of using testimonials as social proof is to tap into audience members' sense of identification with your product's champions.
 
People don’t inherently care about the opinions of random strangers. But if you can make the case that the endorser has a lot in common with the reader, then he or she is far more likely to pay attention. If you can get testimonials that address common problems faced by your target persona and how your business solved those problems, even better!

3. Negative social proof

If you tell someone that millions of people are buying your product, it can potentially encourage them to buy as well. What many marketers fail to realize, however, is that the opposite tends to be true as well.

Studies on negative social proof demonstrate that if you indicate an obviously bad or poor choice is popular, people are actually more likely to follow suite than if you hadn’t said anything.

The most popular case outlines the National Park Service’s attempt to discourage petrified wood theft in the Petrified Forest National Park.

When signs were put out in the park stating:

Many past visitors have removed the petrified wood from the park, destroying the natural state of the Petrified Forest.

... the theft rate actually tripled!
 
This is the power of social proof. People tend to follow the herd, for better or for worse. And it will work against you if you’re not careful.

4. Focusing On Discounts

Offering a discount can increase conversions, but social proof increases conversions far more effectively.

Research shows that saving money does not actually motivate purchases nearly as much as we might think. People are much more invested in saving time and hassle than they are in saving money.


 
That’s why your copy really shouldn’t focus on price or discounts nearly as much as it focuses on the benefits your business solution offers and they way it has specifically benefitted past clients.

By highlighting the ways you have helped other companies solve their problems, you can leverage social proof in the minds of your target customers.

5. Displaying unknown logos

Including a universally-recognized logo in your client-list is a great way to establish social trust. After all, if a big, successful company that everyone knows decided to trust this business, you probably can too.

Anywhere you go now, you’ll see companies promoting their services via the brand names they’ve worked with.

When you’ve worked with companies like Hewlett-Packard, Lenovo, and Citibank, as in the PolyVista example above, placing those logos front and center is a great idea.

But let’s be honest. Most businesses haven’t worked with Fortune 500 companies, and displaying unknown brand names, seals, badges or company logos isn’t going to help your cause.

Having NO social proof is better than having WEAK social proof. When you display client logos on a landing page, it implies that this is the best you have to offer. Showing unknown companies can communicate only “unimportant companies” use your product/service and inadvertently weaken your pitch.

The exception to this rule would be relatively unknown companies that are popular within your niche, but really, that’s not even an exception, because the point here isn’t that your promoted clients are recognizable to the average joe, but that they’re recognizable to your target audience.
 
If you don’t have any impressive users or clients, reach out to a few influential people and offer them your product/service free in exchange for a testimonial.

Socially prove your worth

When done right, social proof will influence landing page visitors to convert.

Just as we are more likely to go to a party when we see that all of our friends are planning to attend, proof that respected members of our industry are happy with a product makes us anxious to experience the product for ourselves.

Nobody wants to be the only one missing out.

Jacob McMillen

Published 17 February, 2015 by Jacob McMillen

Jacob McMillen is a professional copywriter, marketing blogger, and the content director for CoachTube. Follow him on Twitter.

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Comments (5)

Pete Austin

Pete Austin, CINO at Fresh Relevance

Great article!

Some related points: social proof is the effect formerly known as "peer pressure" and is related to the "broken windows theory" for encouraging good behavior.

It's basically along the lines of "monkey see, monkey do" - you demonstrate the desired outcome, and avoid people seeing the undesired one, to encourage them to do the same.

almost 3 years ago

Jacob McMillen

Jacob McMillen, Copywriter at JacobMcMillen.com

Thanks Pete!

I think we are all wired to trust the crowd on some level.

almost 3 years ago

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Karen Wormwell, Creative Director at Truthful Testimonials

Hi Jacob, really enjoyed reading your post and agree with your points - particularly the importance of using customer testimonials as social proof. You talk here about text based testimonials, which of course do help to build trust, however we find that video testimonials are even more powerful. Even with video testimonials, the issue of evidence of a truthful testimony can still apply, which is why we independently verify all of the testimonials we produce. http://truthfultestimonials.co.uk/

almost 3 years ago

David Mann

David Mann, Conversion Rate Optimisation Consultant at Davidmannheim.co.uk

Some really well made points. #2 (endorser-persona mismatch) being a particular niggle of mine and effectively comes down to quality over quantity. Similar to product reviews, testimonials work on the basis of an optimal level of dissaonce; that being the realistic level of believability one has in what they are reading. Focusing specifically on quality of testimonials akin to the persona of the reader is key to this.

almost 3 years ago

Jacob McMillen

Jacob McMillen, Copywriter at JacobMcMillen.com

Thanks David! I completely agree with you. A few optimally matched testimonials are far more effective than a large volume of mismatched endorsements.

almost 3 years ago

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