Several weeks ago, on completion of a particularly successful project for a client, he sent me a testimonial for inclusion on my website. Now, I admit that it had been a while since I had updated my Testimonials page, but it was testament to his marketing expertise that he knew the value of ‘social proof’ – to any business, mine in this case.
So, while I was at it, I decided to ask some recent clients if they would be comfortable in commenting on my work as well. My only request was that I be able to associate their full name or website url or photo to their contribution (which I will explain later). The results were interesting:
- All but 1 of those asked were more than happy to send through their comments
- Some used video as their medium
- Others sent through text versions
- One preferred to not disclose the fact that he outsourced his content writing
- One is very ‘underground’ and did not want his full identity revealed
- Two still have it on their ‘to do’ list
- Two asked if I could write it for them (!)
What are the benefits of adding testimonials?
In the three weeks since I updated my Testimonials page, I have submitted proposals for several large content creation projects – all for new, unreferred clients. In each case, rather than explaining what I do, I pointed them to my website for examples, and to the Testimonials page. Two of these proposals have now converted, and a third is likely to.
I have no doubt that the social proof provided by my current clients played a vital role in securing these major projects – so at this point, I’d like to thank them!
Social Proof – The Nutshell Definition
A simple online search will reveal a multitude of definitions of ‘social proof’, ranging from historical and in-depth psychological explanations through to how marketers are using to influence your buying decisions every day (and make no mistake here they are). But I am a ‘nutshell’ type of person, so here is my take on it.
People use social proof to help them make decisions in ambiguous circumstances. If they are uncertain about how to act, or whether to purchase, they are influenced by the responses and opinions of others in the same situation.
In the case of my Testimonials, prospective clients, perhaps unsure if I am the right writer for them, will no doubt be influenced by comments from the people for whom I have worked in the past.
Herd It Through The Grapevine – For Creedence
Few of us would not have been influenced by social proof in some way. It may be:
- deciding whether to watch a movie with 5 stars or 3
- opting to view a ‘most watched video’
- to purchase or consider based on a ‘feedback’ or ‘rating’
- to ‘follow’ someone on social media sites because they already have lots of fans (so they MUST have something worthwhile to say)
- to ‘follow’ people that many of our peers are following
- making a buying decision based on a personal recommendation
Marketing research reinforces this by telling us that 74% of consumers trust peer recommendations, while only 14% trust advertisements.
So, in an increasingly competitive online business environment, it is hardly surprising that creating a group of loyal followers is one of the most powerful strategies being employed by successful marketers. However, it is not something that can be achieved overnight – the most valuable followers are ‘Influencers’ (those who will actively spread the word to their peers or their ‘herd’) and are those with whom the marketer has taken the time to build a trusting relationship.
The Influencers are the people who will:
- add to the hype of your new product launches (they could of course have a vested interest – see below)
- they are those who will take to the stage to confirm how you, the speaker, have helped them
- they will post (or give you a thumbs up) on Facebook or Twitter or Blogs about their positive experiences with your product or service
- they will bookmark your posts
- they will provide genuine testimonials.
They are real people in a virtual space that is being increasingly populated by automatic posting services and fictitious profiles.
Because I write for several high level marketers, I have become quite attuned to how social proof, and the herd mentality, has evolved from nought and is now used to create interest and demand. When implemented well it is akin to an art form.
Affiliate Marketing and Social Proof
In the last 10 years or so, online businesses have realized the profitability of creating products that are downloaded digitally. Increasingly, consumers are preferring to have information products – reports, ebooks, training courses etc – delivered in this way. Instant gratification is the name of the game – they pay immediately online and expect delivery in the same way.
Because they only need to create a product once and have an automatic payment and fulfillment process in place, the creators of digital products often have no further cost of goods sold (COGS).
So many decide to sacrifice some of their profit by incentivising others to promote products on their behalf by offering affiliates commissions. Affiliate marketing can be lucrative for affiliates, and some have created very profitable businesses from this business model e.g. Andy Grand.
However, products that are created by big name marketers, or which have a high ticket value, could have thousands of affiliates promoting them – particularly at launch time. And competition can be fierce.
Social Proof shows its value here in several ways.
Firstly, an army of affiliates promoting a product will yield impressive results from the search engines when people attempt to research said product. Of course, few of the results will have anything negative to say about the product, though many will use the strategy of alluding to a false negative e.g. “it is NOT a get rich scheme, so if that is what you want, it is not for you….”.
The greater the potential affiliate income, the more affiliates there will be, and consequently the collective investment in product promotion using often innovative traffic grabbing strategies. Lots of search engine results with positive feedback for a product is great social proof for the merchant.
Secondly, the big name marketers, with substantial client lists and lots of ‘followers’, can, and do, support each other, often with larger than normal or tiered affiliate commissions, or cross-list-promotion offers. The marketers who value their lists, however, are very careful about recommendations, and will often continue to look after their followers by insisting on special pricing or bonuses for them (while, of course, collecting affiliate income).
Social Proof Begins At Home
Too often I see sales pages with testimonials of dubious origin (e.g. Mr K, London, England with a stock photo) – don’t be tempted to use these, they just look shonky and do nothing for your credibility. And, while we’re at it, avoid buying from sites that use them!
If you don’t have previous customers, offer to to provide a free product to a prospect in return for quotable feedback or opinion. This is particularly effective in the pre-launch phase because the feedback could be priceless!
Video testimonials are very powerful, so be sure to include them wherever possible. Having real people deliver real endorsements can be a real deal maker – and they don’t have to be professional videos. In fact, its better if they aren’t. A recording from a handheld device uploaded to YouTube works a treat.
If there are some key elements you would like mentioned, when you request feedback, be bold and ask for them to be included (e.g. fast delivery, accuracy, support).
Regardless of whether you are selling your expertise, a product or service (your own or as an affiliate), buyers will purchase from you if they feel they can trust you. Having third party endorsements – genuine testimonials – helps to build their confidence. So don’t be bashful or lazy (as was the case with my failure to update!), ask – and if you deserve it, you will receive.
Offer A Testimonial
Finally, if you have received excellent service that deserves recognition, why not do what my client did – be proactive and provide a testimonial. Don’t offer – just do it!