Definition: Social proof is a demonstration that other people have made a choice or partaken in a product/service — such as reviews, testimonials or social shares — thereby encouraging others to do so. Social proofs make online customers feel more comfortable purchasing from an ecommerce store, making them an integral part of conversion optimization.

Online shoppers feel much more comfortable buying from a store if they know others have done it — and had pleasant experiences. Social proofs for an online business include its social media followers, product reviews, and blog posts or news articles that mention the company. These are all forms of validation that legitimize a business in the eyes of consumers.

Why social proof works

Studies show that people are more likely to do something when presented with evidence that others have done it. Social proof makes it more likely that people will patronize your business. Seeing other individuals - particularly like-minded ones that are in the same demographics - engaging with a business creates an immediate trust with people who are yet to be customers, and indicates your company provides quality service. After all, would that many people like be fans of something that didn't?

This is especially the case when social proof comes in the form of a review. Online first-hand testimony that extols the virtues of your business is starting to replace the role word of mouth played in the pre-digital era. A positive review may well be the thing that pushes potential customers to part with their money.

A full 27 percent of customers regularly use online reviews to choose which local business to patronize, a number that is growing. By contrast, only 24 percent never use online reviews. Customers are inundated with choice in today's world, and reviews can be a handy tool that lets them narrow their options.

Social Media proofs

On social media, such social proof can take many different forms depending on the medium.

Direct public feedback: Posts to your Facebook page or tweets at your Twitter handle are two examples of public feedback that can reinforce a brand's legitimacy. When potential customers see positive mentions of your brand, it increases comfort levels.

Engagement volume: Number of friends, followers, likes, retweets and other social metrics can be a form of social proof as well. The more engagement, the more likely that other potential customers will see them as evidence that your company is a reputable and noteworthy business.

Negative feedback: The other side of social proof

Remember, however, that social proof cuts both ways. If it's negative, such as customer complaint on your Facebook page or Twitter feed, it can damage your business, discouraging potential customers from trying out your good or service.

This is heightened by social media, which amplifies every individual's voice and allows she or he to contact you in a direct, public way if they have a complaint. That's why it's important to quickly respond to and solve any customer grievance as quickly as possible.

Leveraging Social Proof

Proactive businesses will use positive social proof to their advantage. If you get a glowing review on Yelp or another website - or even if you receive a physical copy of it - display it somewhere on your website, perhaps on a dedicated reviews page. Ideally, you will provide a link to the original testimonial.

If it's a particularly good one, consider sharing it on one of your social media platforms - or all of them, whether Facebook, Twitter or Instagram. Just be careful: You don't want to overdo this and come across as arrogant or desperate. If the kind words are direct to your social media account, you might consider retweeting or sharing the message so your fans or followers see it too.

Consider, also, incorporating different types of social proof into marketing. If you have a great score on Yelp, perhaps you might feature this prominently on your webpage or on advertising material. The same goes for how many Facebook likes or Twitter followers your business has.

Social media provides a megaphone to individual customers unlike anything seen in the pre-digital age, allowing for a more impactful and louder form of social proof. Whether it's positive or negative is up to you.

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