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Marketing 360® Blog

Testimonials, Reviews, Success Stories, and the Power of Social Proof

Post By Scott Yoder | Social Media Management

Social Proof

Making decisions isn’t easy.  We’re confronted by too many choices, and we don’t really understand most of the options.

So say you’re standing on a street and there are two restaurants.  You have no real criteria for knowing which is the best.  Except that one is full of people.  It looks like there is a wait for a table.  The other is almost empty.

You might think you’d avoid the wait and get a free table.  But you won’t.  In the back of your mind, you’ll make an assumption.  The busy restaurant is busy because it’s better.  Everybody likes it.  The empty one must suck because nobody’s there.

This assumption and the decision you make based on it is what marketers call social proof.  When we’re uncertain about a decision, we take cues from others.

The assumption is that other people have information we don’t.  We defer to their wisdom so we can make a decision and move on.

In today’s crowded digital marketing spaces, it’s vital that you exploit the power of social proof.

Can I Trust You?  Prove It!

There is a sad truth to marketing a business.  The people you want to help – and that you’re trying to convince – don’t trust you.

At least not completely.  In the back of their minds, they think you’re just about money.  You want to sell them – that’s your priority.

There are many things you can do to earn trust yourself, and you should do them all.  But there is no use fighting this.  It’s a survival instinct we all need in our consumer-based society.

What’s better is to enlist some help.  If your audience doesn’t believe you, who will they believe?

How about other people who have no ulterior motive when commenting on your business?

Yes.  Today, online consumers need an element of social proof to ease the suspicion that they’re being “sold”.

Here are four effective ways to create social proof for your business.

#1.  Testimonials

Testimonials are solicited comments from happy clients you put into your website/marketing content.

Because everyone knows testimonials are solicited, they’re not seen as unimpeachable.  But they do two things well.

First, like people in that busy restaurant, they create an impression.  Somebody likes this service, and that’s a good sign.

Second, you can control the content and design of testimonials.  You have the chance to “suggest” what someone says about your business so you can get their comments to match your benefits and value proposition.

In other words, this is marketing content that will help sell the benefits of your offer, but it’s not you talking about yourself.  It’s proof that what you do works for actual customers.

Here is a good example from New Vision Nutrition:

testimonial content

For effective testimonials do this:

  • Use an image of the person with the comment.  Putting a face with the comment makes it more credible.
  • Keep the comments short but specific about a benefit of your offer.  General, “this is great!” comments are not effective.
  • Have a call to action near the testimonial so visitors can convert.

The best practice is to spread testimonials around as part of your overall website design instead of having them all on a back page.  The brief, specific comments allow you to place them near your page call to actions, where they do the most good.

#2.  Success Stories

Sometimes a testimonial doesn’t tell the whole story of success.  You need to elaborate.

Success stories, also called case studies, provide details – often including specific data – that make a convincing argument about how your offer works.

To build out the sense of social proof, these are best presented as a story.  There is a plot, characters, and resolution.

The characters are your happy clients and your staff.  You work together to overcome the problem your solution solves – which is the plot.  The resolution is the problem overcome and your client doing business happily ever after.

Success stories require more development than testimonials.  The more complex your offer is to understand, the more you need the full story.  It’s social proof plus facts.

Unlike testimonials, you will need to organize success stories into a page on your website.  Facebook does an effective job of this, organizing their stories by business type, goals, product and region.

#3.  Reviews

We’ve discussed online reviews at length in this blog.  Today, they are probably the most convincing element of social proof in your marketing.

The big difference with reviews is that they appear on third party websites and are mainly perceived as being unsolicited.  There is often a balance because most businesses also get some negative feedback.

From Amazon to Google Local, one of the things you really want to do – from the perspective of imbuing positive social proof – is get a significant number of reviews that give you a high star rating.

For example, I’m drawn to this patio umbrella on Amazon because many people have bought it and most are happy:

5 start product reviews

Likewise, the first thing I notice about this interior design company is that they seem to have quite a few happy clients:

google my business interior design

The effect here is no different than the full restaurant.  As I’m making a decision, I’m strongly inclined to choose something others chose and seem to be happy with.

#4.  Social Media Marketing

Another type of social proof many businesses overlook is their social media presence.

If you are not only active – but interact – on social media, modern consumers will see this as a sign that you’re authentic and trustworthy.

If you have a lot of followers on your pages, this will serve as a social proof signal.  Likewise, your activity on social is perceived – again – like that busy restaurant.  Your business is a place where things are happening.  You’re engaged with the current and topical.  You have images, stories, event announcements, and commentary that are vibrant and current.

For some reason, I feel I should be following Red Bull on Twitter:

social proof twitter

Some businesses are skeptical about social media because they don’t get direct conversions.  But they are overlooking how these platforms lend credibility that gives consumers confidence.

Social proof is, in reality, a perception.  Social media marketing is a fantastic way to create the perception that you’re on the cutting edge of what’s happening in your industry – that you’re the center of attention in a crowd others will want to be a part of.


There is safety in following the crowd.  You think: that many people can’t be wrong.

social proof

This album was released in 1959.  It went platinum with ease.  Elvis’ popularity was ready to explode, and the record company knew with 50 million people already convinced, everyone else would be compelled to find out what they were missing.

Social proof is a perception, but it’s also a confirmation of quality.  It’s what moves a product into majority adoption.

If you’re serving up a great “menu” at your business but nobody knows it yet, you have to start drawing people in.  Social proof builds on itself – crowds draw more crowds.

Today, it’s hard to earn a potential customer’s trust without some (social) proof that you deliver on your promises.