When everyone looks up at the sky, do you do the same?

If no one is buying a certain flavour of ice cream, do you stay clear of it too?

If your friends all wear a certain brand of clothing do you desire to do the same, or the opposite?

The force that influences you every day when it comes to decision making, from the biggest decisions like where you want to live, down to the smaller every day choices like what to have for lunch, is called Social Proof.

Social Proof exists because we group together in a society. All other people around you and what choices they make, are pushing or pulling you to do or not do certain things. This is an incredibly strong force when it comes to influencing our behaviors. We are pack animals, no matter how independent we think we are, unless you live in a cave, you are conditioned by other people around you.

As business owners social proof is important because it’s such an influential selling tool. It’s potentially a business killer too, because negative social proof can kill your brand and your sales.

Let’s take a closer look at how we can use social proof as bloggers and information marketers…

An Introduction To Social Proof For Selling Online

Here’s how Wikipedia introduces Social Proof –

Social proof, also known as informational social influence, is a psychological phenomenon where people assume the actions of others reflect correct behavior for a given situation. This effect is prominent in ambiguous social situations where people are unable to determine the appropriate mode of behavior, and is driven by the assumption that surrounding people possess more knowledge about the situation.

Although like every one else I have been influenced by others around me from an early age, I only became aware of the concept of social proof as a marketing tool after studying direct response advertising.

For years I can remember watching late night infomercials, with all the testimonials from people who had used some sort of exercise machine, or food slicer and dicer or fad diet, and the amazing results they had achieved.

Unfortunately due to the poor reputation of the late night infomercial world I personally had more feeling of skepticism towards these testimonials than a compulsion to purchase, however the proof is in the results. TV marketers do not keep running ads if they don’t get a response, and social proof was a big part of the reason why they did.

Anthony Robbin’s became a household name because of late night infomercials and can you remember much social proof in them?

My Eyes Opened When It Came Time To Sell Something

I’m a bit of a contrarian, at least I considered myself one growing up. It wasn’t by design, I just didn’t like the feeling of doing something because everyone else was. You might call me an anti-social proof person back then. That doesn’t mean I wasn’t impacted by it, but instead of wanting to run with the crowd, I went against it, at least in some things like drinking alcohol as a teenager, which I never did.

Of course back then I would never have called any of this sort of behavior as social proof, I just acted on my feelings, as we all do when influenced by other people.

Fast forward to my more recent career as an information marketer and I start to see social proof everywhere, and discover it actually has a name. I learned you can, and should, tap into as much social proof as possible.

Today the very nature of the Internet, being such a social environment, has resulted in social proof becoming by far the greatest force when it comes to buying decisions.

Recommendation engines in shopping sites like Amazon.com rely on other people’s feedback to help drive sales and refer people to products they will like based on the buying behaviours of people like them.

Bloggers act as a social proof force, recommending products without necessarily intending to simply by stating they are using some piece of equipment or software. If enough bloggers state they are using a certain product or service, that can be all that is needed to drive an army of customers snapping up a product without one cent of money spent on advertising.

The “wisdom of the crowd” is a phrase that applies particularly well to the large social environment created on the internet and the power of a group to come together and make a decision collectively. It also happens to be another label for social proof, although strictly speaking it doesn’t necessarily always lead to the “wisest” decision. Social proof triggers can result in bad decisions too, because it can be a blind choice, made because other people made it, not necessarily based on sound rationalisation looking at the facts.

How I Applied Social Proof

I started to see the true power of this technique when I launched my first information product. I had already spent countless hours studying the product launch formula. I watched many internet marketers make huge profits leveraging social proof in their sales materials and even in their teaching materials (teaching materials are after all, the best sales materials).

I noticed that one technique, a type of social proof inducing mechanism, was especially powerful: The Case Study.

Case studies are social proof highlight reels, showing what other people who were just like you are now experiencing as a result of making a decision to buy something that you have the option to buy too. If you see enough of these sorts of case studies you start to see the outcome as a forgone conclusion. Make this purchase and the result is yours, because it has happened to so many other people after buying.

The best kind of case study is one where the person starts in a worse situation than you can imagine, and then buys what you offer and goes on to experience a better result than even you did as a result of the purchase. If you have several of these kinds of examples, well, you have all the sales materials you need!

True to form, I went looking for case studies when it came time to sell my training product on how to make money blogging. Of course the first launch was with a new product no one had used before, so I didn’t have any previous students to draw from, so I relied on my own personal case study story. For subsequent launches, as a group of star students began to emerge I was able to draw on these people for short testimonial interviews, and for a handful of them, full blown hour-long case study interviews.

Many of my podcast interview subjects are actually case studies for my products, at least in part. While I wasn’t specifically inviting these people to promote my products – I wanted to share their success story – often my influence would show up when they said they learned something from me, or implemented one of my techniques. You can see plenty examples of these kinds of interviews on my How People Make Money With Blogs Case Study page.

I should note that for you direct response marketing or copywriting pros, you might refer to case studies as examples of the concept of “proof” rather than social proof. As far as I am concerned, case studies are the ultimate example of both proof and social proof, but you do need a lot of them for the social aspect to kick in, which is why people have pages and pages of testimonials to sell their products.

Simple Social Proof

One of the simplest examples of social proof you will find on almost all blogs are comments. Comments are indicators that enough people are paying attention to what you are writing to reply. The same can be said for things like facebook “like” and twitter “tweet” buttons and before them, the Digg and Stumble buttons, and more recently Pinterest “Pin” button, which all demonstrate social proof within a social media context.

All these elements help to reinforce that this is “good content” because other people have read it and shared it or commented on it. This is the same reason why there was a craze a few years ago of bloggers placing RSS counters, or traffic stats widgets, pagerank and alexa bars and all kinds of similar badges to show that people pay attention to you. The more attention you have the more you deserve it from others – social proof in action.

How To Apply Social Proof To Your Business

The first step when applying social proof is to become aware of how effective it is and then look for ways to leverage it within what you already do.

Chances are you already have built up some kind of social proof elements simply through the course of business. Showing a stat counter of how many people have downloaded your software or used your product is a good start. You may have received positive feedback emails from customers who have benefited from what you sold them – can they be your next case study? Perhaps you have a lot of comments on a particular blog post, or can you add a comment function to something to start building a social proof resource? Facebook comments?

One of the best triggers for social proof is a great product. Actually, it IS the best form of social proof.

Why? Because a brilliant product is purchased by a lot of people, talked about by a lot of people and even defended or raved about online by evangelists. This is pure social proof because it occurs organically, you simply give people what they want and they then become a force that influences future potential customers, and so on and on.

My advice if you are an information marketer looking to sell digital products online, is to collect some really good case studies, ideally at least one really thorough one. Record a video interview with that person if you can and break down all the steps they took to get a result. Don’t worry if they reveal everything that is in your product, that will just serve as more proof of how good it is.

I also recommend giving away your best stuff for free. If you have a free report that spreads far and wide, people start to include you in conversations whenever your industry is discussed. You become one of the “experts” or “celebrities” or whatever you want to call it. What matters is that you factor into that world because lots of people have heard of you in relation to a subject. If your name is dropped often enough people assume you are great even if they have never experienced what you do. That’s what social proof is all about – giving you status based on social reference.

Social proof is everywhere. I can’t even begin to explain how pervasive a force it is. What’s important is that you turn your awareness on to it, especially when it comes to marketing your products and services.

One thing I have personally noticed is that as I became more aware of social proof in a selling context, the easier I could spot it influencing my decision making. I can’t “break free” from social proof – I don’t really want to because it helps me make quicker decisions – but I do like “seeing” the forces that influence me rather than being blind to them, which is what I was predominately in the past.

As part of emotional mastery, spotting social proof in your life is a great tool because you take back the power. You can observe the decisions that people around you make and how it pushes or pulls you, but you don’t act on impulse because of them.

You can review social proof with a sense of detachment to it, see the wisdom in it when you need it to help you make a decision, and then act. It becomes a rational tool for choosing a path rather than an irrational emotional act made because you are a herd creature (or at least you can tell yourself that and then go and make the same decision as everyone else anyway!).

Thanks for reading, now go and tell your friends to read this, oh, and click the tweet button 😉

Herd Animal

Photo courtesy of Flashpacking Life