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There's no doubt you've read or heard somewhere the overly used marketing phrase: "Content is King". But as this message crept its way into industry after industry and content marketing became a not only popular but necessary means of attracting online leads, the content universe quickly became filled with... well... a bunch of crap.

That said, high-quality content is still SUPER important. The King hasn't been sent to the guillotine or anything like that... he's just been ever so slightly demoted. Relevant, well-optimized content is still what the search engines look for when crawling your site and determining its authority on a given topic. And well-written, user-friendly, problem-solving content is still what inspires inbound links from other sites—and, of course, what prospects want to consume before deciding to do business with you.

So this begs the question: who has taken over the land of marketing? Who is the new King?

Well, the answer is, the Duke of Credibility... who has ridden onto the scene saddled upon a glorious white stallion, etc. etc. etc. (end of metaphor)

Credibility Is the New King

Because there is so much content out there (both good and bad), establishing credibility is more vital to success than ever before. Both consumers and business buyers don't innately trust website information or sales reps anymore. During the research process, people are more frequently turning to sources of unfiltered feedback in order to assess and compare solutions—and if you can't offer a form of social proof for your product or service, it's likely going to negatively impact the way your business is perceived.

This is why it's so important that Marketing, Sales and Service all work together to collect, organize and promote various forms of social proof throughout the buyer's journey.

Think about it. We all listen to what our peers say when making buying decisions, right? We peruse review sites, we check out articles from industry experts, we swipe up on influencer #ad posts on Instagram, we look for customer success stories on vendor websites. No matter how awesome a company looks, or how perfect the messaging sounds, deciding to purchase a product, subscribe to a software, engage in a service, all boils down to whether or not we believe we will get the results we are looking for.

Leveraging the 6 Types of Social Proof

"Social proof" is a term that was originally coined in the 1980s by author and psychologist Robert Cialdini in his book Influence. In a nutshell, The Social Proof Theory describes a psychological phenomenon where people tend to copy the actions of others when they need to make a decision but do not know what the right behavior for that given situation is.

In marketing, social proof refers to third-party affirmation that supports or encourages a person's buying behavior, or whatever the call-to-action might be.

HubSpot has broken down this idea of social proof into six categories—which they dissected at their most recent HUG (HubSpot User Group) in Boston. Below are succinct descriptions of these six categories, as well as ways to produce content to incorporate them into your strategy.

1. Customer Success 

Perhaps this form of social proof is the most common. Case studies about how you've resolved a problem for a client (and how this has contributed to achieving their goal) go a long way during the sales process. So do testimonials or videos from happy clients. Yes, businesses can curate which customers are highlighted in success stories on their websites, but if these people are willing to step up and put their name on the line for you—and validate the results you're touting, that already gives a big boost to your credibility.

The key is to create a narrative of how you've helped your customer accomplish the results they were looking for, and how this has impacted their life or job afterwards. Note that in a B2B context, hard numbers are always going to be more convincing than a general sentiment the client has about your company. So try to incorporate how your solution has impacted their organization's bottom line, productivity, ROI, or whatever the target metrics are.

2. Crowd Approval

To reiterate, people appreciate unfiltered feedback, especially when it's available in bulk. This is where review sites, directories and community groups come into play. Reputation management is critical these days, and promptly and politely responding to anything negative someone said in a review (and taking these insights into consideration for improvement) is important for your online image. But it's almost just as much of a problem if you have no digital buzz to your name whatsoever.

Knowing that consumer reviews are 12x more trusted than messages from businesses is enough motivation to make sure that you have some positive feedback about your organization out there on the web. Our recommendation is to start by seeing what listings you already have on review sites, and asking your best customers to write a review for the important ones you know your prospects are looking at. That can be a quick win! However, only 19% of businesses have formal customer advocacy programs. If you can create a process or timeline (or even a scoring system if you're particularly ambitious) for when your Service, Account or Sales department can check in with a delighted client for a review, you'll really be doing your online presence a big favor!

3. Social Approval

User-generated content on social media is more influential than you might think—in part because it's made up of "one-to-many" channels. In the age of GIFs, memes and emoticons, it's really easy for a simple comment or post to go viral—or, at the very least, shared in the right business circles. And regarding shareable content, this also includes video testimonials that your customers might be inclined to promote on their personal channels. And while your customers and prospects are making noise on social media, your business should be, too.

HubSpot actually does a really great job of responding to comments in a timely and creative manner on social media. The company is perceived as "likable" by so many users simply because their social team celebrates positive feedback they receive on Twitter and Facebook with clever or funny images and GIFs. We advise you to do the same!


Perhaps more importantly, it's wise to set up Google alerts for when your company's name is mentioned somewhere online. And furthermore, if you aren't already using a social listening tool to monitor what your customers are saying online, you could start by setting up a Twitter List of your customers and checking out the feed on a regular basis.

Finally, your employees are also a potential source of social proof! Often overlooked for their ability to market your business (whether it's intentional or not), incentivizing employees to share their opinions—as well as your company's content—online can really make a difference in the sales process. It has for PMG! And speaking of your employees, when was the last time you checked out your Glassdoor profile? If you aren't currently making the most of Glassdoor, we absolutely recommend putting some effort into building out your company's page.

4. Peer Approval

Ah... good, old-fashioned word-of-mouth marketing. This "one-to-one" form of social proof is very powerful. Although we trust our family members and friends over many other sources when it comes to buying household products, planning vacations, and making restaurant reservations, we definitely tend to put more stock into tips from our industry colleagues if we're making a business decision. Some of this word-of-mouth marketing we have little control over. But sometimes our customers don't think about talking us up to a business partner, former colleague, or pal in the same line of work without a gentle push in that direction.

The marketing technique relevant to peer-based social proof is a referral program. These programs may not always be elaborate, but having a documented series of steps for identifying customers ripe for a referral—and even a template or set of talking points they can use to lighten the amount of work they need to do—is a great start to implementing referral marketing.

However, another effective way to garner peer influence is to invite a happy customer to join an upcoming sales call. Yes, the customer and the prospect should share a common thread (same problem, similar firmographics, etc.). But if you can prep specific examples and data points for how your business has helped your client's, and they can enthusiastically speak to these results, this can facilitate a clear "AHA moment" for your prospect. Ask for the prospect's permission to invite a client, of course, but if they are deciding between you and one of your competitors, offering up a direct line to your customer can serve as a huge differentiator.

5. Expert Approval

It's safe to say there are at least a few industry experts in related fields that would find your product or service helpful, right? There are also numerous well-respected journalists, bloggers and media moguls that regularly write about industry solutions—who simply have not yet been exposed to yours. A thumbs-up or blurb from a third-party can work wonders for your business, so if you can successfully pitch the relevance of your product or service to one of these influencers (or submit a thought leadership article to a popular trade publication), teaming up with an industry expert can increase your credibility tenfold.

That said, a stamp of approval can also come from an organization. Especially for companies in highly regulated industries, any certifications, badges and ratings from governing bodies, accredited institutions, health or environmental organizations, etc. also make an impact on the sales cycle. Surveys have shown that as many as 61% of participants say they've previously decided not to purchase a product because the company was missing a trust seal. Moreover, awards aren't always everything, but if you have some kind of recognition or accolade that your competitor doesn't have, well, there's an immediate leg up in the minds of most buyers.

6. Influencer Endorsement

Finally, we arrive at endorsements and sponsorships from media influencers. Whether we like it or not, famous people frequently snag our attention—and we are continually bombarded by headlines, social posts, YouTube videos, TV commercials, and placed images about these people, what they're doing, and what they're buying and promoting.

Now, in many cases, there is overlap between "influencers" and "industry experts." For example, Ann Handley is renowned in the world of inbound marketing for her content strategy expertise (and I also think she's awesome). I've seen her present every time I've been to HubSpot's INBOUND conference, and I've already read her book Everybody Writes. But if she were to highly recommend a new marketing tool, I would definitely be looking into it, if not automatically signing up for a demo.

However, influencers can also just be celebrities. And if Justin Theroux (a favorite actor of mine who I happen to follow on Instagram) also randomly recommended the same marketing tool for whatever reason, it's almost just as likely I'd check it out.

And it's not just me who believes in the power of influencers. MediaKix reports that 89% of marketers say ROI from influencer marketing is comparable to or better than other marketing channels. Since the dawn of advertising on Instagram and YouTube, getting celebrity mentions has become a gold mine. And while it's more common to see this happening in the B2C sphere, B2B companies can do the same thing if they have the right spokesperson and the right audience targeting mechanisms in place.

Putting Together a Social Proof Strategy

So it's clear there are a LOT of options for promoting social proof points. But how does one go about making this happen?

Here are the steps involved:

  • Cultivate customer happiness. Before you can offer social proof, there needs to be social proof. And you can't just stumble upon it without creating happy customers. First, you must understand what's going to make that customer happy—the needs and goals they have, and the experience they want on the way to meeting them. And then, of course, your product or service—as well as the team delivering it—must achieve the desired outcome.
  • Take action internally based on feedback. Did your Services, Operations or Account team receive really great comments from a customer? Did a buyer leave a glowing review on a website? Did a survey reveal any special nuggets you can leverage in marketing? When these types of events take place, Marketing, Sales, and Services all need to know about it. And the same goes for negative feedback. The right people must be alerted so that the proper response (or perhaps content/messaging changes) are prepared and delivered.
  • Identify your advocates. Of those customers who have raised their hand to show they are very happy, who are the biggest promoters? Which people will be the most willing to publicly share their experience? Who are the most articulate speakers? Who is active on social media or attending an upcoming trade show? Make a list of these people, and get to work!
  • Build on those relationships. Once you know who your best potential advocates are, it's time to go that extra mile. If you can offer a special discount or some other kind of incentive, this would be when to do it. But you also should explain to these loyal customers that what they have to say about your business really matters, and that their advocacy—in whatever form—would be very meaningful for your organization's sales process. It's not like you should be schmoozing with them out of nowhere... your team is likely to have already created a pretty solid relationship. But adding in a special touch to show them how appreciated they are builds a lot of good will that can often result in a referral scenario. 
  • Create content and campaigns. Finally, it's time to decide in what format(s) the social proof will be realized. A video testimonial is arguably the most versatile and effective piece of content you could develop, but coming up with a plan that incorporates multiple mediums and the advocate's participation in sharing them is what will get you the attention you're looking for.

Remember that it's no longer what you sell. It's about how you sell it. Your product or service could be the best thing to happen to your industry in a long time, but without creating the ideal customer experience, purposefully reaping what you sew throughout that experience, and working together with your happy customers, the amount of new business you're missing out on could be substantial.

If you have any questions about customer marketing or customer success, please let us know! New leads are always going to be important, but you could be surprised with how much potential your current client base already holds.

About the Author

Oren Smith | Marketing Manager
Oren Smith, Marketing Manager

Oren Smith—our resident Marketing Manager and data geek... *ahem* expert—has been heading up PMG's marketing for 5+ years. Between stretches of content writing and inbound strategy, you might find him planning his next adventure abroad or enjoying a good, old-fashioned lobster roll.

 Tags: Digital Marketing Best Practices Public Relations

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