Trust is the backbone of our society. More than a standard human emotion, this feeling works as a blueprint for decision-making. It also functions as the foundation of social proof, a marketing psychology staple.
“We have so many choices to make every day; to make our choices easier we look for the opinions and thoughts of other people to help guide those decisions,” said Duncan Stevens, influence expert and author of the best-selling book "Effective Influence: 65 Influence Based Experiments Explained To Make You More Effective." “Essentially, social proof is the ‘wisdom of crowds’ but, you could also say it’s the ‘misguided wisdom of crowds’ because you can follow the crowd without truly knowing what you’re following.”
If this is your introduction to social proof, let us be the first to warn you: While there may be some psychological principles that can survive without trust, social proof isn’t one of them.
The pillars of social proof and influence: Trust, reliability, credibility
In the context of marketing, social proof refers to the idea that consumers are more likely to support or avoid a brand’s product or service if people who have some form of influence over them share certain thoughts around it. Much of what makes influence so effective when combined with social proof, is that both concepts rely on similar pillars to make up their foundation.
“Trust, reliability and credibility are the cornerstones of influence whether you’re using it to establish authority [as a brand] or in other forms of marketing,” said Stevens.
There’s no disputing the power that each of these concepts holds. From the moment we find ourselves on Earth as young children, we rely on those who came before us in order to live. Trust is ingrained in humans from the very beginning, and therefore, plays a major part in our ability to exist peacefully until the very end.
Considering how critical it is that humans are able to believe in those around us, it comes as no surprise that consumers would expect to share a certain level of trust with brands and marketers. Customers trust you to deliver quality products that live up to their description, offer exceptional customer service and be honest in all that you do.
The secret to building brand trust: Authenticity
While this feeling can be achieved between consumers and their favorite brands, Stevens says trust can be destroyed by one simple misstep: Inauthenticity.
“If you’re doing anything as a marketer without authenticity, then any of the trust that you’ve gained will fall flat and it’ll be very hard to gain it again,” said Stevens, before adding that the credibility and reliability previously established by your brand will also fall short.
Avoiding the trap of inauthenticity will oftentimes ultimately come down to your intentions. Consumers are unknowingly looking to you for guidance. In many ways you are the unknown figure that will lead them forward — you are the one helping to “make their choices easier.” Doing so with authenticity must be a choice that is all your own.
“If you look at your attempt to influence a consumer through the lens of authentically wanting to help the other person, if you have a genuine interest in your consumer as much as yourself and you genuinely want to help them find the best product for their needs, people will see that,” said Stevens.
Being authentic in your marketing efforts will not only reflect well on your moral compass, but on your brand as well. With consumers having so much influence over one another, brands have to get out ahead of the noise made by negative word-of-mouth marketing.
“Social proof works on the opposite end [of supporting a business] as well,” said Stevens. “You can also negatively [use] social proof by saying, ‘don’t go here, don’t shop at this place’ and in the world of social media I think, perhaps, the negative spreads faster than the positive sometimes.”
By giving consumers an experience that is true to their needs as well as your brand’s mission, you’ll be able to organically utilize social proof in a trustworthy way.