People tend to stay away from new businesses. What if they’re untrustworthy or incompetent? Avoiding unknown quantities allows us to avoid risk. There are plenty of companies around that are completely familiar, after all—consider the Amazons and Googles of the world. If you just want to have a safe customer experience, you can always turn to one of those.
This makes it really hard for a fresh business to grow. Before it can build a large supporter base, it needs social proof. Social proof, usually in the form of customer reviews (but not always, as we’ll see) tells unfamiliar people that it’s safe to get involved and encourages them to join in.
But social proof can feel like something that follows success. You make a lot of sales, then get the glowing reviews. So how can you cultivate it before you’ve achieved that success?
To answer this question, we’re going to look at five ways in which a new business can create social proof, and they can all be used very early on. Let’s get to them.
Team up with a niche influencer
Like them, love them, or view them with absolute indifference, influencers hold all the cards in this digital era.
Along with well-regarded experts (more on those next), they serve as powerful go-betweens for brands and their prospective customers: even if they don’t buy from you, they can directly convince others to give you a shot.
A quick glance at Twitter or Instagram will make this abundantly clear. Even small-scale influencers can have many thousands of followers, each of which is markedly more likely to listen to that person’s recommendation than they are to care about some random review. Used smartly, that power can give you a substantial boost.
It isn’t exactly easy to work with an influencer, admittedly, partially because the power dynamic is always shifting with your respective fortunes. What each of you stands to gain from an association will be different with each passing day. If the influencer puts out a hit video and attracts a lot of buzz, they’ll be the hot commodity—while if you start to become a household name, the influencer will then be eager to have their personal brand linked to yours.
But if you choose well by finding an influencer with a stable and passionate follower base (and the business savvy to know that they’ll benefit from your success), you’ll only need them to advance the idea that you’re worth thinking about. The resulting sales will spark the social media discussion that will earn you many useful reviews.
Earn testimonials from experts
Influencers and experts aren’t the same, and the difference lies in audience perception. We can look at it this way: influencers are akin to friends, while experts are akin to authorities. We know that our friends don’t always get things right, but we trust their character and intentions, so we tend to take their suggestions seriously. We also want to support them by following their advice.
Authorities, though, don’t inspire feelings of community spirit.
Instead, they speak to our most rational thought processes. Our purchasing decisions are driven by emotion and logic, with the balance varying depending on the circumstances (including how we feel while shopping). When you want to feel part of something bigger, you go with the crowd—and when you want to feel sensible, informed, and individual, you go with authority recommendation.
The process of earning testimonials from experts is somewhat different from that of working with influencers, most notably in the regard that it might not cost you anything beyond the basic provision of whatever service or product you’re eager to promote. Experts like to demonstrate their authority by weighing in on new brands, after all, whether it’s negative or positive.
The challenge there is that you can’t generally buy an expert’s approval. It means something because it’s mostly unbiased. That means there’s a risk inherent to seeking expert testimony.
Before you start, you need to be truly confident in what you bring to the table—but assuming that’s the case, start reaching out to see what industry figures have to say.
Offer incentives to drive reviews
Most social proof comes from your conventional customers, of course, so that should always be a huge focus. And once you establish your brand to the extent that there’s some level of ambient trust, you’ll pick up sales and reviews aplenty—but it’s reaching that point that’s so very tough. How do you snag those all-important ratings when you’re having a hard enough time simply getting some people to buy from you?
Making the sales isn’t something to dwell on here (if you can’t do that, then you won’t get very far anyway), but we can dwell on how you convince those early buyers to generate social proof.
For this, you’ll need to give them practical reasons — i.e. incentives — to leave reviews.
These incentives don’t need to be unusual. You can’t go wrong with a robust discount voucher, for instance, or some kind of free gift. It’s important to make them both highly obvious and easy to claim, though: as much as we all enjoy getting things essentially for free (it’s no hardship to write a short review), we’re deeply lazy and resent needing to jump through hoops.
And remember to publicise your incentives. It’s a huge waste to roll them out but fail to let anyone know. Mention them in email follow-ups, on your homepage, and through your social media profiles. Err on the side of offering too much. It might eat into your profits a little, but you’re in the building phase: once you’ve stocked up on social proof, you can dial it back.
Write and promote case studies
If you’ve ever known (or been) a middling student, you’ll be familiar with bad padding tactics. Doubling the line spacing, increasing the font, having single-line paragraphs, etc.
But if you’ve ever worked in marketing, you should know good padding tactics—in other words, how you can take a small piece of impactful content and turn it into something much bigger.
That’s exactly what an infographic is. A handful of statistics presented in a paragraph doesn’t do much to grab the attention, but a multi-page infographic that conveys that information in a creative way can prove sufficiently appealing to win backlinks across the web. And you can do something similar with one decent piece of social proof. How? By making a case study.
In essence, the idea is to take your most enthusiastic and in-depth review and further explore the details of the situation.
To do this, you’ll need to reach out to the reviewer and ask for more comments: the prospect of being featured in an article may well be enough to convince them to participate, but if not then you can always offer them a further incentive.
Build the study around the instigating problem and how your product or service solved it. Ask the reviewer to provide more context concerning their motivations and desires. How relieved were they to find something that worked? Has your brand fully earned their trust? You can leave in some minor negatives to add authenticity, but highlight the positives. You can then promote the study via social media, massively raising the impact of the original piece of social proof.
Seek comments on your content
Lastly, it’s worth considering that social proof doesn’t need to directly concern your products and/or services. It can concern your content, your actions, and even other social proof—and while these other forms of social proof aren’t as immediately compelling as the typical product reviews, they all serve to strengthen the perception of your brand.
Due to this, you should seek comments wherever you post content, whether it’s on your blog or one of your social media profiles.
Some companies disable comments because they don’t want negative or irrelevant comments to make them look bad, but you need to take the rough with the smooth if you want to shape public opinion—and some glowing and insightful comments below your latest blog post will reinforce its perceived value for those who’ve just read it.
Similarly, a lot of engagement on your social media posts will show those who are merely watching that their peers deem your brand worthy of their time, making them more likely to visit your website and fall into your sales funnel. So make an effort to engage with people within your niche, and keep giving them chances to weigh in on your content. You can learn from the criticism, and use the compliments as social proof—it’s a clear win-win.
Wrapping up, social proof is a necessary ingredient if you want any hope of growing your new business at a decent pace. Prospective customers won’t go on your word alone. Why would they? But by using the tactics we’ve set out here, you can shift the focus to what others say about you, allowing your strengths to truly shine through.
This will only be a small part of your overall strategy, though, as you’ll have much more to do. Alongside your social proof, you’ll need a powerful outreach campaign to build links (we can help with that), and a general commitment to fantastic customer service. You can do it, though—so get to it!