The large and fine print are taken with skepticism. Consumers don’t believe what brands say anymore, and it takes a lot of convincing and spending in order to close a sale.

According to the 2015 Edelman Trust Barometer, the majority of countries now sit below 50 percent with regard to trust in business.

This great age of distrust is caused by brands that use unproven, mostly exaggerated claims in order to sell. Remember those barefoot running shoes that claimed to strengthen muscles and reduce injuries? They got sued by consumers because their entire marketing strategy lacked scientific merit. The company ended up paying a $3.75 million settlement.

There was also a series of banned advertisements in the UK for beauty products that featured “excessively photoshopped” models, a disputed Nutella ad that said the spread is good for your health, and many other claims that cost businesses a lot of money.

Bringing trust back through social proof

“Eighty-one percent of shoppers conduct online research before they make a purchase. Sixty percent begin by using a search engine to find the products they want, and 61 percent will read product reviews before making any purchase.” — Social Times

When customers see your product online, how do you think you will fare? Will your snazzy website and descriptive product information be enough to convince? If you find that your customers require more confirmation and validation, your product needs more social proof.

What is social proof?

According to Fast Company, social proof is the concept that people will conform to the actions of others under the assumption that those actions are reflective of the correct behaviour.

Social proof is shown in the following instances: a restaurant full of patrons, a newly launched gadget sold out on the first day, a long queue outside a bar; and a waiting list for a luxury purse.

There are many forms of social proof, but we’ll focus on the influencers — people who have the power to affect the purchase decisions of others. Influencers could be subject-matter experts, celebrities, journalists, big brand owners, and many more. Recently, there is also a rise on social media influencers such as YouTubers and Instagrammers who have gained a cult-like following.

Although the popularity of an influencer could greatly help a brand, social proof could also come from average consumers whose honest reviews and testimonials sway prospective buyers to purchase.

How influencers help businesses

Influencers can help your business in many ways. Here are some:

  • Testimonials — A positive testimonial from a well-known influencer featured on your landing page is a quick and effective way to establish trust.
  • Reviews — Buyers are smart. Most will head over to the reviews section even before they finish reading the product description. Having a line-up of five-star reviews is great social proof. “Product and service reviews become particularly powerful when the opinions of larger populations are accounted for,” according to Kissmetrics.
  • Endorsements — Paid or unpaid approval or endorsements from influencers can catapult your brand to success. One example is Taylor Swift’s Instagram post about emerging artist Garrett Borns (aka BØRNS). She called one of his songs, ‘Electric Love’, an instant classic. He has been everywhere since: On The Tonight Show, at music festivals, and now currently embarking on his own world tour.
  • Clients — Displaying the logos of known companies you have worked with is great social proof. It sends a message of trust to potential customers, something along the lines of “if these big companies trusted our business, you should too”.
  • Media features — Being featured in various media outlets is a strong indicator of trust. Most businesses have a separate page where they upload all their media features, citations, reviews, etc. Homepage display of logos of media outlets that paid attention to your brand is social proof.

A new breed of influencers

Instagram, Snapchat, and YouTube influencers are practical ambassadors. Sponsorships don’t cost that much (Gigi Hadid and Kendall Jenner can charge up to $300,000 per Instagram post) and they have dedicated followers. They are also very relatable, and unlike superstars, they are far easier to reach.

“Consumers trust the opinions of those in their social media group, including friends, bloggers and celebrities, more than messages they are getting directly from brands,” Liz Dunn, founder & CEO of Talmage Advisors, told CNBC.

Take the teatox mania that took Instagram by storm, for example. These “fat-burning”, “digestive-cleansing” tea industry is enormous, with hundreds of brands all over the world. The industry grew exponentially with the help of influencers who posted photos of themselves with the product.

Other influencers that brands target are usually in the beauty, health, and fashion industry. Michelle Phan, a beauty vlogger on YouTube, started out by making makeup tutorials. She has since worked with cosmetic giants Lancôme and L’Oreal.

According to a McKinsey Study, marketing-inspired word-of-mouth generates more than twice the sales of paid advertising, and these customers have a 37% higher retention rate. Given the importance of peer recommendations and their amplification through social media, influencer marketing has become a widely discussed topic among marketers.

When consumers are uncertain as to whether to purchase or not, social proof serves as the assurance, the nudge, and the final push that buyers need.

If you haven’t included social proof in your marketing strategy yet, now is the best time to do so. Bambrick, a digital marketing agency based in Brisbane providing SEO, PPC, Social Media and Website Design services, has led successful marketing campaigns for over 500 individual businesses. Talk to us about your next campaign today.