Using Social Validation as a Marketing Tool

December 14, 2012 by  
Filed under Coaching, Online Marketing, Social Validation

When you’re looking to buy a product or service, do you ask people around you for their thoughts and opinions? Do you read product reviews before you click “buy” on a website?

Just how important are other people’s opinions in your life?

If you’re like most people, your answer to the question above is probably “very important.”

It only makes sense then that this issue is also important as you market your business. Knowing what others think of you, your product or service and what they say to others is paramount in not only saying the right things to elicit a favorable response (that they buy from you), but to also head off any unwanted and unwarranted “bad press.”

As humans, we look to others for social validation – that what we’re doing is the “right” thing. In his wildly successful book, “Influence:  The Psychology of Persuasion,” author Robert Chialdini states, “When we are uncertain about what to do we automatically look to other people to guide us. And we do this automatically and unconsciously.”

So why do we need social validation for seemingly unimportant decisions such as a book purchase? It’s simple – we want to feel safe in our decision. Obviously, the higher the risk, the more we assess how what we want meshes with what others in our social circles think and want. “I learned a long time ago that I could waste a lot of time and in some cases money if I ignored recommendations by fellow consumers on sites such as Netflix, Amazon and iTunes,” said Bakari Alil II, Ph.D.

Michael Britt, Ph.D., a noted psychologist who publishes the popular “Psych Files” podcast, concurs by mentioning how quickly we evaluate the worth of a book based on the reviews of other customers. This underscores the importance of product reviews and ratings. In terms of marketing your business, one bad review can send prospective clients and customers fleeing. How you respond to that negative feedback can bring them back. That topic, however, is for a different article.

Another less obvious way to convey social validation is to note which products or services tend to be the most popular. Since we unconsciously look for approval for our decisions, highlighting the most popular choice almost eliminates the need for prospective customers to read reviews. You’ve already informed them that they are (or aren’t) making the most popular choice. And, the most popular option isn’t always the most expensive.

For example, imagine you own a website that sells plastic zebras. You may have many different styles and colors of zebras as well as optional accessories to dress up a new plastic zebra. If you note on your site that, “90% of customers love the black-striped zebras with the pink bells added on,” you will likely see a spike in the purchasing of black-striped zebras and the optional pink bells. Is this manipulative? Not really, you’re simply providing purchasing information that a prospect is hoping to see. You make the buying decision easier for the 95 percent of people who need social validation before they make a decision.

Perhaps not surprisingly, only five percent of people don’t necessarily need social validation before they decide something. These people are considered “initiators.” Similar to early adopters, initiators are those people who make informed decisions without the need for any social validation. This rare group contains the leaders – the ones others look to when making a decision. In your group of friends, are you known as the “go to” person with information that can help someone make a choice? Or are you part of the “imitator” group – the 95 percent – who look toward others for advice? You may be wondering if you can switch between these two groups. Not really. We all have a preferred style, although that’s not to say we can’t step up and be an initiator at times. But we mostly work within our comfort zone, whichever style that is.

Given that social validation is so rampant, it only seems natural to talk about it in terms of business marketing. Certainly reviews and client/customer testimonials serve this purpose. However, social media is playing a larger role in social validation each day. If you’ve visited almost any website lately, you’ve probably seen the various buttons you can click on to “like,” “recommend,” “share” or “+1” the site. This is social validation at its most basic form. Something else you might see on that same site is the “Tweet This” button. Yes, if clicked on a message is sent to all that person’s followers on Twitter. But it also shows a count of how many people have tweeted the site/post/article, etc. Again, social validation. Seeing a number is a great motivator for the 95 percent who come after the five percent who’s been there first (and already Tweeted).

Blogging is another avenue for social validation. If your prospective customers are online, you can use a blog to demonstrate your expertise, ability to understand complex ideas, educate your readers and provide relevant information. For example, a real estate agent could blog about local buying trends, housing starts, things to consider when buying, how to find financing, etc. Demonstrating industry knowledge and a willingness to share it puts you ahead of your competitors who have yet to embrace blogging. This also provides another avenue for people to give social validation by clicking the social media options you’ve provided. Win-win for all.

Social validation isn’t going away and to ignore it, especially in this high tech age, could be a prescription for slow or no growth and even failure.