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Social Proof: It’s a Powerful Persuasive Copywriting Technique

Award-winning writer Kathy Widenhouse has helped hundreds of nonprofits and writers produce successful content and has gained 600K+ views for her writing tutorials. She is the author of 9 books. See more of Kathy’s content here.

Social proof is feedback from real people about your product or service. It is a powerful tool in your persuasive copywriting arsenal because people like to know what other people think. Readers adjust their behavior according to what other people are doing and saying.

7 kinds of social proof to use in persuasive writing with Word Wise at Nonprofit Copywriter #Copywriting #Blogging #WritingTips

Each of us face dozens – even hundreds – of decisions every day. It’s natural to wonder how others react in similar situations. Not that I rely 100% on social proof when I make a decision. I’m sure you don’t, either. But it sure is helpful to read about other people’s experiences, isn’t it?

A bit of psychology applies here. It’s human nature to assume others know more about the situation or product than you do. “We view a behavior as more correct in a given situation to the degree that we see others performing it,” says Robert Cialdini, Ph.D., who coined the concept of social proof in his  book, Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion.

In a now-familiar study that demonstrates the influence of social proof, Cialdini and two colleagues tracked responses for a well-known hotel chain that wanted to influence guests to re-use towels. They compared results from different types of reminder messages they left for guests in the hotel rooms. Researchers found the highest rates of towel re-use were from guests who had been told that other guests had re-used their towels. People tend to copy what other people do.

7 Kinds of Social Proof

There are several ways you can leverage social proof as you write to persuade. Be on the lookout for these different kinds of social proof to include in your piece of persuasive copywriting or content writing – and include as many as are appropriate in your content.

1. Experts

An expert is an authority or specialist in a particular field from aeronautics to diapering a baby. The expert’s comments build trust because she knows the topic thoroughly, knows the issues associated with the topic, and has earned respect from others in the field. Experts offer social proof via their knowledge and skill.

2. Celebrity Endorsements

Celebrities are famous or well-known people who appeal to your audience. A celebrity who supports your cause, vouches for your product, or advocates a viewpoint brings along his fans for the ride. While an expert is an authority in your field, a celebrity may or may not have specialized knowledge about your cause or topic. Readers embrace the celebrity’s words simply because they are fans. This kind of social proof is valuable thanks to the celebrity’s status.

3. User Testimonials

A user testimonial is from an ordinary person who has used your product, benefited from your service, or been a part of your cause. While it can be tempting to think than user testimonials have less impact that expert testimonials or celebrity endorsements, don’t fall into the trap. Readers rely on other readers to tell them the truth. It’s natural for us to listen to people who are like us, which is why user testimonials are valuable social proof.

4. Credentials

Which product are you more willing to try – one with a Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval or a generic brand? Which article are you more tempted to read – one from a Pulitzer Award-winning journalist or one by a local journalist? When an organization displays the Evangelical Council for Accountability seal, doesn’t your heart sit a bit easier? Awards, certifications, memberships, accomplishments – even business credentials or degrees are powerful social proof.

5. Reviews

My husband relies on this type of social proof every time he buys an item online. Not too long ago he needed a new fishing hat to keep sun off of his eyes so he could see tugs on his fishing line – but one to keep the sun off his neck, too. In his words, “I’m a southern boy, but I don’t want to actually have a red neck.” He found three different hat styles that fit his criteria and was tempted to buy the most expensive hat thinking, “If it’s more expensive, it must be better.” Then he read the customer reviews. Turns out, the least expensive hat was actually the best buy for him. Product reviews, book reviews, and blog reviews are powerful sources of social proof.

6. Social Media Engagement

In mid-2014, the ALS Society conducted an online Ice Bucket Challenge, in which participants were filmed having a bucket of ice water poured over their heads . The goal of the challenge was to raise awareness about ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease) and raise funds for research. The challenge went viral on social media, with 1.2 million videos shares on Facebook and 2.2 million mentions on Twitter. During the challenge period, donations to the ALS Society doubled compared with the previous entire calendar year, demonstrating the power of social media engagement. A swell of Likes, Comments, Shares, and Follows demonstrate social proof by sheer numbers. 

7. Surveys

A survey shows the results from questions asked to a specific group of people. Survey data (especially those from a credible polling source) can be particularly influential because readers are eager to adopt views from a majority, often downplaying or ignoring their own thoughts in the process.

Positive Social Proof vs. Negative Social Proof

There’s positive social proof and negative proof. When it comes to copywriting and content writing, you want to use positive social proof to persuade your reader … unless the negative social proof reinforces your point. Make sure you note the difference and proceed accordingly.

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