“Give the customer what they want.”

This has been the mantra of businesses for centuries, but still rings incredibly true for brands online today.

That being said, modern ecommerce shops struggle with a new dilemma among their increasingly social and millennial buyers. The question isn’t so much “what do my customers want” but rather “how do I keep my customers around for the long haul?”

Look: the modern customer is not afraid to spend: given the billions of dollars spent via ecommerce per year, there’s plenty of cash to go around. But two common problem plague today’s brands online: fierce competition and only so much attention to go around, making customer retention a huge pain point for budding businesses.

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Regardless of what you’re selling online, from SEO software to high-end fashion, holding your customers’ attention after an initial sale is easier said than done.

Perhaps the best way to ensure long-term success with your audience is by tapping into their social tendencies. That not only means getting into the social feeds of your customers, where they’re spending a bulk of their time online, but also striving to build a positive relationship with your buyers.

But how can you possibly break through the noise, nurture relationships and find the time and energy to market your products and services simultaneously?

The solution lies in the classic psychological trigger of social proof.

Think about it. You’re probably wary of trying just about anything new, from a restaurant to toothpaste, without proof that it’s worth your time and hard-earned cash. Considering that approximately 90% of customer decisions are influenced by online ratings and word of mouth, you absolutely need a consistent stream of social feedback if you want your brand to survive the competitive landscape of ecommerce.

Sure, you can claim that your product is the best. You can say whatever you want to get someone’s attention. But what does it really mean until you prove it?
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Stop the Sales Pitch and Start Getting Social

In the words of psychologist and marketing mastermind Robert Cialdini, people are “persuaded more by the actions of others than by any proof that we can offer.”

Nobody likes advertisements shoved in their faces, but consider how today’s buyers are sick and tired of the traditional sales pitch.

From cutting the cord with cable television in lieu of ad-free platforms such as Netflix to installing AdBlock to avoid being interrupted online, it’s crystal clear that organic advertising is king. In short, the best ads you can push to your audience aren’t always the kind you can buy.

Instead, take your sales and brand identity into the modern era by leveraging social proof. By highlighting positive buyer experiences and using real satisfied customers as your digital billboard, you can turn your current buyers into long-term evangelists for your brand.

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Ecommerce brands are reaping the benefits of social proof, the biggest of which are as follows:

  • Marketing through social proof isn’t in-your-face or intrusive: in other words, it doesn’t feel like advertising
  • Leveraging social proof is incredibly cost-effective: the more customers you have creating content and positive feedback for you, the less pressure there is on your brand to constantly scramble for content yourself
  • Social proof can be a powerful form of influencer marketing: the more people you have talking about you, the more poised you are to become a bigger player in your industry

Social proof has become the bread and butter of modern brands, and savvy ecommerce stores can condition their audiences to promote positive feedback time and time again.

Versus traditional marketing through avenues such as blogging or video content which we create by hand, social proof is an entirely different beast. That is, you don’t create social proof, but rather encourage it.

The question remains: how can we organically build social proof to retain customers without being pushy or overbearing in the process?

User Generated Content

Let’s face it: content creation can be an absolute grind. From coming up with new blog ideas to constantly chasing trends, what if there was a way for our customers to do the legwork for us?

Enter the world of user generated content.

By taking advantage of hashtags and the fact that customers today are hungry to share their latest purchases, especially given the billions of “likes” per day on Instagram, user generated content represents a brilliant avenue for ecommerce brands looking to get found in more social feeds.

The ability for customers to tag your products is always a plus for exposure: however, the ability to sell products simultaneously through UGC is still unexplored territory for many budding brands.

For example, check out how Castañer uses their hashtag to encourage followers to show off their latest purchases and effectively act as on-site models for their high-end fashion.

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Beyond showing off your products, UGC encourages the creation of visual content for your ecommerce store, which is crucial to increasing conversions and engagement when it comes time to seal the deal.

User generated content is a powerful form of social proof as it takes your services beyond the product page and applies them to real-life people. Best of all, UGC requires less work on your part beyond creating a hashtag and consistently encouraging promotion on behalf of your audience.

Really, it is that easy. Sometimes if you really want something from your customers, such as fresh content, you shouldn’t be afraid to ask.

Consider something as simple as Jones Soda asking customers online to submit their own photos to appear on their bottles as a truly out-of-the-box way to increase customer engagement and encourage UGC.

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Your customers want to make a connection with your brand: are you providing the opportunities to make it happen?

Create a Sense of Competition

Beyond the natural desire for customers to share their purchases with the world, creating a sense of competition among your audience is another foolproof way to keep customers engaged with your brand after a sale.

Such competition can take numerous shapes and forms. From subscriber giveaways to contests leveraging existing hashtags, competition and conversation go hand and hand for any ecommerce brand looking to keep their customers talking.

Consider a recent contest by the grooming gurus at Beardbrand to celebrate their 100,000th YouTube subscriber.

In short, Beardbrand gave away 100 bottles of their specialty beard oil to celebrate: in exchange for “likes” on Facebook or other social engagements, Beardbrand provided additional “entries” into their contest (for example, participants were awarded 10 entries for subscribing to the company’s newsletter).

With over 100,000 entries total, it’s clear that customer engagement with the contest was an absolute success.

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You better believe that Beardbrand is still reaping the benefits of their contest beyond the initial engagement, including long-term customers and followers who decided to stick around via social.

Remember: it never hurts to give your customers a freebie every now and then if it encourages engagement and doesn’t break the bank.

Numbers and Statistics

The best kind of social proof is straightforward and to the point.

Granted that our customers have relatively low attention spans and want to know sooner rather than later whether or not they’re interested in what we have to offer (think: does anyone take the time to read all 200 Yelp reviews for a restaurant?), numbers and statistics are prime for showcasing what you’re worth at a glance.

Integrating numbers and statistics into your marketing is a no-brainer. After all, customers want facts and hard data versus fluff; furthermore, “$100,000 saved over two years” or “78% more traffic in six months” speaks volumes and immediately grabs our attention versus a lengthy sales letter.

If you’re struggling to think about how numbers can help you build proof for your store, consider any combination of the following as fair game:

  • Case studies, perhaps highlighting how much money you saved a client or customer
  • Discuss how many satisfied customers you have on deck (think: McDonald’s does this on their billboards with their “billions and billions served” slogan)
  • A metric or percentage point that’s particularly striking to readers (such increasing someone’s conversion rate by 50%)

For example, as noted in Sleeknote’s case study of Campaign Monitor, check out how the statistic of a 127% increase in click-through rate serves as incentive to learn more through the Campaign Monitor’s newsletter.

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Furthermore, ecommerce giants such as Amazon regularly uses customer statistics to help point out a product’s popularity (or lack thereof).

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Short, sweet, and to the point: if you’re already tracking metrics around your business and customers (think: analytics and case studies), chances are you already have the content on hand to start leveraging social proof via hard numbers.

If you know that you have satisfied customers who’ve seen huge returns from your products, feel free to reach out to them via email or face-to-face in pursuit of their data for your own marketing efforts.

Reviews and Testimonials

The importance of reviews and testimonials as a form of social proof can’t be stressed enough. Again, nearly every buying decision online today is based on some form of review or previous customer feedback.

Reviews should be the cornerstone of any marketing strategy considering that online reviews are akin to real-life word of mouth, with 88% of customers trusting reviews as much as they would personal recommendation. Furthermore, reviews may represent the deciding factor between your store and a competitor’s (see the star-rating example from Amazon below)

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But what about testimonials? After all, testimonials reveal the human element of your store: instead of being another face in the crowd, your customers today want to make an emotional connection with your brand.

Project management solution Basecamp masterfully incorporates user testimonials in their on-site marketing as detailed below. Additionally, these testimonials are increasingly important for a brand that boasts a seemingly “boring” product on paper.

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From star-ratings to stories of satisfied customers, reviews and testimonials are simply too important to ignore.

Beyond signaling positive customer experiences and relationships, having plenty of existing feedback on deck also serves to let your potential customers know that you’re alive and well versus struggling for business. Such appearances do matter, after all.

Loyalty and Referral Programs

Loyalty is the name of the game when it comes to long-term customer retention: the more loyal customers are to our brands, the more likely they are to stick around. Likewise, satisfied customers will naturally pass along their positive experiences to their friends and colleagues, right?

Perhaps. But why not give yourself peace of mind and provide that incentive for them?

Loyalty and referral programs are nothing new in the world of marketing, yet represent and tried-and-tested example of effective social proof. Anything you can do to lock down long-term business is a plus, either through a “points” reward system or customer referral program, as ecommerce brands are seeing huge returns from such incentives.

For example, check out how JackThreads encourages consistent referrals through cash-back offers and an additional 20% discount for your referral.

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Loyalty represents a cornerstone of customer retention, so don’t be afraid to provide additional incentives to increase social engagement on behalf of your audience.

While you may think that the merits of your product alone warrant social sharing, consider providing your base with an extra “push” through a loyalty or rewards program.

Cultivating a Social Customer Culture

Finally, there’s a bigger picture at hand in regard to building social proof: that is, cultivating a social culture among your customers.

Any ecommerce brand, regardless of industry, should consistently promote new deals and products via social, accompanied with a hashtag to give your audience a way to quickly tie themselves to your brand.

Meanwhile, you should strive to create a true dialogue with customers, asking questions of your base and reaching out to them directly to create that ever-so-important emotional connection. The more you get into the trenches with your audience, the more likely they are to provide feedback and sing your praises.

Oftentimes, social engagement is brushed off as a fluff metric or something that’s a complete waste of time. On the other hand, the ROI your ecommerce store receives from social engagement may be something that’s beneath the surface (think: not always dollars and cents).

Social proof represents an incredibly powerful psychological tool for customer retention, serving as an attractive alternative to in-your-face advertising.

Think about how you can start building a stronger rapport with your customers and reap the benefits of an increasingly satisfied, social audience sooner rather than later.

The more customers are willing to give you a boost, the more you know that you’ve built an ecommerce store to stand the test of time.

Free Exclusive Bonus: Download your own step by step guide to master the art of social proof.

Brent Barnhart
Brent Barnhart writes for the Photoslurp Blog. From tackling the latest buzzwords to teaching marketers how to craft more compelling content, he’s willing to take on just about anything involving the written word.

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  1. Insightful post. The value of user-generated content is high and Social proof is clearly something all e-commerce shops should pay attention to.

    Reply
  2. A truly inspiring article that shows the importance of branding.

    Reply

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