Online marketing comprises many factors, strategies, and tactics, but all of them share a common end goal: to get more people to buy your products or services. To get there, you have to step past the competition, increase the traffic to your site, and build better relationships with your customers. The onset of social media has given brands a new means of achieving all three at the same time, at once improving the reputation of their brand and gaining more visibility and traction.
Online marketing is about more than raw visibility, however. Since the dawn of social media and the overabundance of traditional, sales-driven advertising, consumers have become more discerning, more skeptical, and less easily swayed. In order to win their business, you have to win their trust, and there’s one key strategy that can help you do it: social validation.
What Is Social Validation?
In its traditional definition, social validation is a psychological phenomenon where one or more passive individuals follow or conform to the actions of others within a group. In a psychological context, one or more people set an example of behavior, and their experience leads a second group of one or more people to follow suit.
Social validation in marketing is slightly different, but it still represents a kind of social “chain reaction” that leads others to similar behaviors. In a marketing context, if a user leaves a positive review for a product or a positive rating for a business, other, even non-affiliated users will be more likely to buy that product or work with that business. Because one person went on a limb and confirms that the experience is positive, others are likely to take a similar action.
Why Is Social Validation Important to Marketers?
The idea of social validation is important because self-propagating strategies are no longer as effective as they once were. People have grown to distrust brands, especially large corporations, and instead look to peer reviews and peer actions above any other means of justification. Cultivating social validation in a broad group can sharply increase the trust people have in your brand, and can make them far more comfortable doing business with you.
There are several reasons why social validation has such a powerful effect for businesses.
New User Research
When people are looking for something new to fulfill their needs, whether that’s a product, a service, or even a partnership, they undergo a period of research (which almost always includes a quick Google search to see what information is available). If a user finds ample quantities of social validation for a given brand—let’s say one taco restaurant has ten times as many positive, user-submitted reviews as a neighboring taco restaurant—he/she will be guided toward a decision. Therefore, improving your social validations can make you more appealing to these inquisitive researchers.
Social validation also gives you immediate pull with the social connections of the validator. For example, let’s say a customer who had a great experience with your brand makes a post about it on your company’s Facebook page. All the friends and followers of that initiator will see the post, and because of their closeness to the initiator, will be more likely to trust your brand. That act of social validation opens a channel of trust that can lead to new interest—and you didn’t have to do a thing.
Social validation is also a great way to take inventory of your current business operations. What are you doing, specifically, that’s leading people to these great experiences? What positive elements of your product or service can you emphasize more to other users? And if your social validations suddenly start to dwindle, what could have motivated the decrease? Use these reviews, ratings, and comments to gauge your current standings and make adjustments as necessary.
Ratings and Reviews in Google
Finally, having greater instances of social validation can lead to higher rankings in Google across the board. Google takes social interactions—such as the total number of likes and shares of your Facebook posts—into consideration when evaluating your brand’s domain authority. Furthermore, since the Pigeon algorithm update of 2014, the number and strength of user reviews submitted on third-party local directory sites is taken into consideration as well. The more good reviews and positive interactions you have, the more visibility you’ll get in the SERPs.
How to Cultivate Social Validation
Now that we know why social validation is so important to modern brands, we can take a look at the best strategies to cultivate it.
Create a Memorable, Positive Experience
First things first. You aren’t going to cultivate great reviews if you don’t offer a great customer experience. Take an audit of your business and figure out, at a ground level, what you can do to give your customers a unique, memorable, and above all positive experience. If you’re already doing a great job, figure out what you can do to make it better. People don’t go out of their way to socially validate just any brand—you have to be something truly special to them. Be more personal. Offer discounts to recurring customers. Give free samples. Do whatever you can to go above and beyond the call of duty.
Encourage Offsite Reviews
Reviews on Yelp and similar local directory sites are high-quality sources of social validation, namely because they are unbiased, confirmed user reviews. These sites have a pretty strict policy when it comes to influencing outside reviews, but there’s nothing stopping you from letting your customers know where to find you. Post links to your Yelp profile and other profiles on your marketing materials, and your physical business location, if you can. You’d be amazed at the impact it has on the number of reviews you feature.
Get Personal on Social Media
Be personal and conversational on your social media profiles, and respond to every post or comment. It lets people know you care what they have to say, and will encourage more people to come forward with their praise or their complaints. While it may not seem like the complaints can help you, if you respond to them promptly and with a promise to make things right—they can actually work in your favor when it comes to social validation.
Use Forums or User Reviews Onsite
Give your customers a sounding board directly on your site, especially if you feature an e-commerce platform. For each product you offer, include a review section that features honest user-submitted reviews. Alternatively, you can include a forum on your site that allows users to express their satisfaction, or their questions and concerns about how your products work. Not only will it be a positive sign for users in the middle of the decision making process, it can also be good for your SEO.
Social validation isn’t the result of mathematical planning and execution. It’s the return on the investment you put into your customers. If you spend the time and effort to give your customers a truly great and memorable experience, they’re going to reward you with praise and social validation. It’s an ongoing, mutually beneficial relationship that will keep your business thriving and your customers happy.
THE IMPORTANCE OF SOCIAL VALIDATION IN ONLINE MARKETING