Buying from someone new always carries an element of risk. Will the purchase deliver on its promise? Will it be worth the money or money down the drain?

Your potential clients are likely to have these concerns. For most people, this is a natural part of the buying process. We humans like to have the reassurance that other people have done what we’re thinking about doing and been happy with the outcome.

This is where social proof comes into play. It’s a way of building expertise, authority and trust and can help you to break down the final barriers to someone booking your services.

What are the six forms of social proof?

In his book Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, Dr Robert Cialdini – a specialist in the science of influence – states that, as humans, “we view a behaviour as more correct in a given situation to the degree that we see others performing it”.

In other words, we look to other people for signals about the right way to behave or the best choices to make in any given scenario.

This is the essence of social proof for businesses; evidence to potential customers that other people completed a course of action and it proved to be the right thing to do.

Although I’ve blogged a bit about social proof before, what you might not know is that there are six forms of social proof:

  1. Expert: When a product or service is backed by someone known to be an expert in a related field.
  2. Celebrity: When a famous person gives a product or service credibility by endorsing it.
  3. User: When previous and current customers who have actually used a product or service share their experience.
  4. Wisdom of the crowd: When lots of people have carried out the same action and had a good outcome.
  5. Wisdom of friends: When people trust the recommendations of their friends and family because their opinion is trusted.
  6. Certification: When a product or service is endorsed by relevant qualifications, certification or membership.

In today’s blog, let’s take a look at some social proof ideas within each of these categories that you can use to give new clients confidence about booking your training services.

Reviews are one of the best forms of social proof

Social proof backed by experts

1.      Expert contributions

There are several ways that you can use expert contributions. If you have someone in your network who is widely known in your field, you could interview them, feature them on your podcast or ask them to write a guest blog for you.

Even better, you could ask them to provide a quote for you to use in your marketing endorsing you as a trainer.

Other ideas revolve around you positioning yourself as the expert. This could involve being featured in a round-up blog of expert opinions about a hot topic, being quoted in the press, appearing as a podcast guest or guest blogger, or speaking at a conference.

All of the above are signals that your knowledge can be trusted.

2.      Expert takeovers

Again, if you have someone who is known as an expert in your field in your network, you could ask them to do a guest takeover of your social media for a couple of hours.

As you promote the takeover it will build the link between you and the trusted expert in your audience’s mind. People will feel that you must be credible if someone with an already-trusted reputation is willing to have their name connected to yours.

3.      Collaboration for a social media event

Rather than a takeover, another option is to collaborate with an expert in your field on a joint social media event. This could be a series of conversations around a theme that matters to your audience, for example. You could each promote it on your respective social media pages, effectively sharing each other’s audiences and networks.

Social proof through celebrity endorsements

4.      Influencer endorsements

Influencers are people who have already grown a large audience that trusts their opinions. An influencer doesn’t have to be a showbiz celebrity – they could simply be someone who’s well-known and highly visible in your industry (or that of your clients).

There are various ways that you can connect with influencers and it often requires long-term relationship building to secure an endorsement. However, if you are able to attract an endorsement from an influencer, it can provide powerful social proof.

5.      Shout outs

A shout out is when someone mentions (and preferably tags) your business on social media. Instagram shout outs are highly sought after and more common than on other social platforms.

While it’s possible to pay for shout outs, the most powerful mentions are those offered voluntarily because an influencer is prepared to connect their name with your business. It can also work well to do a mutual shout out where you and another trusted business owner mention each other to your audiences.

Social proof from your previous customers

6.      Reviews on social media

According to the latest consumer review survey from BrightLocal, 77% of people ‘always’ or ‘regularly’ read reviews about businesses before they make an enquiry, booking or purchase.

In addition, 89% of people say that they’re ‘highly’ or ‘fairly’ likely to choose a business because it responds to each review.

Reviews are fantastic social proof. Essentially, a client is saying that they are so happy with the service they received that they’re willing to take time out to record their experience and share it with strangers.

My advice is to start asking for reviews from your clients at the end of each training contract. If you have a Google Business Profile (previously Google My Business), you can quickly grab a link to ask for a review and send it to your clients, making the process quick and easy for them (here’s a helpful guide to setting up and getting the most out of a Google Business Profile).

You can also ask for reviews via your social media profiles if you think your audience is more likely to see these.

7.      Testimonials on your website

As well as featuring reviews on social media, you’ll probably want to include some testimonials on your website. Again, this is a clear signal to potential clients visiting your site that you have happy customers who are willing to share their positive experiences.

You can find some hints and tips about asking your clients for testimonials here.

8.      Case studies

With a case study, you have the opportunity to shine the spotlight on how you worked with a particular client and the differences your training services made to their business. This is a chance to show the struggles they were dealing with (which will hopefully resonate with your potential customers) and what you did to help them overcome those struggles.

Case studies often enable the reader to better visualise how a particular business or service might work for them.

9.      User-generated content

If your clients are willing to record and publish snippets of your training on their social media pages or publicise positive outcomes in the content they’ve generated, this is compelling social proof.

Why? Well, people know you’re going to say good things about your own business but when someone else says good things, it’s a clear statement about your credibility.

Backed by the wisdom of the crowd

10.  Milestones

Many businesses use milestones as a quick and impactful way to demonstrate social proof.

Milestones could include the age of your business, your years of experience, the number of training sessions you’ve delivered, the growth experienced by your clients (as percentages or finances, for example) and so on.

Here are some examples of how milestones are presented on a few different websites:

Milestones are a good example of one of the six forms of social proof: The wisdom of the crowd

How HubSpot displays its milestones

Each of these milestones reinforces the message that other people are buying from you.

11.  The size of your customer base

Although this might not be suitable for start-ups and young businesses, if you have an established audience or customer base, it’s a good idea to tell people about it.

There are many different ways that you can do this. You could:

  • Include the overall size of your audience (e.g. total social media followers across all platforms) in your social bios
  • Add a visitor counter to your website
  • Use a counter on your website that highlights the number of training hours you’ve completed or projects you’ve worked on
  • Feature your audience numbers in your headlines or calls to action on your website, e.g.:
    • Discover why over 500 businesses chose my training services
    • Join my community of 250+ business owners and be among the first to hear about the latest industry news

These are all subtle but powerful ways to show the size of your audience.

12.  Show the moment other people buy from you

If you offer training that can be purchased online, you might want to use a plugin or service like TrustPulse that shows purchase notifications.

This is when a little notification pops up on the screen (usually in the bottom left corner) saying something like, “Sharon Gaskin just purchased The Complete Trainer”. The notifications occur in real-time, so visitors to your website can see that other people are actively buying training from you.

13.  Show how many people have bought from you in a recent time period

Another option is to feature notifications about the number of people viewing a product or service on your website at any one time or the number of recent purchases. A short statement that says something like, “20 people bought this course in the last 24 hours” taps into the fear of missing out (FOMO) that many of us have.

People trust the wisdom of their friends

14.  Endorsements on LinkedIn

Word of mouth is apparently the fourth most-cited source of brand discovery. People trust what their friends and family have to say far more than they trust the opinions of strangers or companies. Therefore, some of the best social proof comes from word of mouth recommendations.

One social media feature that uses this is the LinkedIn Skill Endorsements and Recommendations. These enable people in your network to confirm that they have direct experience of your skills and knowledge.

15.  Social media shares

Did you know that employees tend to share around 2% of content created by the businesses they work for on social media and yet these posts are responsible for 20% of all engagement? This is because people trust what their friends have to say and are more likely to share content from someone they know than from strangers.

It’s a good idea to add social sharing buttons to your website content (I like the Monarch plugin for WordPress) to make sharing as easy as possible. Also, if your site attracts a lot of traffic, you might want to use a social counter to show how many times a piece of content has been shared.

When your knowledge is rubber-stamped

16.  Membership in reputable industry bodies

If you’re a member of a trusted industry body then it’s a good idea to show this on your website (often on the Home and/or About pages). This is an immediate signal to people that your knowledge is credible, especially as most regulatory bodies have criteria you have to fulfil before you become a member.

17.  Qualifications and certification

If you’ve worked hard to achieve qualifications and certifications that inform your training then you should have no qualms about displaying your credentials on your website. It’s a subtle message to potential customers that you care about your development and that your training has been rubber-stamped by a trusted authority.

18.  Awards

Similarly, if you’ve won awards for your training services, make sure your audience knows. Send out a press release if the win is recent. Otherwise, simply adding a logo to your website or a short sentence about your awards on your About page is another subtle but powerful way to show that your knowledge is trusted and recognised by external parties.

19.  As seen in…/Featured in

Let your potential customers know if you’ve been featured as a guest author, expert commentator or in a publication (on or offline). Again, it’s a signal that yours is a voice to be trusted.

The most common way people do this is with an “As seen in” or “As featured in” bar on their website (usually on the Home page) using logos from the publications concerned.

Here are some examples:

How coach Denise Duffield-Thomas uses an “As seen in” bar for social proof

Business coach Claire Mitchell uses an “As featured in” bar on her site

Use the forms of social proof that feel right for your business

My advice is to think about how you can use social proof in a way that feels genuine and right for your business. People sometimes try to game the system by buying likes, reviews or shout-outs but it can damage your credibility if it’s spotted.

Don’t feel you have to do everything at once. Not all forms of social proof work in every scenario (for example, don’t get too bogged down with connecting with an influencer if your time could be better spent doing something else).

A good starting point is to build asking for reviews into your training follow-up or add logos for any qualifications, etc., to your website.

The next step is to commit to looking for social proof of your training services and using that proof in your marketing. Keep doing that and the social proof will start to build up.

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