There are 7 billion plus individuals in today’s world. Every day, more and more of them appear on the digital grid, the omnipresent network that the Internet happens to be. Increased smartphone penetration, internet access and technology at large simply indicates beyond doubt that yes, humans are social animals, and as such, we love to share our experiences with each other.
Long ago, marketers realized that word of mouth was one of the best ways to get news of their products and services out there. It holds true in this time and age as well, but it has evolved to keep up with advancements in technology. A term that you may have heard bandied around quite frequently is ‘social proof’, and it’s nothing more than word of mouth in its new, digital avatar.
For instance, we’ve all been ‘persuaded’ to try out a new restaurant or a holiday destination after we’ve seen our friends posting pictures of their dining and travel adventures on social media. On the same note, we’ve also been dissuaded from staying at a hotel because we spotted nasty review that was left by some disgruntled customer online. That, my friends, is the 21st century version of word of mouth in action.
What is Social Proof?
Human beings have this deep rooted instinct to be swayed by other humans and their activities. Consumer internet has shown, time and again, that people implicitly trust other people’s reviews and feedback when it comes to brands and their services.
Social proof is everywhere. When you’re shopping on Amazon, you tend to check out the reviews on the product. If enough people in your office recommend an eating joint, you’re bound to check it out sooner or later. Positive reviews have managed to draw in crowds for the most hopeless of movies, while lack of reviews have caused stellar cinema to fade into oblivion.
Simply put, if enough people like it, the product or service has to be good
Social proof is now a valued dynamic used by marketers and companies the world over in order to influence consumers. Companies have taken to prominently displaying reviews, testimonials, ratings, approval seals, expert opinions, ‘popular items’ and what not on their website. And why? Because we’d all rather go by what others have to say about a particular business than trust the brand itself.
The hospitality industry is particularly influenced by social proof. Most people rely on customer reviews and opinions they come across on social media. More and more people turn to Trip Advisor and similar sites to read what other customers have to say about a specific hotel. And, only if the overall perception and feedback is positive do they actually go ahead and book a room in the hotel.
Types Of Social Proof
On the face of it, social proof might be an all-encompassing phenomenon that overlaps a variety of fields and industries, but from a marketing perspective, it can be classified into 5 specific categories.
- Expert Social Proof
Humans trust authoritative institutions, and reputed personalities. Before we believe any claim, we need reassurance and the expert social proof offers just that. You find the words ‘expert opinion’ under articles giving advice and instructions as a means to legitimize it. Ads for toothpaste and tooth brushes are ‘bolstered’ by opinions of leading dentists while beauty creams will usually have a skin specialist backing them. And once a restaurant or hotel gets a thumbs up from a renowned critic, you can be fairly certain that people are going to flock to it by the hundreds.
- Celebrity Social Proof
The name says it all. Celebrities have a swaying effect on the population, and they come with their own seal of legitimacy. If a celebrity endorses a hotel, the chances of it making it to the the top ten establishments in the city are extremely high. That said, the most authentic and genuine celebrity social proof is the unpaid one.
- User Social Proof
User social proof is found in any kind of user generated content that showcases their experiences. This includes success stories, pictures on social media, testimonials, and reviews on websites. User social proof is one of the most effective ways to boost the credibility of a hotel. One of the most obvious examples is Tripadvisor, where millions of users arrive every month to see and write reviews and recommendations.
- Wisdom of the Crowd
“A million people can’t be wrong” is the saying most marketers abide by. And they use sheer numbers to sway prospective consumers. It can be subtle, or obvious depending on who’s doing the marketing. Take leading bloggers, for instance, who display their site hits and other numbers on their blog to establish their credentials.
- Wisdom of your Friend
A consumer will always rely more on the personal experience of a friend than the word of a stranger. Also, the stats show that many customers rely heavily on recommendations from friends and family. This social proof has the potential to grow virally.
On the face of it, you might think that you’ve got a broad playing field when it comes to collecting social proof for your business. However, what works for one industry might not necessarily cater to your requirements. Therefore, you need to find the perfect concoction of different types of social proof to find out which ones are best suited to your brand.
Why Do You Need Social Proof?
In the hospitality business, building and highlighting social proof is essential to attracting attention and, subsequently, new customers. There is more than one reason why you should put considerable effort into spreading digital word of mouth. Here are top reasons why it’s essential to set aside a budget and make a marketing plan around generating social proof for your hotel
- With the influx of genuine feedback (most of which would hopefully be positive), you will be able to build trust among your customers.
- Social proof increases your credibility as an establishment and can help convert an unsure customer in your favor
- Online reviews, ratings and testimonials are the best form of advertisement for your hotel and can rival the fanciest and most expensive marketing campaign you can think of launching
Strategy for Collecting Social Proof
Like I’ve mentioned before, there are various ways in which you can collect social proof, the most common ones being asking customers to leave reviews and feedback, getting influencers to talk about you by offering complimentary stays, and encouraging interactions (like check ins) on your social media page. These should be integral to your online marketing and branding campaign. But I’d like to discuss a few other techniques to collecting social proof for your hotel:
There’s a reason why Facebook’s traffic skyrocketed once it started supporting GIFs and videos. Visual media has the ability to influence people and can go viral with the slightest impetus. A video highlighting the offerings of your hotel, sightseeing options in the city, places of local interest, and the culinary treats in store for your guests is bound to be met with great enthusiasm. And if it’s well made, with a dash of creativity in it, you can expect it to draw customers to your doors in no time at all.
They say an image speaks a thousand words. Extensive research proves that posts with images are 35% more likely to draw engagement as opposed to the ones with just text. Research also reveals that people are more likely to believe statements that are substantiated with images. So, the next time you want to share customer reviews and testimonials, make sure to attach an image to draw more traction.
Humans are visual creatures and infographics are the best option you have when you want to present data in an interesting manner without boring your audience with chunks of text and long paragraphs. Don’t forget to include them in your marketing campaign.
Collecting social proof isn’t all that difficult, but any strategy is only as strong as its execution. Once you’ve used videos, images, and infographics to convince travelers that your hotel is a great option, give them a clear call to action (CTA) to follow. Route them to your website or landing page and in no uncertain words tell them what they’re required to do.
Don’t leave anything to guesswork. If you want them to leave a review, make that clear. If you want them to book rooms and earn a discount, make that clear. The minute you leave things ambiguous is the minute they’re likely to get confused and leave. Don’t let your hard work go to ruin. If you’ve crafted the marketing plan to collect social proof with great care, don’t let an unclear call to action ruin things for you.
Now go tap into the power of social proof and use it to your advantage. Get your past and present customers talking about you and use their goodwill to attract more visitors your way!
Ram Gupta, the author is a hotel management graduate from India and Germany; He is a certified Hotel Administrator from U.S. and MIH from U.K. He has over 40 years of sound experience in the Hospitality and real estate industry in India, Dubai, U.K, Europe and Japan and is well versed with all areas of business including acquisitions, mergers, joint ventures, diversification, strategic planning, development and operations. He has been associated with over two dozen luxury and boutique hotel projects and has launched two hotel chains in India. He is currently an independent hotel consultant and could be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. Website: www.bcgglobal.com