Have you ever looked at someone’s Twitter followers count to gauge whether or not to take them seriously? I know I have. And I’m pretty sure that I’m not alone. As humans, we’re always looking for social proof to justify our actions. And guess what…

There are few places more chock full of opportunities for social proof than social media. In this post, I’ll briefly touch on social proof in general and then dig into the right ways in which you can use social media to create social proof on your website.

What is social proof in marketing?

Okay, the purpose of this post isn’t to define social proof. But it is essential to establish a basic shared understanding of social proof in order for this post to make sense. So bear with me for a second while I run you through a quick primer on social proof as it’s used in marketing.

Stated simply, social proof in marketing uses social signals like reviews, testimonials and popularity to boost your credibility with your readers and/or potential customers.

Stated even more simply, social proof is the reason you look up if you see a crowd of people staring skywards.

As humans, we’re conditioned to act, or not act, based on what we observe those around us doing. It’s wisdom of the crowds in action and, used properly, it makes you more credible and enhances your trustworthiness with your readers.

There are heaps of different ways to add social proof to your website, but I’m going to focus on just one:

How to use social media to add social proof to your website.

How to add social proof to your website with social media

There are a number of ways you can use social media to add social proof to your website. But it’s important that you implement them in the right way. Done wrong, social media indicators can actually make your site seem less trustworthy, which is kind of the exact opposite of what we’re going for here.

So, you need to put some thought into social media and social proof. Make it work for you, not against you…

Here’s what to do and how to do it right:

Display share counts…but in the right way

Okay, at first glance this is a pretty common recommendation. There’s a good chance you already know that displaying share counts on your individual website pages is a good way to showcase popularity. But here’s what you might not know about displaying share counts:

A low share count is actually worse than no share count at all. Take, for example, a case study detailed by VWO concerning Finnish eCommerce store Taloon.

Taloon used to display social share counts on all of their product pages. Their share counters looked something like this:

social media and social proof

Noticed something? There are big fat zeroes next to all the share counters. And according to owner Jani Uusi-Pantti, this was the case for most of Taloon’s product pages. Instead of boosting proof, the total lack of interaction was actually creating negative social proof by reminding potential customers that there was “zero” social proof.

Essentially, the zero share counts were implanting a negative feeling that never would have existed otherwise.

So, Jani made the difficult decision to remove social share counts from all of the product pages. And the results were positive: a ~12% increase in call to action clickthroughs.

(Chart by Visualizer Lite.)

What’s the point of that story? A blanket “add share counts to your pages” isn’t good advice.

The right way to display social share counts

Here are two suggestions for improving how you handle displaying social share counts on your pages:

First, set a minimum count to display share numbers. This means you can still have social share buttons on all of your pages, the buttons just won’t display share count numbers until a minimum number of shares is reached.

This lets you still enable social interaction and take advantage of positive social proof while eliminating the possible pitfalls of negative social proof.

Many popular social media plugins like Social Warfare and Easy Social Share Buttons allow this functionality.

Another good tip is to aggregate the share counts for individual social networks into one count. For example, look how Buffer combines their shares into a single metric:

social-proof-share-counts2

Second, don’t feel compelled to add social share counts to every page. As the Taloon example demonstrated, eCommerce pages are often a poor location for social share counts/buttons. Not only because of the potential for negative social proof, but also because social buttons can distract from your main call-to-action.

After all, you want people to buy your product, not just share it on social media, right?

Highlight your overall follower counts

Individual page share counts are a good way to highlight the breadth of your engagement, but overall follower counts help you really drive home your overall credibility.

But again – the same issue with negative social proof arises. If your mom and your dog are the only two accounts following you on Twitter, you probably don’t want to proudly display your social follower numbers.

So until you build up a follower count that you’re proud of, you should go with generic follow buttons like these:

social-proof-follower-counts

Embed testimonials from Twitter or Facebook

Testimonials are a great way to embed detailed social proof in your website. But like share counts, there’s an elephant in the room:

People don’t automatically believe testimonials. While I’m sure that you would never make up a testimonial, plenty of unscrupulous marketers have no qualms lying to their customers.

In fact, Testimonial Shield surveyed 1,000 Americans and found that almost 90% of those surveyed believed that most testimonials found on websites are “made up”.

So how can you make your testimonials stand out as genuine? Embed them straight from social media. That way, your readers can see that your testimonials are, in fact, coming from real, live people.

As an added bonus, your testimonials will be guaranteed to have pictures of the testimonial giver, which is important because scientific research has shown that pictures can increase “truthiness”.

The best part is, all you need to do is keep an eye on social media for a ready-made pool of potential testimonials. Just remember – you should always get permission from people before publicly displaying their posts on your website.

Here’s how you can do it:

Embed Twitter cards/posts into your site

Used by sites like Canva, KWFinder, and others, Twitter posts are a great way to add short testimonials to your site.

For inspiration, look how KWFinder embeds real tweets, complete with dates and pictures:

social-proof-testimonials-1

There’s no doubt those testimonials are real because users can click through to view them directly on Twitter.

To embed real Tweets, all you need to do is click on the “…” button and then choose the Embed Tweet option:

social-proof-testimonials-2

Embed Facebook posts into your site

You can also apply the exact same strategy to Facebook posts. Again, curious readers can go straight to the original post to verify its authenticity.

To embed Facebook posts, you just need to click the “Down Arrow” icon and then choose Embed:

social-proof-testimonials-2-2

Tie it all together

Here’s the best thing:

You’re not limited to just one social network. You can include a variety of social networks to bring in both diverse opinions and formats.

An excellent example of this is Canva‘s about page:

social-proof-testimonials-3

They manage to combine Twitter posts, Instagram posts, and user numbers in one section to create an awesome trifecta of social proof.

Include user-generated content on your site

In addition to testimonials, you can also bring in other user-generated social media content to showcase how popular your brand is.

While not direct testimonials, user-generated content showcases how your customers are engaged with your brand.

For example, look how Run Happy NYC uses an Instagram hashtag feed to showcase an ever-changing feed of user-generated content:

social-proof-ugc

You’re not limited to Instagram either – you can pull in Pinterest boards, Twitter posts, or any other type of social media.

Just remember the dangers of hashtags – anyone can use them for anything. So, you probably don’t want to automatically include hashtagged content on your site. You’ll definitely need to approve all content before it goes live.

Wrapping things up

Social media is a great way to add social proof to your website. Just be smart about it – make sure your attempt to create positive social proof doesn’t morph into the opposite. Only showcase share counts or follower counts when they work in your favor. And make sure to sprinkle in some social testimonials and user-generated content to really show your trustworthiness and user engagement.