The 7 Biggest Mistakes to Avoid When Using Social Proof in Marketing

marketing social proof

Reviews and testimonials in marketing are an amazing way to establish credibility, build trust, and create stronger connections with potential clients. And, on paper, it sounds easy, right? On paper, it’s just a happy customer telling other people that they liked what you do and how you do it. 

It sounds so easy in fact, that you would think businesses do this all the time. You would think a business could gather and share these stories and journeys almost organically.

However, this isn’t the case. Anyone who has tried to implement client stories and experiences in their marketing strategy will tell you that it’s not as easy as one might think.

You see, most people get caught up in the excitement and may not think about the five W’s (when, where, who, why, and how) to collect and share reviews or testimonials until they’re in the middle of brainstorming what they want to say in their next marketing email, ad campaign, or web page. It’s completely normal to not think about these nuisances and want to just skip to the end.   

More often than not, businesses who start to dip their toes into using social proof, reviews, and testimonials in marketing make one of the 7 big mistakes below. Even so, a little intention and strategy go a long way to create effective social proof. 

Only sharing the 1% or only the big successes 

Who doesn’t love a success story? Seeing how somebody turned their life or business around. It can be super inspiring. But, it can also be a bit of a double-edged sword. It can be really intimidating to some buyers. Some buyers may not be able to relate to a big change. It may even make some buyers think that reaching that level is unrealistic and eventually discourage them. 

Of course, sharing those big wins is necessary. But, it’s also important to highlight the more relatable wins, the smaller successes, the baby steps, and the little milestones that can sometimes feel bigger than the final result. 

The fact of the matter is that your clients will be at different points of their own journey. This will 100% influence which testimonies resonate with them. 

Highlighting clients that are not your target audience 

Think about who you want to work with. What kind of client do you want to bring in? Who and what is your niche? 

For example, someone that is looking to break into literary translation may not get very far by including past contracts and technical manuals within their portfolio. In a different market, that person’s work with big-name companies is beyond admirable, but if they’re looking to step away from technical translation and advance in more creative endeavors then they need to target the correct audience. 

Sharing testimonials without any context 

Imagine that you get a mention through one of your social media pages. It’s a client in your niche, it’s one of these small milestones we mentioned, and it’s relatable. 

So, you ask permission to take a screenshot and share that story. You may not have your intention or strategy clear yet, but you know that you want to share this story.

But then, you post it to your socials without any context whatsoever. In your eagerness, you may have omitted the relatability aspect of the social proof, story, or small win. 

Now, people have no idea what it means or why you’re sharing it. They’re left to decipher it by themselves. 

Sharing testimonials of how awesome you are 

You are fundamental for your business. Of course you are! You are out there every day working on improving and giving your customers the best experience possible. This isn’t up for debate. 

However, highlighting testimonials that are just talking about how awesome you are might make it seem like you’re focused on your experience instead of the client’s journey. 

These types of stories might build up some trust, but they may not be enough to actually persuade someone to work with your business. It still leaves questions like “will this work for me?” “What’s the experience actually like?” “What type of results can I actually expect?” 

You are beyond awesome. But at the end of the day, it’s not entirely about you. It’s about your clients and their needs, wants, and achievements.

Fake, overly polished testimonials 

Disingenuity tends to raise people’s walls. A scripted, stiff testimonial may look and sound beautiful, but they don’t feel real. They don’t feel human. 

On the other hand, a more natural and improvised review, with those “ums” and “uhs” and maybe some awkward phrases will make people think “oh look, a totally normal, run-of-the-mill human being got those amazing results. I can do this too.” By letting your clients be their awesome selves, you’re opening up the door to the “if I can do it, so can you” principle.   

Not guiding clients / prompting them to give you a great story

On the complete opposite side of the spectrum here, though, is not giving your clients any guidance at all. Remember how at the beginning of this post we talked about intention and strategy? Here is where those two ideas matter most. 

No guidance may look like just taking reviews and testimonials as they come (sort of like looking for scraps), instead of intentionally guiding and prompting the process. You want to be there to help your customer share a really amazing story and get into the details of their transformation. 

Many times, people want to share their stories, but may not even know how to really highlight the important milestones; they may have even forgotten how far they’ve come. 

If you’re not intentional with the process you may be missing out on the “meaty part” of the story.

Blatantly asking for a testimonial and putting people on the spot 

Part of collecting this social proof: stories, case studies, or reviews, is setting the right tone. By asking clients “please give me a testimonial” we can make them feel like they have to perform somehow — like they have to put on their marketing hat in order to tell an interesting story or even talk us up.

That is not what we want at all. We want to have a conversation, an exchange, so they can share their own journey, tell us how far they have come and how these changes have affected their lives. 

Blatantly asking for a testimonial can leave you with video responses that are, again, disingenuous and not relatable.

So, in conclusion, what do you do if you know some of the biggest mistakes but still make them? 

Two things: 

First, acknowledge that you are human and not perfect. You are introducing a whole new layer to your business and marketing, mistakes are nothing more than learning opportunities. 

This brings us to the second thing: keep trying to improve. If you make a mistake (everyone does), admit it, analyze what happened, and set new goals to try again in the future. 

Eventually, you will find the right balance that works for your brand and audience. 

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