Digital Marketing

What is Social Proof, and How Do You Use It?

April 12, 2019

If you’re a marketer, you’ve definitely heard the term ‘social proof’ thrown around with frequency. It may seem like it’s a word concentrated in our digital age, but social proof was actually coined back in 1984 by a marketing, business and psychology professor named Robert Cialdini. He defines social proof as when “we determine what is correct by finding out what other people think is correct”. Put in simple terms, social proof means that we trust testimony or reviews from others to determine what we think about a particular topic, product or thing.

Social proof is a powerful tool for school marketers, as people are incredibly likely to believe personal testimony when they’re choosing an educational provider for their kids. There are six types of social proof as defined by Cialdini:

  • Expert
  • Celebrity
  • User
  • The wisdom of the crowd
  • The wisdom of your friends
  • Certification

We’ll run through each type of social proof, how it applies to your school’s marketing strategy and strategies for gathering and encouraging it -- keep on reading to discover how you can leverage social proof for your school.

The types of social proof

Expert

Expert social proof means your target has been endorsed by an expert in that particular field. It’s not particularly accessible for schools, as your ‘experts’ will be teachers and administrators within your school’s walls, which blurs authenticity. However, you could try utilising any previous testimony from outside experts in a specific area, such as coaches who have praised your school’s athletic program or local theatre directors who loved your most recent musical.

Celebrity

Celebrity social proof is exactly as it sounds -- it refers to when the target in question is endorsed by a celebrity or someone with a great deal of influence. Generally, this element of social proof doesn’t apply to schools, as you’re dealing with celebs very irregularly. However, a few small ways you can implement it include gathering testimony from prominent alumni, or highlighting local influencers that attend your school’s events.

User

User social proof is one of the more important elements for schools, as it refers to regular people endorsing your institution based on their own personal experiences. This could include parents, alumni and even past staff members who are satisfied with the educational services you’ve provided. User social proof can be evidenced through reviews on Google or other sites, social media reviews and follows, testimonies and more.

The wisdom of the crowd

Another beneficial type of social proof for schools, the wisdom of the crowd refers to the collective recognition and admiration that comes with a business that’s widely praised, with hundreds or thousands of testifiers. The greater the volume, the greater the proof. Once again, this is usually generated online via sites like Google, as well as your social media pages.

The wisdom of your friends

Have you ever gone out and bought something because your friends raved about it? What about a service they recommended, or a show you just had to watch? This kind of social proof is known as the wisdom of your friends. We’re inherently likely to believe the opinions of people we trust, with friends and family right at the top of this list. This social proof is evidenced mainly by word of mouth, whether that’s actually communicated in person or on social media through wall posts, direct messages and mentions.

Certification

Finally, certification refers to social proof that has come directly from a body of authority from within your industry. This is a very strong form of social proof for schools, as prospective families are often looking for tangible results that their children can be a part of by attending your school. An example of a certification in the school context could be NAPLAN results, OP scores or even family satisfaction as measured by a simple survey.

How to leverage social proof for your school

We’ve established social proof spans quite a few platforms and mediums, and can be translated in a number of ways. So, with all of this information in mind, how do you use it to your advantage, and in the most effective way possible? Here are a few tips for encouraging and utilising social proof.

Gathering social proof

Gathering social proof refers to the process of acquiring reviews, testimonies, social followers and more, all of which contribute to your school’s reputation, thereby making it seem more ‘correct’ (respectable or ‘worth it’ by parents’ standards). Here are a few ways to encourage the people in your community to generate social proof for you.

  • Reach out for reviews. There’s no shame in asking for a review -- in fact, you’ll find most people who have a good opinion of your school will want to do it! Reach out via email marketing, a survey, on social media or even in person to start generating user reviews that will eventually become the wisdom of the crowd.
  • Incentivise. If you’re struggling to gather reviews from the first step, why not incentivise leaving honest feedback on Google or Facebook? A great way to do this is through a competition sent out to your email database. Every person who leaves a review on either platform will be entered into a raffle or giveaway aligned with how much your school is willing to spend. Remember, even one new enrolment generated from your new social proof will pay for whatever prize you offer!
  • Trawl social media for user generated content. Often, dedicated users (in this case, parents) actually generate social proof for you, in the form of social media content. Check your school’s hashtag and mentions and see what kind of content presents itself. Maybe there are images of a recent event alongside positive captions that you can share or repost to better market your school online. Just remember to reach out for permission before using someone’s post!
  • Engage on social platforms. Sometimes people within your community will connect on platforms like Facebook and Instagram via a comment or a post to your school’s page. Instead of reading them, smiling and moving on, engage with them! By replying with something encouraging and friendly, you’re not only increasing the chances of further interaction, but you’re putting yourself back onto people’s feeds, and you’re creating even more social proof as a result.

Using your social proof

Now that you’ve got testimonies, reviews and more up your sleeve, it’s time to put them to use. A lot of the time, these speak for themselves, as they already exist in spaces people visit regularly -- for instance, on Google or Facebook. But, there are still a few ways you can promote your new social proof in order to generate more, as well as benefiting your school’s overall marketing strategy.

  • Post about it. One way to promote positive impressions of your school is by creating content for your blog or website around your social proof. Being sure not to oversaturate your readers, you can shout out specific testimonies or embed certain reviews to give everything you write a little more credibility. People love hearing from their community, (the wisdom of the crowd in action) and will be more likely to see you as an authority with this kind of evidence backing you up. Posting about your certifications is also a must -- your users will love to hear about any achievements that back up their choice to send their children to your school.
  • Share it. The same principle applies to social media, however, it's probably more beneficial to share posts to better adapt to the nature of the platform. By sharing posts to your page, you’ll be exposing that positive testimony to your wider community, creating user-based social proof. Just be sure to keep things humble and seamless -- no oversharing, either! It’s a fine balance, but sticking to a guideline of one shared post from parents or alumni per week should work in your favour.
  • Put it in print. Finally, a great way to circulate your social proof is by including it in any of your school’s print or branding materials. If you have certifications under your belt, why not add them to enrolment packets, brochures and other marketing collateral? Integrating your social proof into as many areas as possible is sure to cement your status as one of the best schools around, and thus, a viable option for lots of prospective families.

Now that you know what social proof is, and how to gather it, it’s time to go out there and use it! Scour those reviews, send out some surveys and shout your achievements from the rooftops!

For more blog posts about marketing your school to the fullest, check out our digital marketing section.