Social proof is the life-blood of business success
Have you ever hired someone just by seeing an ad in social media?
Do you check Amazon and Yelp reviews before booking or buying something?
Sure you do.
As a consumer, you look for social proof that you are making the right decision before committing your time or money. Statistics from a variety of studies show that most of us are influenced by what our relatives, friends, and colleagues use and recommend. That’s social proof.
As an entrepreneur, you can leverage the power of social proof to increase income and grow your business for the long-term. You do it by cultivating the 3 R’s of business growth and profits:
Reviews, Recommendations, and Referrals
The lifetime value of referred customers, measured over a six-year horizon, was 16% higher, on average, than that of non-referred customers with similar demographics and time of acquisition.
Each of your current customers or clients is the hub of a vast network of people who are potential sources of new business. Despite the value the 3 R’s offer, some people find it hard to ask for them. To tap into this deep well of business, you need to lay some groundwork.
Do you read movie reviews before deciding what to see?
What about reviews of hotels or restaurants?
A review is one person’s evaluation of a product or service. The best reviews focus on specifics, use examples, and avoid exaggeration. For example, writing, “Your coaching program was great” has less impact than “You helped me control my nerves and gave me the tools I needed to ace my presentation. Thanks to you, I landed the account!”
See the difference? One is generic; the other is specific. Which one has more impact on the reader?
Reviews are posted on social media sites, like Google, Yelp, and Travel Advisor, among lots of others.
Unlike reviews, recommendations are written or oral endorsements that describe how you achieve results. It includes some type of encouragement for others to buy your products or services to achieve similar success.
Using the example from above, the written recommendation is, “You helped me control my nerves and gave me the tools I needed to ace my presentation. Thanks to you, I landed the account! If anyone wants to appear more confident and deliver powerful presentations to potential customers, they have to work with you.”
An oral recommendation would be similar, but would carry more weight since it is personal and delivered one-to-one.
Recommendations, like reviews, can appear on websites and be posted on your website or blog as testimonials.
A referral occurs when someone directly recommends you to another person for business reasons. They make a connection between you and a potential client.
Referrals can come from current and former clients, relatives, friends, colleagues, and coworkers. Networking is a valuable tool for expanding your list of connections and expanding your reach for referral business.
In our example, your satisfied client passes out your business card to people in their network who have a challenge similar to theirs. They also may make an email or live introduction. Because the referral is coming from someone who is trusted, it is more likely to open the door to new business.
Referrals also mean that you have a high standard to meet since the credibility and relationship of the person referring you depend on your ability to deliver results. If you don’t, you not only lose the new business, but you may damage your relationship with the person who referred you.
Referrals also carry a quid pro quo responsibility. When someone makes a referral, you need to find ways to return the referral when the opportunity arises.
Before asking for a review or recommendation, check with the website to make sure this is acceptable. Some social media sites allow you to request, but not incentivize, reviews and recommendations. Also keep in mind that if you have clients who work for an organization, they may be prohibited from anything that seems like an endorsement.
Written reviews and recommendations used for marketing or advertising are regulated by government agencies in a variety of countries.
In the United States, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) oversees their use. States, too, may have regulations, so check before posting something.
Here’s a quick overview of FTC rules. When in doubt, check with the FTC or a lawyer.
- Your relationship with the endorser must be disclosed.
- All statements much be true and reflect actual experiences.
- Endorsements must come from actual clients or customers.
- You must be able to provide substantive proof or evidence that the statements and claims are accurate representations.
- Experts must have appropriate credentials to support their statements.
- Avoid distorting the endorser’s intent and making or using misleading, distorted, false, or exaggerated claims.
- Disclose any incentive or enticement used for their statements.
- Add a statement that results are not typical.
In some jurisdictions, anything generated by a customer or client is owned by them. They have copyright and intellectual property protections.
A good course of action is getting permission for a specific use of the statement. In some cases, if you have permission to use a review on social media, that permission may not extend to your using it on your website or blog. Maintain documentation in case you need it in the future.
The 3 R’s Come from Relationships
While referrals can come from anyone who knows you and your business, reviews and recommendations carry more weight when they come from clients, customers, or colleagues. Let’s face it, a review from Cousin Marie has less influence than one from Client Marie. Customers and clients are fertile ground for the most valuable reviews, recommendations, and referrals.
Cousin Marie may give you a referral to her mother-in-law that results in business even if you haven’t seen her in ages. However, you can’t pop up out of nowhere and ask Client Marie to do so if you haven’t cultivated an ongoing relationship with her.
You must have a plan that helps you grow and maintain ongoing relationships with your customers and clients.
Start with the Most Valuable Clients
Focus on clients who are subscribers, on retainer, or frequent users of your business. If you don’t already communicate regularly with these customers, start doing so. You want to build an ongoing, valuable relationship with them.
- Communicate regularly by sharing information they need and want.
- Share articles and blog posts from others on topics your clients find valuable.
- Send referrals to them.
- Profile them in your blog.
- Interview them for articles and posts.
- Mention them in your social media updates and blog posts.
- If you use their products or services, leave on social media.
- Contribute to their success in every way possible.
The more you focus on helping them succeed in business, the more you prove your value to them, and the more you stay top-of-mind.
Request One of the 3 R’s
One of the best times to approach a customer or client is when they are praising your work. Decide if you want a review, recommendation, or referral.
Thank them for the compliment and ask if they would give you one of the three R’s. Specify the media you want them to use.
If they seem reluctant, make it easy by suggesting that they can write the same words they just used to praise you. Offer to send them samples that other clients have given you.
Referral requests are more effective and more likely to elicit results when done in-person. Focus on long-term customers who have a track record with you and who have a deep network they can tap into.
Again, it’s best to do this after you have provided a valuable service, for example, at the end of a coaching program or consultancy project. Casually mention how much you appreciate their business and loyalty. Ask if they know someone who could use your services. If they do, ask if they would provide an introduction if they believe that they have received value from working with you. If they don’t have someone in mind then, find out if they would be willing to give your name/card to others who might be interested in the future.
Respond to Reviews
According to customer service studies, people are more likely to write a negative review than a positive one. If you receive a negative review on social media, avoid a defensive or aggressive response. Apologize and assure the person that you will reach out to them and attempt to rectify the situation that caused them to be unhappy with your service or product. Make sure you do so.
When you receive a positive review, recommendation, or referral, make sure you immediately thank the person with a phone call, if possible. Remember, reciprocity works. The more you help them build their business, the more they will help you build your business.