Building Social Proof and User-Generated Content: How Email Can Help
CM Commerce Team
While people use digital devices to browse and shop online, using their phones to make purchases, the online experience hasn’t completely changed how people shop. In fact, people still look to their friends, families, and others for validation before they buy.
That’s why social proof has become so critical for ecommerce marketing. It’s that little voice that says to would-be customers, “Yes, this is a solid purchase, and you can be confident you’re making the right choice.”
But it’s not just the reviews that matter: The timeliness of reviews impacts customers’ buying decisions, too.
The same research mentioned above found that 40% of buyers were typically interested in the latest reviews, those written within the past two weeks. In comparison, only 18% of buyers said the same thing the year before.
Why your business needs social proof
The expectation for social proof puts pressure on your marketing team to quickly gather user-generated reviews and keep them coming, even if a business is just starting out.
“The word-of-mouth concept isn’t dead—it has simply adapted to the change in how businesses and shoppers operate,” writes Superior Lighting owner Zev Herman. “Think about it: Consumers still value what other people have to say about businesses, products, and other people. What’s changed is how people get that information.”
Increasingly, email marketing tools can help businesses create campaigns to engage customers and gather social proof. Email is an optimal way to reach a large swath of your community and encourage social proof that will help drive conversion for your ecommerce site.
But how do you actually get customers to leave reviews? Email marketing.
Read on to discover our best strategies for connecting with customers to convert even more.
Social proof strategies
Here are five strategies that use email to reach your existing customers and persuade them to become authentic brand advocates.
1. Target your most likely UGC contributors.
Although you want reviews from as many customers as possible, to get the ball rolling, you should target your most engaged customers. There are a couple of reasons for this.
First, customers with two or more purchases and who have shown a willingness to interact with your brand will be more likely to write positive reviews. But more importantly, they will be able to provide informed details about your products.
Finally, because they’re already repeat customers, they have shown a level of trust in your business that will come through in what they share.
That’s the approach taken by TradeGecko. Notice how its email succinctly requests honest feedback. The company encourages reviews by promising to improve based on the feedback given.
It’s an honest request and your customers will understand. If they don’t want to leave a review, they’ll simply delete the email and ignore the request but you’d be surprised how far a simple request can get you.
2. Seeing is believing, so use photos and videos.
With reviews, details and depth matter. This is especially true for images and videos. By seeing the quality of a product from real people, would-be buyers are more likely to trust the legitimacy of your products.
Don’t forget to make sharing easy for customers, particularly on social media channels where your customers engage.
Bellroy, an Australian maker of bags and accessories, uses email to encourage its customers to share how they use the company’s products with the hashtag #mybellroy.
Besides a direct email campaign to solicit reviews and encourage social shares, Bellroy also ends its messaging with a reminder to share.
Bellroy has been successful in getting ordinary customers to join in, discussing how they use the company’s products, as these Instagram examples show.
It’s also been successful in encouraging influencers to provide content. This compilation of video reviews by bag reviewer Chase Reeves garnered more than 20,000 views on the Bellroy Instagram feed.
You’ve probably read from thought leaders that celebrity reviews and testimonials are necessary to gain viral traction. But most startups and small businesses won’t have the marketing spend to pay for that type of endorsement.
That’s why reaching out to influencers with expertise in your industry often works just as well. But remember, some influencers charge for reviews or product placements and your customers won’t be impressed if you’ve bought praise. You’re better off getting honest, unsolicited reviews.
3. Seek updates from customers in order to add authenticity.
Consider reaching out to current customers who have left positive reviews. A second interview or an update can work really well, especially when a new version or upgrade comes along.
This tactic is an easy way to capitalize on authentic content from happy customers. Plus, the reviews seem even more legitimate if the same people return to add more comments.
What’s more, buyers like to see recent reviews of the products they’re considering. An update to an existing review gives it new legs with your prospective customers.
4. Encourage depth in customer product reviews.
Even though images and video are extremely valuable, it’s still important to encourage reviewers to share specific details in written reviews. That type of information makes a review relatable and valuable.
You use promotional marketing to announce new products, while customer reviews can advertise what’s already on your site.
This is why some businesses use the approach of asking first that a customer simply rate a product, say on a five-star scale. That’s a low hurdle. A business might then follow up with an email seeking a full-scale review.
Or in the case of Airbnb, the company uses a brief email asking for a rating and then explains in the messaging that the customer also will have the opportunity to add both private and public reviews.
You can test different techniques with your customers to see what works best. Ultimately, you want those deeper reviews because they help your would-be buyers make purchase decisions.
Plus, more in-depth customer feedback will help with SEO when search engines rank your site based on searches for terms like “product review” or “customer testimonial.”
5. With social proof, more is better.
One thing has definitely proved true about social proof: More is better. When visitors see how popular something is, they want to try it, too.
A product with more social proof tends to drive more SEO and in turn tends to drive more conversions.
It’s easy to see why, given that research shows that across all age categories, consumers expect an average of 112 reviews per product, with the 18- to 24-year-old demographic expecting the most (at 203 reviews).
Given that you need both quality and quantity when it comes to customer-generated content, consider an email campaign that incentivizes customers who provide reviews.
You also could use an incentive that gives your reviewer clout. That’s what TripAdvisor does with reviewer status badges.
The more traditional discount off a future purchase or some type of VIP membership benefit is also a way to drive reviews and UGC.
But you could also consider a sweepstakes strategy like that used by Macy’s, which offers its reviewers the chance at a $1,000 gift card.
Again, you might want to test a few variations in your campaign to see the type of incentive that best engages your target audience. It might not be a discount or cash incentive, but rather access to some type of expertise your company can provide.
Be creative and also think about how your customers might discuss what you do for them—yet more valuable social proof.
Now you’re ready to jump in and start seeking UGC that can help drive conversion for your ecommerce business.
But before you start testing email campaigns to encourage reviews and other social shares, let’s consider for a moment those negative reviews you’re also likely to acquire along the way.
In the end, a smattering of so-so and even negative reviews adds legitimacy to your use of customer content. It’s really rare for everyone to like everything about a brand and its products.
That said, be sure that you are continuing to interact with your customers through a review feedback mechanism, whether the reviews are good or bad.
Don’t forget as well that the reviews aren’t just a way for your business to drive purchases. They also give you a mechanism for gathering valuable feedback—directly from your customers—that you can use to improve products and services.
Now, here’s a reminder of our five tips for growing customer reviews:
Target your most likely contributors.
Encourage sharing of photos and videos.
Ask for updates to keep reviews fresh.
Seek depth in customer product reviews to drive trust.