Even as technology—and the way people buy it—has become more sophisticated, word of mouth still reigns supreme when it comes to customer advocacy. Before making large purchases or heavy investments in new tools, most business and technology leaders look to their peers for their perspective, so they can learn from their experiences and hear which solutions truly live up to their promises. Hearing this kind of feedback directly from those in similar organizations also helps make prospects feel less guarded when it comes to consuming marketing-related materials.

Along with supporting a great customer experience, product-led tactics are extremely effective for soliciting social proof. And while the things customers say and share about a product are largely out of the company’s control, there are steps organizations can take to gather their own such data points—from their most satisfied customers—to help drive positive customer-led advocacy.

What is social proof?

In marketing, social proof is any form of evidence collected from users and customers about their experience with the organization or its product(s), which the company ultimately uses to market itself or its services. Good, old fashioned word of mouth is a form of social proof shared organically in live conversations between colleagues and peers. But social proof can also be documented via other formats, including:

  • Reviews (sometimes on third party sites)
  • Testimonials
  • Customer success stories
  • Product ratings
  • User and customer quotes
  • Social media posts, likes, and shares
  • Endorsements

Social proof is a powerful tool for persuasion because unlike company-driven marketing messaging, it originates from customers themselves. It’s inherently unbiased because it comes directly from real users of the product—thus eliminating any of the “spin” that is sometimes associated with traditional marketing or public relations (PR) activities. Social proof also gives prospective users the opportunity to hear from customers who are just like them, and who at one point faced a decision just like the one they’re facing now. 

When used strategically, social proof is a great tool to help marketers strengthen their content and campaigns. It adds an additional layer of validation to claims made by the organization, gives prospective customers a first-hand glimpse into the experience of working with the company and using the product, and amplifies the company’s story by empowering existing customers to share their own perspective.

Social proof can even help feed a viral loop of advocacy for the organization. The presence of social proof on a company’s website or in their marketing materials instantly makes them more trustworthy in the eyes of users. Prospective customers often look for these signals before making a purchase, and current customers appreciate having their voices acknowledged and elevated through the company’s marketing efforts.

Product-led tactics for gathering social proof

Soliciting customer feedback and testimonials within the product is a highly effective and reliable way to secure social proof. The added benefit of asking for this information within the product is that it’s contextual—the customer’s immediate experience with the product is highly likely to influence what they say about it because it’s right in front of them and top of mind. 

Product-led requests for social proof also allow marketers to be strategic and targeted in their outreach. In this way, they can pick and choose who they request public reviews or testimonials from—in order to highlight the stories of only their happiest and most successful customers. Here are a few ways marketing teams use the product as a vehicle for soliciting social proof.

Customer success stories

The happiest customers make for the best brand advocates—and more often than not, they’re eager to share their stories and help other organizations like theirs find similar success. Marketers can lean on the customer success (CS) team to help identify customers who might be good candidates for public-facing customer success stories. In general, the best customer stories come from people who have been customers or users of the product for enough time to reach a meaningful threshold of active use. They should also have strong, measurable outcomes to share as a result of using the product.

Product analytics is also a good place for marketers to look to help identify potential customer story candidates. High levels of utilization, adoption, and retention are good indicators of customer satisfaction—though it also helps if the customer is highly engaged and passionate about the brand. Look for customers who frequently engage with the product’s primary features, regularly submit or take action on feedback or requests from other users, and who serve as vocal champions for the product or brand both within their own organizations and amongst their networks. 

Once you’ve identified your ideal customer story candidates, ask their customer success manager (CSM) for an introduction or use an in-app guide to reach them while they’re using the product. Be sure the messaging you use in the in-app guide is clear, so that customers know what you’re looking for and what’s expected of them. It’s also helpful to make the interview scheduling process as easy as possible to further reduce the barrier to entry. An integration with a calendar scheduling tool helps make this process seamless, and is a great way for marketers to manage and scale their customer story-related workflows more easily.

Reviews and testimonials

Reviews and testimonials are similar to success stories, though they are generally much shorter and aren’t contingent upon a marketer interviewing the customer to capture their story. There are even third party services that collect validated user reviews and testimonials en masse, so buyers can easily browse unbiased product reviews and more easily compare vendors.

For marketing teams seeking customer reviews and testimonials, analytics comes in handy here again. Take a look at behavior and usage data to identify customers and users who seem to be getting the most value from the product—generally those who use the product frequently and leverage all of the features available to them within their subscription tier. Target these users with in-app guides asking for a quick review or testimonial. Be sure the wording you use to explain how their submission will be leveraged is as clear as possible. For example, indicate whether their review will be shared publicly or not, explain how their data will be used and stored, and (if applicable) clearly indicate if their review will be hosted by a third party. 

As a general rule of thumb, these kinds of testimonial request guides should only appear after the user has completed a workflow, and in other moments that don’t obstruct the jobs they’re trying to get done. Also, be strategic about who you ask for a review from—generally speaking, a review from someone in a decision-making seat (e.g. a director, vice president, or c-level) will be more compelling to a prospect than a review from an individual contributor. And finally, be mindful of how many times you ask any single user to leave a review or testimonial. If they keep dismissing the guide, there’s a good chance they aren’t interested in participating, so it’s best not to keep bothering them (and ultimately risk frustrating them) by asking over and over again.

App store ratings

App store ratings are a critical form of social proof for mobile products. Apps with higher ratings rank higher in search results, and are thus more likely to be seen by potential users and prospective customers. In turn, the number of times the app is downloaded impacts the sustainability of its ranking. In this way, app store ratings become a self-perpetuating cycle that help the product market itself.

A strong app store rating is a clear signal to other users that the app serves a valuable purpose and delivers a good experience. App store ratings are also commonly accompanied by qualitative reviews. These are another source of insight and perspective for prospective customers and users, and add context to the quantitative ratings (plus, they’re a wonderful source of feedback for product teams). Tracking app store ratings over time as new versions of the app are released is also a great way to understand what users love—or don’t love—about each new iteration of the product.

The best way to solicit app store ratings is within the app itself, as users are immersed in it. Most companies do so with a simple prompt that asks the user for a one- to five-star rating—delivered via in-app guide—which sometimes also includes additional fields for comments or feedback. The timing of these guides is particularly important, and can have a huge impact on the ratings received. Be sure to set these messages to only appear in logical and non-disruptive moments (i.e. not while a user is trying to complete a task).

Polls and surveys

It’s not uncommon for polls and surveys to fall under the purview of an organization’s feedback or voice of the customer (VoC) team—though marketers can and should leverage them for their own campaigns and promotions, too. A simple one- or two-question poll, delivered in-app, can be a great way to gauge customer sentiment in an ongoing and scalable way. It’s also a great way to quickly gather social proof points that can be used to validate product decisions or augment marketing programs and materials. 

For example, the marketing and product teams could work together to launch an in-app poll asking participating users what they think about a particular feature that’s in beta. The product team can review those responses to improve the feature as needed, while the marketing team can leverage the positive scores as social proof in marketing materials promoting the new feature to prepare for general availability (GA).

Social sharing and engagement

Marketers rely on many channels to drive the conversation around the brand, and in-app guides are a great way to inform customers about those external channels and to encourage further community engagement beyond the product. 

For example, you could use an in-app guide to highlight a promotion or giveaway for customers who engage with posts on the company’s LinkedIn or Twitter page. You could even leverage an in-app guide that celebrates key milestones (e.g. completing a certification course or reaching a new level of product proficiency) with a social sharing button that makes it easy for customers to repost and spread the news about their achievement. Also, consider including a “share” button within your mobile app to make it easy for users to send their colleagues and peers directly to your product or post about it on their own social media pages. 

Research and product validation

While it doesn’t serve as flashy of a purpose as the other aforementioned forms of social proof, customer input gathered inside the product for research and user experience testing can be a valuable source of social proof and validation for teams across the organization. 

Marketers can partner with product and research teams to shape the strategy for soliciting input from users on initiatives that are still in flight—for example, choosing a new product name or understanding appetite for a new feature—before anything goes to market. This information can help groups across the company validate their decisions, identify what customers really value, and guide marketing and promotion strategies to give the new offering its best chance at making a splash. 

Asking customers and users for this kind of early-stage input is also a strong signal of trust. It helps demonstrate that the company cares about customer feedback, values its users’ opinions, and is invested in building products and features that will help them be most successful.