If part of your marketing campaign includes a newsletter, it’s important to remember the importance of demonstrating social proof. According to the Canadian software company Unbounce, social proof can increase newsletter signups by 20%.

However, not all social proof is equal. There is such a thing as bad social proof. Three ways social proof can work against you relate to testimonials, name dropping; and likes, tweets and comments on social media.

Of course, all three types of social proof have tremendous upsides if done right. If done wrong, they have equally tremendous downsides.

However, which has the largest downside depends on your audience. As I’ve written before, you need to know your audience so you can write your marketing in ways that will reach, attract and compel your audience.

Take testimonials. Who are they from, and what do they say? Do they come from your target market? Does the testimonial say “I love this product,” or does it it give a benefit to the person using it and leaving the testimonial? Is there a photo of a person in the target market using it, or is it a generic photo lifted from the company website?

It’s similar with name dropping. Does your audience care that a celebrity endorses your product or service, for would they prefer some Average Joe raving about it?

Finally, with likes, tweets and comments, quantity matters because the more there are, the more people perceive your product or service matters — and perception is reality.

If you know your audience, you should be able to ensure the testimonials, name drops and social media comment/likes/tweets will resonate.

But here are some tips to further neutralize negative social proof, courtesy of Unbounce:

—Remove share buttons until your site has real traction. How do you know? Online rankings is one indicator, but so is how often your followers share and comment. So, make Twitter, Facebook and G+ buttons disappear for now.  

—Never put those social media buttons on pages that won’t get shared. It’s a waste.

—Don’t show the number of RSS or email subscribers if the number is too low. What’s the right number to start showing? Again, go back to your audience. Chances are, a couple hundred will be too low, but I know a recruiting company whose target is so specific, its audience is 30, so it would be OK to show that number in that case. Generally, when it comes to social proof, higher is better.

—Finally, tweets can take the place of testimonials if you don’t have testimonials yet, or if you do. Embed the best tweets you’ve received from your followers.  

Social proof is a wonderfully useful tool to build your audience, but make sure you do it right so you avoid negative repercussions.

leebarnathan.com