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Discover How to Use Social Proof to Add Credibility to Your Online Copywriting

Lamenting “incredible” — the word that lost its meaning

Help stamp out word inflation. That’s what I call overusing words or phrases to the point of rendering them meaningless.

It’s everywhere, it’s destroying the English language, and it’s turning professional online copywriting into a joke.

The most overused word on television these days is “incredible.”

•    Unimaginative sportscasters use the word “incredible” incessantly to describe an outstanding athletic performance.

•    Under-educated newscasters use the word “incredible” to characterize any achievement or activity that is beyond their meager ability to describe it.

•    Direct response pitchmen — rest in peace, Billy Mays — use the word “incredible” to promote every new product they hope you’ll decide is indispensible to your life and happiness.

“Incredible” has replaced “amazing” and “awesome” as America’s favorite, all-purpose, overused word.

How ironic.

The overuse of “incredible” is contrary to what common sense would suggest.

In fact, don’t we want athletic performances, news reports and consumer products that are genuine, reliable, and credible — that is, not beyond our belief or understanding?

Harnessing the power of “herd” behavior with credibility

In Influence, his classic scientific investigation into persuasion techniques, Dr. Robert Cialdini cites social proof as one of the most successful strategies for stimulating a person’s compliance with a request.

Social proof is the phenomenon of individuals looking to other people to determine acceptable social behavior.

We’ve all done it at one time or another. We’ve all assumed that the people around us are better informed and therefore better capable of making a decision.

So, we take a mental shortcut and simply do as the crowd does. Whether the crowd makes correct or incorrect choices, we follow along.

This behavior plays out in sporting events, religious meetings, street demonstrations, politics, stock market rallies and crashes, and in everyday opinion-shaping and decision-making.

We observe the actions of others, and their behaviors inform our own. These are also known as information cascades; the behaviors of others influence us to make the same choices that they have made.

Social proof reduces fear and alleviates self-doubt.

Social proof is both subtle and beguiling.

•    When you watch a TV sitcom, even though you know a laugh track is being played, it works to increase your expression of mirth.

•    A tip jar “seeded” with paper money stimulates increased gratuities.

•    Women who appear in photographs with men (on Facebook) are judged to be more attractive than if they are pictured alone.

In online copywriting, we achieve social proof by using testimonials.

The judicious use of customer testimonials is an effective strategy for enhancing credibility that the copywriter has already established with storytelling, benefits and features. Testimonials don’t replace these elements of good online copywriting, they simply augment them.

Of course, you must choose customer testimonials carefully. If they sound faked, your target audience will be understandably skeptical.

But if the testimonials themselves express a bit of skepticism, followed by satisfaction, they ring true.

Example: “I didn’t believe I could learn SEO copywriting, but then a friend convinced me to try the Mequoda System of SEO copywriting. Wow, am I happy I listened to him. Mequoda SEO copywriting is simple to learn and IT REALLY WORKS!”

(Okay, so that was a brief commercial announcement.)

Case histories are a variation on testimonials and enable the copywriter to tell an engaging story about how a product or service solved a problem.

Case histories can be an especially effective form of social proof when selling to a group (B2B) vs. an individual (B2C).

But wait, there’s more.

Here’s another instance of harnessing the power of “herd” behavior with social proof using copywriting.

Dr. Cialdini and his colleagues recently documented that when an infomercial states “if lines are busy, please call back” it stimulates greater response than “operators are standing by.”

Now that’s incredible!

Oops!

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Your thoughts?

Please add your comments to the website version of this blog post.

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Peter A. Schaible is Mequoda’s Chief Copywriter. For more of his unique perspective on copywriting, you can subscribe to his complimentary series on Targeting Your Prospective Customer by Type: How to Position Your Brand to Trigger an Emotional Response, available at www.SunDanceNewMedia.com. No obligation. No upsell.

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Posted in Audience Development Strategy

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3 thoughts on “Discover How to Use Social Proof to Add Credibility to Your Online Copywriting

  1. Peter says:

    User comments on a website are another form of social proof. That’s why nearly every Mequoda System website should have a discussion forum or a “submit comments” capability.

    It’s perfectly acceptable to encourage social proof by asking for user comments. So please, submit a comment (and say something nice)!

    — Peter

  2. Bel says:

    This was an interesting read.

    ‘“Incredible” has replaced “amazing” and “awesome” as America’s favorite, all-purpose, overused word.’

    Oh, I’m so glad to hear someone say that, because quite honestly I’m getting a little fed up of seeing ‘awesome’ being used squillions of times every day to describe something that’s basically just … good. (I’m British, you see!)

    When I first began getting to know Americans (well, a long time ago now) their fave word appeared to be ‘phenomenal’. I think I preferred that 😉

    But these things are catching and … guess what the new buzz-word is amongst British youngsters? Yep, you guessed it — ‘awesome’!

    If I come across websites, blogs, Twitter posts etc encouraging me to buy/read/listen to something because it’s ‘awesome’ (or ‘cool’, another vastly overused word) to be honest I doubt I would follow through because it sounds a little juvenile — as if the author is young & impressionable and trying to sound trendy. It would *not* give the impression of sophisticated, knowledgeable, good imaginative vocabulary etc.

    Well, maybe those in the US could instead adopt what’s probably our own (and equally annoying) Brit equivalent of ‘awesome’). And that is ‘brilliant’. For the time being …

    And yes, most people do tend to be sheep-like!

    Brilliant article by the way! 😉

  3. Alan Bickley says:

    I realized that the use of “incredible” had reached a tipping point two years ago when I heard someone who was to appear in a lawsuit described as an “incredible witness.” Subsequently I heard a cable anchor declare that someone’s credibility was incredible. So goes the self-lobotomization of the American people.

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