Some recent studies point to the idea that the most persuasive content may not even be content created by you, but rather user generated content.
A report titled The Rise of Digital Influence by Altimeter Group takes a deep dive into how digital influence works to generate coveted word-of-mouth marketing. It is required reading for inbound marketers who want to succeed in leveraging interactive media for their business.
The report defines digital influence as “the ability to cause effect, change behavior, and drive measurable outcomes online.” This is achieved by the ideal balance of three pillars of influence: reach, resonance and relevance.
Each is vital to driving measurable outcomes, but in examining the pillar of relevance we gain insight into how user generated content can create powerful influence via social proof in a shared community of focus. The report outlines three traits of relevance:
- Authority – the individual investment in the subject of topical relevance earned consistently over time
- Trust – the firm belief in the reliability, truthfulness and ability of someone in your community of focus
- Affinity – the level of connection within your community of focus
Gaining social proof with user generated content
You don’t have to spend much time on social media to see that much of the user generated content is meaningless commentary. Just counting Likes, Followers or Comments doesn’t guarantee you will establish meaningful engagement of topical relevance in your community of focus.
But when you focus on the traits of relevance you can turn user content into dynamic social proof that engages and leads Web viewers through the decision funnel.
One of earliest references to social proof I have seen was by advertising pioneer Claude Hopkins. Sometime around 1910 he said:
People are like sheep. They cannot judge values; neither can you and I. We judge things largely by others’ impressions, by popular favor. We go with the crowd. The most effective thing I have ever found in advertising is the trend of the crowd.
Wisdom of the crowd social proof
Hopkins was talking about what we now call wisdom of the crowd social proof. It is based on the idea that we follow the behavior of others based on the assumption their actions reflect correct behavior. The theory has its detractors. Mostly from expert opinion leaders.
A study of Amazon book reviews by The Harvard Business Review highlights the effectiveness of collective intelligence. It found that consumer reviews were every bit as reliable as those of professional critics. Turns out the average opinion of the crowd is a better filter of fringe opinions and bias than expert reviewers. It demonstrates the traits of relevance at work in the community of shared focus.
In his book The Wisdom of Crowds, James Surowiecki covers this topic in depth. He notes the TV studio audience of Who Wants to be a Millionaire guesses accurately 91 percent of the time, while expert guesses are only 65 percent accurate.
Surowiecki summarizes the key elements of wise crowds:
- Diversity of opinion
- Independence of members from one another
- Good method for aggregating opinions
Why customer reviews are golden
Customer reviews and testimonials are becoming more important in consumer decision-making. According to a 2012 Local Consumer Review Survey 72 percent of consumers trust online reviews more than personal recommendations. Sixty-five percent of review readers view 2-10 reviews, and 58 percent trust a business with positive online reviews.
Combining wisdom of the crowd with customer reviews and testimonials can lead to a perfect storm of user generated content that drives conversions. Here are the online marketing takeaways for when they work best:
- They are specific. Vagaries don’t sell. Persuasive reviews hit on specific benefits or personal situations with quantifiable facts and results.
- They answer objections. When your user content raises and answers objectives it lends credibility you can’t match with your own message.
- They sound authentic. If it sounds insincere or cliché, it will work against you. Mom may be your greatest fan, but she probably won’t give you the most useful reviews.
- They embody the keys of relevance: authority, trust and affinity within your community of focus.
SOUND OFF: Tell me what you think. How are user generated reviews and testimonials working for you?
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Many online marketers view a call-to-action (CTA) primarily as the trigger for generating leads to insert into their sales funnel.
But there’s much more.
Traditional methods for qualifying leads focus on bringing them into your sales process, i.e. the funnel. The interactive nature of inbound marketing renders this only partially effective. There is far greater opportunity in aligning your sales process to the prospect’s decision process and where they are in it.
This has a direct impact on your overall CTA messages and approach.
CTA persuasion vs. engagement
A CTA designed to drive traffic to your landing page focuses heavily on persuasion triggers. This is needed to capture a lead for the top of the sales funnel.
However, once your lead enters the funnel, your focus needs to shift to engaging with them in a way that is relevant to their decision-making needs. Think of this as nurturing triggers. Bringing your content, offers and CTA into alignment with those needs will build higher engagement and higher conversions.
Planning for this level of interaction helps your visitor establish confidence in their decision and trust in your ability to deliver solutions and value.
The CTA decision funnel
Every click is a decision. It is one little step of faith and forward progress. Understanding the decision process helps you lead a visitor to resolution. Andrew Chak, author of Submit Now: Designing Persuasive Web Sites, breaks down the consumer decision-making cycle into five stages.
2. Recognition At this stage your visitor acknowledges a need. Your goal is to build motivation.
3. Research Your visitor begins searching for information and establishing criteria for evaluating options. The search can take two forms:
- Internal search, based on what they already know from personal experience
- External search, to build confidence in taking knowledgeable action
Your goal is to give them relevant information.
4. Evaluation At this stage your visitor narrows the field of options to identify the best solution and who is the most trustworthy provider. The evaluation is based on two attributes:
- Objective attributes such as cost and specifications
- Subjective attributes such as brand perception, loyalty and confidence
5. Purchase decision
Each stage of the decision process requires a unique CTA that leads your visitor through the points of resolution along the way. Each click represents a series of conversions building persuasive momentum that leads to the ultimate decision to purchase. To skip these micro-level actions is a mistake that will diminish your opportunity and your conversion rates.
Following the metrics at each point gives you a solid basis for testing your CTA and conversions. On testing and optimizing your CTA, marketing software leader Hubspot offers the following advice:
CTAs based on previous behavior are built by taking the information you know about your prospects and making educated guesses about what they want to see next. In this way, you engage them further with your assets and keep them on your website.
- Make your offer clear. Your offer should be either low commitment (i.e. free white paper, ebook, video) or high commitment (demo or sales consultation) depending on the stage in the decision-making process. It needs to give a benefit – a reason for your visitor to take the next action.
- Make it action-oriented. Invoke a sense of urgency leading with a verb. Tell your visitor what to do next.
- Make it stand out visually. Always place it above the fold on the page and incorporate design and color choices that make it the most prominent element on the page.
- Make it align with your content. The highest CTA click-through rates are attributed to ensuring you have logical context to the content your visitor sees or expects to see. For example, your About Us content will vary from your Product Info page. You also want to ensure your language and design elements are consistent from CTA to landing page.
Keeping your visitor’s decision-making process in mind will help you balance the optimum combination of persuasion and engagement to win their trust and confidence. And ultimately win their business.
SOUND OFF: Tell me what you think. How are you doing with your CTA conversions?