Social proof is a principle in psychology that suggests we look to others when making a decision.

If we’re uncertain about which course of action to take, we follow the lead of our peers, and even strangers. If others are doing something, it makes sense that we should do it too.

Countless studies have shown social proof in action. One such study by Robert Cialdini and colleagues looked at ways to increase the rate of towel reuse by hotel guests.

The typical hotel notice to encourage towel reuse mentions the environmental benefits of reusing towels in an attempt to cut down on the hotel’s laundry load and energy bills.

In this study, the researchers changed the wording of the notice to read that the majority of other guests had reused towels. The result? Towel reuse increased by 26%.

Here’s another example of social proof in action: clubs make people line up outside. You might be walking past, looking for a bar or club, and the long line will give you the impression that the club is popular and worth visiting.

Ever wondered why TV shows use canned laughter even though most of us find it annoying? It’s because viewers are more likely to laugh along and find the show funny if ‘others’ are laughing too.

Unfortunately, social proof prevents us from taking actions, too. The bystander effect occurs because witnesses of an accident or incident are thrown into an unfamiliar situation and look to others to see what to do – but everyone else does the same, and no-one thinks to call for an ambulance or get help.

What’s in it for marketers?

The power of social proof is undeniable, and savvy marketers should look to take advantage of it – particularly those in the hospitality industry.

For example, a study found that the average traveler looks at 6-12 TripAdvisor reviews before booking accommodation, and 53% of guests won’t book a room at a hotel if it has no reviews.

Leveraging social proof

We’ve established that social proof is important to guests and other consumers. Now let’s look at the practical applications of social proof for hotels and restaurants:

1. Online Reviews

In the hospitality industry, TripAdvisor, Yelp and co. rule. Your business can live or die by your TripAdvisor rating.

If you’re trying to improve your ranking on review sites, it’s worth remembering that three variables affect the algorithms the most: number of reviews, quality of reviews, and recency of reviews.

Therefore, concentrate on increasing the percentage of your guests who leave reviews. Print off TripAdvisor business cards to give out to guests on departure, or send out emails after a guest’s stay with a review prompt.

Restaurants should train staff to mention reviews to happy customers when they’re about to leave. A simple friendly prompt is often enough to encourage guests to leave a review.

You should also use review site widgets on your website and Facebook page to make your TripAdvisor score highly visible.

2. Social Media Metrics

You’re deciding where to stay for an upcoming weekend away.

You search for hotels near your destination, and stumble onto the website of a promising candidate.

You then hop over to their Twitter feed and see that they have less than 100 followers and haven’t posted an update in two years.

You check their Facebook and it’s not any busier.

You can see that other guests have tried to contact the hotel through its Facebook page, and haven’t received a response.

You close the tab and look for an alternative.

A low number of social media followers means your business won’t be taken seriously. It’s little surprise that so many businesses resort to buying followers – but those fake followers won’t share your social media posts or comment on your Tweets.

Potential visitors may then be concerned about low levels of interactions on your social media posts, although this is less of an issue than low follower numbers.

It’s always best to build your social media followers organically, by engaging with the local community and taking part in conversations.

Your social media ‘voice’ should be genuine and consistent – don’t be mistaken for a robot. Even if you don’t have thousands of followers, a smart social media feed can win over doubters.

3. Media Mentions

While social proof is most powerful when you can show potential customers what ‘people like them’ thought of your hotel or restaurant, mentions of your business in the media can also serve as valuable forms of social proof.

When you’re mentioned in the local press, take quotes from the articles and post them on your website and social media channels.

You can also display scans of press articles and reviews on your website – but get the permission of the author first.

4. Online Endorsements

Every time you receive positive feedback from a guest on social media, respond!

Depending on the volume of endorsements you receive, you may wish to retweet or share all of them.

When potential guests browse your social media feeds, they’ll see a string of genuine, positive feedback – and they’ll be more likely to give your hotel or restaurant a shot.

5. Social Media Responses

Again, visitors do their research to see if your hotel is suitable for people like them.

They may look at how you’ve responded to customer queries and complaints in the past:

  1. Are the answers you’ve given helpful? Are they rude?
  2. How quickly was the issue dealt with?
  3. Do you seem open to feedback and constructive criticism?

Think about how your current approach comes across and adjust if necessary.

How to Improve Your Social Proof

Ultimately, the most effective way to tap into social proof as a hospitality business is to change your mindset.

Put social proof at the heart of your online presence.

Constantly think of ways to show future guests how past guests enjoyed their visit to your business.

Photos, reviews, endorsements, quotes, statistics – anything.

Don’t just ignore negative feedback either, particularly when it can be seen by the public.

Respond to negative TripAdvisor reviews, comment on criticism on social media.

Always be open-minded when reading negative feedback. Apologise.

Say how you’ll change to avoid a repeat. Make clarifications but don’t make excuses.

Final Thoughts

Overall, social proof isn’t just about numbers – it’s about experiences and stories.

If you can share endorsements, examples of exceptional customer service, and other customer experiences that future guests will relate to, you’ll be well placed to leverage social proof.

Author bio: Anna is a writer and digital marketing enthusiast from York, UK. You’ll find her writing about marketing, HR, and staff engagement on the RotaCloud blog.

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