Demonstrating social proof
Social proof is a concept deeply rooted in our psychology. It describes the idea that our behaviour is influenced by people that surround us; we look to other people for confirmation that we are making the right choices. The term ‘social proof’ was coined back in 1984 by psychologist and author Robert Cialdini in his book Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion.
Social proof is rarely spoken about explicitly in our industry, but it plays a big part in explaining the success of some ventures over others. This idea has often been utilized in marketing — consumers adapt their behaviour according to what other people are doing. When we see a crowd of people waiting to eat at a restaurant or a photo of a celebrity drinking a certain brand of coffee, it lends an air of gravitas and quality to the product. Similarly, in the biopharmaceutical industry, recognition by others can be the deciding factor for whether a new drug, vaccine or technology attracts investment or not.
Why should we care about social proof?
In the world of consumer goods, several studies have shown the extent to which people rely on online reviews (e.g. 91%) and recommendations from friends and family (e.g. 82%). In biopharma, similar behaviour can be observed in the way that success relies on multi-stakeholder approval, investment follows recent trends, and evidence drives decision-making.
In short — social proof can attract more interest to your startup and increase the chances of you landing an investment or a partnership.
There are several ways in which we can see social proof at work. Below we review different types of social proof and show you how you can leverage them to find partners and investors.
How to Demonstrate Social Proof in Your Business?
1. Expert’s Stamp of Approval
Expert social proof is when an industry key opinion leader or influencer approves of your product. Generally, people still trust those who are considered experts more than those who are not, which is why we often see doctors in healthcare-related ads, sports figures in sportswear ads, and scientists in ads for electronics, heavy equipment, medicine, and everything in between.
When we see an ad, we probably won’t remember all the details but we are likely to remember that it was backed by an expert.
How to use this: make sure to highlight any relationships you have with key opinion leaders or other eminent scientists. Whether they’re a board member, collaborator or advisor, they should be mentioned when pitching to investors and partners. Another way in which experts may give a stamp of approval is by publishing something about your product or technology. Be sure to highlight this, too.
2. Celebrity Endorsement
. People talk a lot about celebrities and everything associated with them. Therefore, it’s understandable that celebrities’ posts on social media are extremely influential — a mention of a product from a celebrity reaches a huge audience and also starts a broader discussion about the product. As this reach keeps snowballing, the social proof becomes larger.
How to use this: in addition to the Key Opinion Leaders mentioned above, in the biopharma industry we have celebrity institutions and companies — if you have an ongoing affiliation or partnership with them, make sure to showcase this. You can also work with them and use their reach to publicise your work.
3. User/Customer Social Proof
Satisfied customers provide a vote of confidence in the product’s value. Whether it’s a customer review on a business’s website or on a third-party website, a star-based rating, or a full-blown case study, this content creates positive feedback from actual users.
A good user testimonial should be benefit-driven, specific, personal, credible and have an emotional touch.
Counterintuitively, research shows that when it comes to reviews it’s not about the qualitative aspects — it’s the quantity that counts. There is no need to explore the details since the size of the social proof is enough. Similarly, growing a social media following has been shown to be important for growing social proof.
How you can use this: experience in other industries shows us that there are opportunities to leverage both the quality and the quantity of your relationships with investors and partners. Firstly, being associated with brand name partner companies can generate social proof in itself. Secondly, qualitatively describing what you have achieved for those companies gives further credence to your offering. Thirdly, if you can showcase several of these relationships, people will respond favourably to that.
Use this in your pitch decks when showing your current traction, partnerships and investors. Outside of this scenario, you should have people who you’ve dealt with directly who can vouch for you to their colleagues or to third parties. This may happen in an informal way or can be obtained in the form of a Letter of Support or a Letter of Intent for future collaboration.
4. Business Credentials
Business credentials and certifications from credible third-party entities can add trust to a product or company. Businesses can show off how many customers they have, which of their customers are well-known or what awards and certifications they possess. Individuals running those businesses might also use their education or degree as a credential their customers should care about.
How to use this: highlighting your team’s educational credentials gives prospective partners and investors the confidence that you can achieve what you say can. Any other endorsements from key stakeholders — be it recognition from professional associations or awards from governments and charities — serve to reinforce confidence in you and your startup. Use this in your outreach materials (e.g. pitch decks and one-pagers) and your website.
5. Earned Media
If the press has published any positive reporting about your brand, this earned media (not paid for) is a great way to build brand awareness and social proof.
How to use this: Add relevant links to your website to show that your startup is worth the attention.
6. Social Media Shares
The importance of website traffic from social media can vary greatly among industries but you should not undervalue the influence social media posts about your startup can have on potential customers (or partners and investors).
How to use this: While social media marketing is unlikely to be a priority in the early stages, you can use a platform like LinkedIn to periodically share updates and other forms of social proof, and enable others to share these details, too.
7. Wisdom of Friends and Colleagues
Recommendations from people we know and trust carry far more weight than other types of promotions or advertising. Generating social proof in this area relies on making sure that:
- Enough people know about you and your offering
- You have a high-quality offering, leaving word of mouth to do its job.
How to use this: to be successful, you will need to have backing for both the scientific case and the business case for your startup. For example, at large biopharma companies, business development (BD) and R&D personnel will discuss new opportunities with each other. Therefore you should make efforts to engage with each group by being present in an appropriate mix of partnering and scientific environments.
Using social proof to find partners and investors
At Probacure, we help startup founders to build a solid case for their startup and then we connect them with partners. So, we’re well aware of how important it is to build social proof over time.
Partnerships and investments are rarely agreed after a first meeting. Indeed, we’re reminded of legendary marketing psychologist Jeffrey Lent’s rule of 7, which states that a prospect needs to see a message a minimum of 7 times over an 18-month period before making a purchase.
While the precise number of touchpoints needed to win a partnership or funding can be debated, by using the forms of social proof described above, you can passively increase the number of touchpoints you have between your startup and your future partners and reinforce your value proposition.
When seeking a partnership or investment, one of your main jobs is relationship-building. For this reason, be aware that your prospective partners and investors will not only assess your science and your business potential, but they’ll be assessing you and your team.
By knowing how social proof works and how you can use it, you can give your vision the best chance of coming to fruition.
This article was written by Masha Sibinovic and Eyram Adjogatse. For more insightful articles and step-by-step guides, sign up for our newsletter.