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How your restaurant can leverage social proof

A couple of years ago, TechCrunch called social proof the "new marketing." Since then, I've been hearing this term more and more in the online promotion world. It's a powerful concept that your restaurant can leverage to build a larger customer base...

What is social proof?

Social proof isn't a new concept. It captured psychologists' interest in the 1930's, when they studied the power of observation and imitation on human behavior. Countless experiments find that people will look to others for social cues, and engage in "copycat" behavior. Part of it is trying to fit in, and part of it is the reasoning that "if it works for her, it will probably work for me too."

Social proof is about following the crowd.

Soon, marketing researchers were looking at how products became "cool," especially in the fashion and technology industries. A whole science emerged around marketing "trends." Malcolm Gladwell famously speaks about the different agents of social proof — "connectors," "mavens" and "salesmen."

The food and beverage industry is no stranger to social proof. You'll see the concept in action with McDonald's "Billions Served" signs. Coca-Cola and Pepsi's promotion wars with celebrity endorsements from Michael Jackson to Britney Spears are another manifestation.

Enter the Internet and the growth of social networking. This has given social proof a massive boost. People love to share their opinions and spread the word about products they really love (or hate) online.

As customers are more empowered to connect to each other through the Internet, they're more likely to use other people's opinions to decide on what to wear, watch, drink and eat.

How your restaurant can leverage existing social proof

Social proof comes in many forms that restaurants can leverage in their promotion strategy. Most restaurants have at least some material online that they're not using to its full potential.

Start by looking for existing ratings and reviews on sites like Yelp, Google Places and TripAdvisor. These have huge potential to support your brand, because they're often perceived as the most honest and trustworthy form of feedback. Reviews in official publications like newspapers and blogs are equally as useful — so gather these, too.

Feature customer ratings and reviews on your restaurant's website. This shows potential customers how much other people just like them have enjoyed your food and service. You can manually curate the best reviews from Yelp and other sites and integrate them into your website's theme.

You can also add more official press and blog articles to your "press page" to build further social proof. Try adding short quotes from some of the best articles to your front page as well. Popular newspaper and blogger names make your restaurant shine by association.

Engaging with your customers online also encourages more comments and likes — another form of social proof. Be sure to always reply to social media comments, and post interesting content on a regular basis. This gets people interacting with your restaurant's name in a public forum. It shows everyone that your restaurant is worth talking about.

How to create social proof for your restaurant

So you know how to use reviews, ratings and comments to your advantage — here's how to create more social proof to build your reputation:

•Make your website shareable on social media by adding Twitter, Facebook and Pinterest buttons to your content (especially menu items).

•Make sure your site is mobile friendly so that people can share your restaurant with friends from any device. People lose interest quickly when they hit a technical wall with mobile sharing.

•Place physical social media signs in your restaurant to encourage reviews and followers online. Add social media info to your menu and take-out flyers.

•Create tags for your restaurant on Twitter and Instagram. Try rewarding your followers with a discount for tagging you in their posts.

•Make sure all of your social media profiles are complete, so it's easy for customers to find and review you.

•Build visible connections with followers by tagging them and reaching out through Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest.

•Offer amazing food and service so people can't help but spread the word

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