A client testimonial is quote from your client about their experience with you. It is similar to a review, like they would leave on Yelp or Google, but they are writing specifically for you to use for social proof.
“Social proof is a psychological phenomenon where people assume the actions of others in an attempt to reflect correct behavior for a given situation.” (from Wikipedia)
Social proof, or social influence, is the concept that when someone hears about someone else’s experience, they will use that information to decide whether or not to do the thing themselves. For example, if you see a restaurant with mostly 1-star reviews, you are probably not going to try it out. But if they have mostly 5-star reviews, you will assume you would have a pretty good time there.
The Halo Effect is also part of this equation. This is a form of cognitive bias in which we allow specific positive traits to influence our opinion of something. For example, someone driving a Ferrari is viewed to be more successful than someone driving a Honda, even though we can’t actually see either their bank accounts. It’s why we have celebrity endorsements. Regardless of how cool the product actually is, people want to be cool like the celebrity and use that thing. You might also remember the tooth paste that ‘4 out of 5 dentists recommend’. While this example was actually flawed in many way, it got the job done. Expert opinions are viewed as more valid than opinions of someone without the education/title.
Social proof is very real and you can and should use it to your full advantage.
The sole purpose of a testimonial is to address any concerns a potential client might have. It’s pointless to have a bunch of quotes that say “I loved working with so and so. They’re great!” That says absolutely nothing. People are inherently selfish. It’s innate. We want to know what’s in it for us. As long we we keep that in mind, we can provide effective testimonials to answer those questions.
Make a list of the common objections people have when hiring photographers like you. The more common the objection (to hiring you) the more you need a testimonial of someone addressing that issue. And if you are not already on top of that issue, this is a good opportunity to fix it.
The way you deliver them is also important. If the videos are too polished and professional looking, they will not look as authentic. Your photography should be professional. Your testimonial videos should look natural. The wording should also sound natural. You don’t want it sounding like a keyword stuffed sales pitch that’s been rehearsed 20 times. The one exception to this to make a video about your client’s experience. Here is an example of one I’ve done. The video is professionally done, but her words and delivery are very raw. That’s the way you want it.
Here are some of the testimonials from my own website. See if you can figure out why I chose these.
“I was worried none of the pictures would come out because of my anxiety, but they were all so great and I received a lot of compliments.” ~Brittney
“I was shy at first (my first professional photo shoot), but Mike made me feel comfortable. I was able to loosen up because I knew I was in good hands.” ~Eve
“I wanted to make my boyfriend a sexy photo book. I love how Mike captured the sexy vibe with the low lighting. At the time I was in a battle with myself and learning to love my curves, and I felt very comfortable with him.” ~Stephani
These all address self-image concerns my client may have. If they are also feeling the same apprehension, these testimonials could show the prospective client that other clients before them had the same thoughts and they were not actually a problem after all. This is 100x more effective than you saying it to them.
One of the common mistakes people make when using testimonials is choosing where to put them. Often times we see a testimonials page on a website, but honestly, when was the last time you clicked on it and actually read them. Never. No one does. You might as well not post them. So where do you put them?
The best place to put testimonials is… all over your site. They should be sprinkled in everywhere. If you are describing the hair/makeup styling at your studio, place a testimonial there that tells why they loved getting styled at your shoot. If you are talking about choosing a location or picking out wardrobe, drop in a quote that shows why a previous client loved that part of the experience. Just remember that every testimonial should address a reason why someone would choose not to hire you.
Reviews are written by a customer to tell about their experience. Testimonials are written by customers specifically for the business to use in marketing. It’s important to recognize the difference because you can get into trouble for copying reviews and using them as testimonials without permission. If you see a review and you want to use it as a testimonial, just give them a call and ask. If they’re leaving you a good review, they’re obviously happy with you and they will likely be more than ok with letting you use it.
Encouraging your clients to write reviews is a tricky little minefield of uncertainty. You can do it, but you have to do it very carefully. Yelp will hide your reviews if they suspect you are soliciting reviews. Yelp is garbage and they hide reviews anyway, but more-so if they spot certain patterns. For example, you get 20 reviews in the same day after zero activity in a year. Or if lots of people are creating accounts just to review your business.
I have found success in calling, with a phone, a day or so after your clients have received their photos and ask how everything is looking. Then before you get off the phone, ask them to leave a review for you on Yelp or Google, and thank them for their feedback and for sharing your experience with their friends and family. I avoid putting things in writing when asking for a review, unless it’s a handwritten note. Email is the most impersonal way to communicate, with the phone being considerably more effective, and a hand-written letter shows the most effort. And that’s what people want. They want to know that you care.
No. Ask nicely at the appropriate time and don’t push it. It’s not worth getting your review accounts shut down. Yelp is known to not be exceptionally favorable toward businesses. If they have any reason to believe you are incentivizing people leave reviews, they will shut you down. That wouldn’t be entirely bad, though. The real hangup most business owners have is when Yelp hides positive reviews. The will leave your account up, but hide the good reviews, regardless of who posted them. There is no one to listen to your case and they do not care about the actual status of those reviews. They will decide what will and will not be shown. They are, however, a necessary evil. Play by their rules and take advantage of the benefit it can bring.
Aside from the social proof you get from testimonials, you also find out what people liked and didn’t like about their experience with you. This is gold. Pure gold. Their feedback is going to help you improve your business if you just listen.
There are a couple of rules when it comes to responding to anyone online. Firstly, remember that EVERYTHING YOU POST IS FOREVER!!! Even if you delete the comment, the damage is done. I suggest waiting 24 hours to respond to complaints, whether or not they are justified. You should write out your response, but DO NOT SEND IT. Most times, just writing your thoughts down is enough to appease your frustration. Waiting a little bit and posting something professional and tactful will make everyone’s lives better in the long run. Thank everyone for their feedback, either way.
If the comments are positive, hooray! Continue to serve them however you can and they will surely send your more business. If their comments are negative, here is your plan of action:
Done!!! Do not continue to respond in this post, no matter what. If anyone goes and reads this exchange, they will see your professional attitude and that you tried to help and that this client was not willing to be reasonable. Arguing on the internet is a guaranteed loss, even if the client was in the wrong. Your ideal clients will see what’s really going on if they read this. If they do reach out to you privately, you can work with them to remedy the situation. If they don’t reach out to you, they simply needed to vent and you just got the bad end of the deal.
You now know the power of testimonials and how to get them the right way. Set forth! Build this into your normal workflow. Follow up with EVERY SINGLE CLIENT throughout and after each client experience. Ask to use their words for testimonials. Either way, use them for your own feedback and an opportunity to grow your business. Do not underestimate their power. Testimonials can be your best friend.
Mike is the Tim Burton of photography. He tells powerful, imaginative stories with cinematic photography. He specializes in dramatic, film-noir style boudoir and epic cinematic portraits. He's also the creative force behind Photogs Unite! which focuses on learning from professionals outside the photography industry to learn marketing, sales, branding, and everything else you need to know to build a thriving photography business. And burritos are the key to his happiness.