To reduce friction in the customer journey and ultimately drive conversions, brands leverage what is known as social proof.
It is a powerful persuasion technique that nudges customers to make purchasing decisions based on trust and transparency.
But what is social proof exactly, and how does it influence consumer behaviour?
In his famous book, Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, author Robert Cialdini asserts that social proof is a psychological phenomenon that dictates human behaviour based on ‘herd mentality’. People are social creatures that want to fit in and so will assimilate certain behaviour and perspectives according to what the majority is doing.
In other words, social proof describes how people are likely to replicate the behaviour of others as a way to correctly conduct their own behaviour in similar situations. In simple terms: the more we see others doing something, the more correct we perceive it to be.
We encounter social proof in our everyday lives and we are all influenced by it in some way or another. For example, when there is a queue of people outside a coffee shop we assume the coffee is good.
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Consumers use social proof to help them make decisions, from what car to drive and what clothes to wear – and everything in between.
When people don’t have enough information to make informed decisions on their own, they look to see what others have done/are doing to help guide them. This is based on the presumption that other people are equipped with more information or knowledge about the situation, and thus they should follow their lead.
Customers attain social proof to guide their purchasing decisions in various ways, here are a few examples:
Customer reviews are considered the holy grail of social proof marketing. Over 93% of shoppers rely on them before deciding whether or not to buy a product. They give potential buyers first-hand exposure to other people who have purchased and enjoyed the product.
Testimonials commonly share a customer or client’s positive experience of the brand as a whole, or a broader service they experienced (opposed to a product review). Testimonials are often presented on a business’s website as a powerful form of social proof.
Nearly 90% of marketers extoll the ROI benefits of influencer or celebrity endorsements. Consumers naturally trust celebrities and influencers they like and will thus trust any product or brand they endorse.
Consumer behaviour suggests that if something is popular it must be good. People naturally trust the perceived collective wisdom of large groups of people and if they go against it, they might incur fear of missing out (FOMO). Thus, the number of reviews or testimonials is considered popular wisdom and a powerful form of social proof.
When a brand receives unsolicited and positive press, it is a powerful form of persuasion for customers who trust the media. If a brand or product is receiving praise without paying for it then it must be worthy of their time and money.
Similar to credible press, user-generated content such as product review videos, blogs, and podcasts promote and market a business’s product without receiving any payment for doing so. Consumers assume that if the person takes time to do this then the product must be worthwhile.
Discerning modern consumers are well aware of contrived marketing hype and take brands’ self-promotion at face value. But social proof cuts through the hype to have a powerful effect on consumer behaviour.
When a brand receives reputable endorsements and glowing reviews, it favourably influences customers’ purchasing decisions more than witty taglines. Conversely, if something gets poor reviews, then they assume something is wrong with it.
Social proof is effective because it relies on other people to endorse a product or brand using their own experiences. People don’t recommend something they didn’t like. Thus, social proof builds consumer trust as endorsements come from reliable sources.
Another interesting psychological aspect at play is that social proof validates a customer’s buying decision. People like to know that their ideas are great. So, when a customer researches a product and is close to deciding to buy it, other positive reviews tell them that their intuition was right. Before spending money, people might be hesitant and social proof provides encouragement that it is the right idea.
The only way to ensure the success of incorporating social proof into your website is through authenticity. Customers can identify cheap gimmicks a mile away, so be sure to be genuine and transparent.
The point is that this is not marketing hoodwinking, it is genuinely displaying the satisfaction and value you have provided your customers.
Apart from the various types of social proof that brands can use, here are a few more ways to instil trust into customers on your website.
Product or business ratings and reviews should be prominently displayed on your website as they are powerful forms of social proof. As mentioned, an overwhelming majority of customers read reviews before purchasing. Reviews and testimonials with star ratings, names and headshots of customers work very well to establish more credibility and trust.
Trust seals are a surefire way to establish your credibility. More than a review from a happy customer, trust seals are an endorsement and stamp of approval from a reputable organisation. These add tremendous credibility as trust seals are earned, not purchased. Display these proudly on your website.
For companies that offer services, case studies are a great way to display performance data and other important information that won’t necessarily be outlined in a testimonial. These are case-specific and are proof that your products or services are making a positive impact on the lives of your clients.
The logos of your partners and collaborators should be prominently displayed on your website. This will not only influence your customers but also potential clients who will decide whether or not to work with you based on the other brands you have partnered with. When both customers and clients see logos of other companies they recognise, this form of endorsement will position you favourably.
Try to implement some of these approaches and track how they influence your conversion rates. Monitor them over time and adjust your strategy according to what is working and what isn’t. Double down on what is making a difference and lose the rest.
As your business evolves, you will gain more data and information to use in your social proof strategy – more customer reviews, case studies, media mentions, etc. The power of more is a powerful influencing tool all in itself – the more reviews, case studies, etc. suggest the more competent and awesome your brand is.
One thing is clear, social proof is a powerful persuasion technique that is proven to drive conversions. Getting others to promote your brand or product is more effective than promoting yourself because it hinges on trust and transparency.
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