Social proof is a “psychological phenomenon where people assume the actions of others in an attempt to reflect correct behaviour for a given situation.”
In other words, Social Proof is the way in which people copy each others actions assuming they are doing the right thing. Almost like a “monkey see, monkey do” type situation where people will follow the masses because they must know what they are doing.
A classic example of this is waiting in a line. There may be a line that is completely open, but because no one is standing in this line and everyone is standing in another line, people naturally assume the long line is the correct line to stand in.
Sometimes, a line outside a restaurant or store, like Apple for example, can get people more excited than the product itself.
These are all examples of social proof, and help to drive people’s actions, particularly when it comes to online shopping.
Research has found that online shoppers are more likely to experience buyers remorse. This is because they are not really able to see the product before they purchase it. They may also misinterpret information or be fooled by poor images or poorly written sales copy.
As Entrepreneur Magazine states-
“Online shoppers tend to suffer from purchase anxiety more than offline shoppers. After all, when you buy something over the internet, it is often a product you have never seen before, sold by a person you have never met before.”
As online consumers get savvier about the products they choose to buy, social proof is becoming more and more important, especially when it comes to e-commerce stores.
When you run a brick and mortar shop, social proof can be determined by how many people are in your store and how many people are perhaps walking around the street with your branded shopping bags. Social proof can also be when you refer your friends and family to the store, however just having the store itself can often be social proof enough.
When a customer walks into your brick and mortar store, they can see the product and determine for themselves whether they want to purchase it.
Restaurants also adopt this philosophy by filling their restaurant from the front to the back. This makes the restaurant look busier to people walking by and therefore entices them to want to eat there. Face it, no one wants to be the only person inside a restaurant.
Clubs and bars will also use social proof by having a waiting line out the front. Psychologically, when people see a line they automatically assume that the club or bar must be good and they also want to be in on all the hype. The line also helps paint the picture that the club or bar is exclusive and special.
Social proof is also seen a lot in the fashion industry. A celebrity or fashion icon may be snapped wearing a particular pair of jeans and then suddenly, those jeans become the coolest things around and everyone is wearing them.
When it comes to online shopping however, social proof can manifest somewhat differently and needs to be used in a more specific way in order to comfort and reassure customers that they can trust your brand.
Especially when they cannot feel, touch or try on your product, you have to offer them reassurances through social proof.
All big brands and companies offer social proof as an incentive to buy. This includes all brands from Amazon to Zappos and everything in between.
They offer social proof through:
- Customer Reviews
- Product Ratings eg. star rating
- Social Media Likes
- Social Media Shares
- Social Media Follows
- Sales Data eg. Over 100 sold!
- Limited stock counts eg. Only 2 left
- User generated content
- Brand ambassadors or evangelists
- Celebrity endorsements
- Waiting lists or “exclusiveness”
- Media mentions eg. as featured on Dr. Oz
- Trust seals and badges eg. “BBB Accredited or TRUSTe certified”
- Crowd Funding
All of these examples of social proof help to boost conversions and generate more sales. In fact, research has shown that 70 percent of all online consumers look for product reviews or customer testimonials before making a purchase.
More importantly however, research has also shown that product reviews are 12 times more trusted than product descriptions and sales copy written by the brand itself.
This just goes to show the power social proof can have when it comes to influencing a purchasing decision and how important it is that your brand offers numerous examples.
Social proof can also be highlighted into categories. When it comes to building your social proof strategy, it is important to include a few of these in order to create the most effective results-
- Expert Social Proof: Social proof that is offered by a credible expert in your industry or field such as a blogger or established brand.
- Celebrity Social Proof: Social proof that is offered by way of celebrity endorsements, often more effective when the celebrity is unpaid or appears to be unpaid.
- User Social Proof: Social proof that is offered by current or past users of the product or service through customer testimonials, reviews or case studies.
- “Following the Masses” Social Proof: Social proof that is offered by large groups of people responding to the product or service.
- Friends Social Proof: Social proof that is offered by your friends, family, people you know or through word of mouth.
All of these categories will appeal to consumers at different stages of the sales funnel. It may be “Friends Social Proof” that gets them to your website, but it may be “Expert social proof” that eventually converts them into a paying customer.
As Mat Carpenter from Ship Your Enemies Glitter states-
“As someone who is constantly building and testing landing pages, I always include some form of social proof on them, whether it is product reviews, testimonials, or even social media share buttons; it’s a no brainer for me. From a statistical stand point, social proof has proven to be absolutely worth the time and effort it may take.”
Social proof is especially important if your brand doesn’t have a solid reputation, has many competitors to deal with or offers premium or expensive services.
Social proof also helps to minimise buyer anxiety by allowing customers to feel comforted by the fact that other people have purchased before and shared their experience. Psychologically, knowing this helps customers to feel more comforted with their decision and helps them to believe that they are making the right choice.
For example: If 1 million people have purchased this cup of coffee, we feel assured that we are also making the right decision.
It is important to remember that social proof is not just a marketing gimmick. In fact it is a very deep psychological theory that shows how people are compelled to do things based on what the masses are doing.
“This effect is prominent in ambiguous social situations where people are unable to determine the appropriate mode of behaviour, and is driven by assumption that surrounding people possess more knowledge about the situation.”- Wikipedia
Even if the masses are wrong or have no more information than we do, often we just follow the crowd because it is the safest thing to do.
This translates into your business by allowing your potential customers to assume that your products and services are the safest choice, simply because so many other people have tried or used them before.
So how do you build your social proof and use it in an effective way?
Social proof is really about getting your leads and potential customers to trust your brand. Once you have their trust, it will be easier to score a sale and have them returning back for more.
In order to build trust you first have to know your customers.
How to Use Social Proof #1: Get to Know Your Customers
Your customers may be thrilled to know that 10 million other people bought your product, or they may not be. This depends on the product or service you are offering and the personality of your customers.
If you run a very high end brand, your customers may be put off by the fact that 10 million others have purchased the same product or service and instead they may respond to a more exclusive social proof strategy like- “Only 2 left” or an endorsement from a leader in your industry.
Just the same, if 90 percent of your customers don’t use Facebook, they are not really going to be impressed by your 100 thousand Facebook followers.
When you know your customer you can better determine the types of social proof that is going to resonate with them. This helps you to know which social proof strategies to work on and which ones may be a waste of time or even detrimental to your brand.
Another effective strategy when it comes to social proof is determining the biggest barriers between converting your leads into a sale.
This may take some investigative work, but if you can narrow down the three main barriers that prevent your leads from converting into sales, then you can work on smoothing those areas over with social proof.
For example, say you are having large drop offs when your users reach your checkout page and see that shipping takes over a week. At this point, you may want to offer a few testimonies from customers explaining that they were happy to wait, or even show images of your customers receiving their package.
You could even be more subtle here and include the number that has been sold of your product to date. This will help customers to feel more at ease and more likely to continue with their purchase.
Another effective way to build social proof is by encouraging social media engagement.
How to Use Social Proof #2: Build A Social Presence
It seems obvious that one of the best ways to build social proof is to build a solid social media following. Many brands however, make the mistake of using their social accounts to advertise rather than to engage with their fans and followers.
Social platforms like Facebook or Instagram are not for broadcasting, but are for interacting, responding to and getting to know your fans and followers. This not only helps to increase your popularity on social sites but it also helps you to know your customers and how to effectively market to them.
Encourage your readers to sign up to your social pages and then interact with them by replying to comments, retweeting their posts or encouraging them to use hashtags.
Also use your social platforms to offer your readers valuable content that they can’t find elsewhere. This includes offering competitions, special coupon codes or updates about your products or services.
When users see that you regularly update and respond on your social media page, this also helps to build trust in their eyes and makes you seem more accessible.
Another effective social proof strategy is to offer a list of Customer Questions and Answers.
How to Use Social Proof #3: Respond to Frequently Asked Questions
Chances are your customers have the same questions about your products and services, so narrowing these questions down onto one page or section of your site, can help to save you time and help promote trust.
For e-commerce stores, Amazon does an excellent example of this by offering a customer question and answer section. This allows customers to ask questions and receive answers back from the seller. Other potential customers can then also scroll through this section and receive more information or insights about the product.
This strategy is also effective because it shows that there is a person behind the brand and this makes the customer feel like there is more accountability if something were to go wrong.
Being contactable on your webpage is also super important, so potential customers can reach out to you if they have a question or comment to make.
Having a question and answer section also helps to support ratings or reviews that may be offered for your products and services.
How to Use Social Proof #4: Reviews and Ratings
Reviews and ratings are by far some of the most effective social proof strategies, however getting customers to leave reviews can sometimes be challenging.
Amazon is another great example of this as they make it super easy for customers to leave a review once they have received their product. They also send emails asking customers to rate their experience.
In fact, reviews are so crucial for Amazon that they take them into consideration when ranking products on their site. The products that have received the highest reviews are ranked first whereas products that have poor or no reviews, are given less preference.
Often people don’t want to be the first to test out a product, which is why reviews can be very comforting. Especially when you are ordering online, there is no telling what may actually happen when you hand over your credit card details. You may receive the product or service of your life, or you may be caught up in a scam. How do you know which one it is?
Often the answer that most consumers look to is reviews and star ratings written by other customers. In fact, research has shown that close to 68 percent of customers won’t purchase a product or service if there are no reviews.
Reviews and ratings are crucial for e-commerce stores, B2B or B2C brands alike as everyone wants proof of concept before they agree or sign on to anything.
To get reviews on your site, you have to make it super easy and pain free for consumers. You may also need to provide an incentive of some kind such as a discount or free gift.
When you make it easy to leave a review or provide an incentive in some way, people are more likely to follow through. The good news is as well, that the more reviews you have, the easier it will be to get new reviews.
Reviews are powerful as they help to show potential customers how others have used, experienced and interacted with your products or services. This can help them to fill in any missing details and receive further reassurance.
Another level up from reviews are case studies which go into detail about the services that your brand offers.
How to Use Social Proof #5: Case Studies
Case studies are often more effective for service type businesses rather than e-commerce stores as they are able to clearly show the results that your brand can offer.
Case studies are most effective when they highlight how your brand has been able to help a client or another business to achieve their goals. This is because it is likely that people visiting your site have similar goals and want to see the same results for themselves.
Along with providing case studies, sometimes it can also be effective to “name drop” as a way to build social proof. This requires you to highlight big brands that your company has worked with.
For example, here at King Kong we have worked with top Australian brands such as The Good Guys, Hawks Football Team, Jim’s Cleaning and Guardian Insurance, just to name a few.
Because these brands have household names in Australia, it helps to show other potential customers that King Kong is a respected and well-sought after brand. It also helps to build trust in the eyes of the consumer.
More and more brands are also experimenting with story telling as a form of social proof.
How to Use Social Proof #6: Storytelling
When you tell a story, rather than spit out lines of copy, it helps your readers to connect with your brand and resonate better with your products and services.
When attempting to boost your conversion rates, try telling a story that reflects your brands mission and tone and provides evidence of your product in motion.
This is different from simply highlighting the benefits and features of your products and services, and instead helps customers to know the background and driving force behind what you are doing.
For example, on their website the popular designer glasses site, Warby Parker shares their story with consumers stating- “Warby Parker was founded with a rebellious spirit and lofty objective: to offer designer eyewear at a revolutionary price while leading the way for a socially conscious business…”
Users who then resonate with their story, tone and image are then more likely to purchase because they feel connected to the brand in some way. They want to be apart of the movement or story offered by the brand and therefore feel motivated to purchase.
When you share a story, it allows people to identify with the people behind your brand and not just the people who are buying your products and services.
When you begin testing various examples of social proof on your landing pages and website, you will very quickly see the power that it has to convert your leads into paying customers.
As Joel Klettke states from Business Casual Copywriting-
“Social proof is immensely important for landing pages, to the point that it is one of the very few elements I’ve never seen reduce conversion rates in my own tests. Third party proof does so much at the same time- sets expectations, gives leads a comparison party to weigh themselves against, reinforces your messaging and substantiates your claims.”
In fact, social proof is one of those elements that may be always fitting no matter what landing page you are trying to create or what your intention or strategy may be.
Like all things in marketing, there are no guarantees when it comes to boosting your conversion rates and optimising your landing pages, however if you have to start anywhere, social proof can be a great place to begin.
Start by assessing weaknesses in your sales funnel and how they may be easily patched with some social proof examples. You may be pleasantly surprised with just how effective they can be.