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What is Social Proof and How Can You Use it?

What is Social Proof and How Can You Use it?


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In this post, we’re looking at social proof, and how to use it in your digital marketing and conversion rate optimisation strategy. Social proof in marketing can be used to inform and persuade website visitors to undertake a range of behaviours, online sales and micro conversions

But let’s explore a real world example of using social proof without you even knowing it. For example, when you go on holiday and you walk down the promenade looking for a bar or a restaurant to eat in there are a selection of things you look out for to help you make your decision, afterall you don’t know any of these eateries. 

One of the main social proof examples in the real world is looking to see if other people are eating or drinking in a particular establishment. A busy restaurant raises your confidence that it will be good, or has a good reputation, there’s more chance of you choosing a bustling place than a completely empty place . Let’s be honest, you’ve all done it… This is the psychology of social proof. 

You need to have social proof when it comes to your digital footprint, but first let’s explore exactly what social proof is, with examples and how you can use social proof in your marketing. 

What Is Social Proof?

In a general sense, social proof is about the influences which the actions and attitudes of others have on our own behavior. It’s the notion that the individual will follow the masses, the idea and the psychology of social proof is that if many other people are behaving in a certain way then it must be the correct way. 

In an online context, it’s about showing the opinions and actions of others to influence visitor behaviour. Used well, social proof can be very useful and effective, and it’s something that most ecommerce sites use in some form to reassure visitors and persuade them to buy.

If we flip the real word social proof example from above and apply it to digital marketing, we can suggest online reviews are the people in the restaurant, it shows customer engagement. A study validates the importance of customer reviews on sales. The study found that products with reviews attached did significantly better sales than those without. 

In an online context, social proof works by reassuring people that their decision to make a purchase is the right one, and one that other shoppers have also taken, and been happy with.   

The benefits of social proof in marketing can be felt when used correctly. By highlighting the popularity of a brand, product or service you can provide people with the confidence and reassurance that they are making the correct choice, whether that is through on-site reviews, social media or basket abandonment emails but we’ll explore that a little later.

Let’s take another real world example. Street performers have been known to ‘seed’ their hat or guitar case with money as a subtle suggestion to passers by. This sends a signal to show that others have thrown in some money and so should they.

social proof busker

In an online context, social proof works by reassuring people that their decision to make a purchase is the right one, and one that other shoppers have also taken, and been happy with.

How To Use Social Proof In Marketing 

There’s a number of ways to use social proof in marketing. Below SaleCycle explores different tactics to enable you to improve your social proof and drive more conversions and online sales. Increasing your online presence by putting your products, service or brand out there can have a significant impact on your overall revenue, showing the importance of social proof for sales.  

Positive On-Site Reviews 

Improve your social proof with positive on-site reviews, there are plenty of ways to integrate your reviews to your website through widgets, social media and reviews companies like Trustpilot. Reviews are one of the most traditional ways to accelerate social proof online. For example, would you rather buy a laptop that has hundreds of five-star reviews or one that has zero reviews? Many research studies found that online consumers are trusted by the majority of people and are considered to be as trustworthy as personal recommendations. 

Customer Testimonials 

Using your customers and clients to your advantage as a form of social proof online is a great way to improve it. For example, getting a case study or testimonial from someone who has already used your product and had a positive experience is invaluable. Another positive here is that people are more likely to trust the opinions of unbiased and non-paid advertising. A research paper by nielsen found 92% of consumers are more likely to trust non-paid recommendations than any other type of advertising. A pro tip would be to have an area of your website dedicated to testimonials for your users to browse. 

Social Media Presence

Social media in 2021 is a no-brainer when it comes to improving your social proof online, not to mention it’s vital to link your overall marketing strategy. Social media is a great tool to use to create FOMO (fear of missing out) it’s about playing on the natural herd mentality, when people see a large group of people participating (followers, engagement) they are more likely to trust and join in.  

Clients & Users 

The number of clients or users for either B2B of B2C brands can be a powerful tool to improve your online social proof. People generally want to belong to a group or community. You can weave in user stats and messages to highlight your users and customer base. By doing this you are inviting more users to join in on your product. For B2Ba brands, it’s important to show the clients that you work with, for example, if you have worked with Boohoo it’s worth putting their logo on your website and in marketing messaging, not only is this a vote of confidence given the size of the company but competitors and your audience will recognise this.

Social Proof Ecommerce Marketing Examples 

Let’s look at some of the ways retailers can use social proof on and off-site to improve their digital marketing strategy and drive more engagement.

Social Proof In Abandonment Emails

Reviews of the site, rather than just the products, can help too. Ratings from Trustpilot, Google Customer Reviews and similar sources help to underline customer confidence in the retailer which can help you maximise customer retention. Adding customer reviews in your basket abandonment strategy is also a great way to show your audience that you’re trusted and used. 

Customer Reviews

One obvious example is customer reviews, which are highly effective at persuading people to convert.

As well as providing some useful details that help them decide that products are suitable for them, they tell shoppers that other people have bought the same product and have been happy with it.

In this example from Amazon, the high average review scores and sheer weight of opinion (1,981 reviews) can reassure potential buyers.

Details in reviews can reinforce the message, such as this from a family with young children, which shows other visitors wth families that this could be the place for them.

social proof reviews

Reviews can be used in emails too. In this example, cart abandonment emails show user reviews and ratings to help persuade the shopper to come back and complete their purchase.

social proof in abandonment emails

Reviews of the site, rather than just the products, can help too. Ratings from Trustpilot, Google Customer Reviews and similar sources help to underline customer confidence in the retailer.

AO.com use of Trustpilot reviews

A variation on reviews comes from fashion retailer Modcloth, which actively encourages its customers to send in pictures of themselves wearing the clothes they purchased on the site.

These are shown on product pages, so people can see how they look on ‘real people’, and these images also tell shoppers that people have been so happy with the clothes that they’ve made the effort to send in photos.

Use of Data for Social Proof

The data on browsing and purchase behavior from customers can be used as a form of social proof. For example, it can show how many people are viewing a product, or how many have purchased it recently.

Combined with other data such as availability, which adds urgency to a purchase decision, it can be a powerful sales driver.

Essentially, it shows that lots of people are interested in buying the products or booking a hotel room, and makes it more desirable.

Booking.com uses this very effectively, and it works very well for online travel in general.

The site displays live data showing the number of people who are viewing a hotel and the last time someone booked a room. If other people are viewing and booking, this sends a positive message about the hotel.

social proof booking.com

In the same way, airlines can show how popular certain routes are, using this information on-site and in booking abandonment emails.

This kind of data can work for any retailer. Here, Zappos shows that there is only one of this pair of boots in stock in the chosen size.

It’s useful information which may help the customer missing out, but it also tells them that other people have been buying these boots.

In Summary

Social proof can be a powerful tactic when used well, but it has to be earned. You need to work hard to attract the kind of reviews and recommendations shown in the examples above.

Once you have them though, it pays to make the most of them, and use your existing customers to attract new ones.

Social proof can help convert more users during the busiest retail months online, because the more traffic that sees your optimised social proof, such as reviews the more micro conversions you’ll receive – and the cycle continues

Reviewed by Brad Ward
Written by Graham Charlton
— Updated on 16/02/2021

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Graham Charlton

Graham Charlton is Editor in Chief at SaleCycle. He's been covering ecommerce and digital marketing for more than a decade, having previously written reports and articles for Econsultancy. ClickZ, Search Engine Watch and more.

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