In this post, we’re looking at social proof, and how marketers can use it to inform and persuade website visitors.
In a general sense, social proof is about the influences which the actions and attitudes of others have on our own behavior.
In an online context, it’s about showing the opinions and actions of others to influence visitor behavior.
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.
Let’s start with a real world example. Street performers have been know 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.
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.
Examples of Social Proof in Action
Let’s look at some of the ways retailers can use social proof on and off-site.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Social proof can be a powerful tactic when used well, but it has to be earned. You need 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.
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.