Using Social Proof to Positively Influence Potential Customers
Social proof is kind of a scary thing. It’s the idea that, despite any gut feeling one might have to the contrary, people are more willing to go along with a decision if the majority of their peers agree with it.
Take movies, for instance. You’ve got the original The Fast and the Furious movie which was, arguably, a highly entertaining movie. So, the movie makes a ton of money, the stars become popular A-listers outside the film, and the movie studio thinks, “Hmmmm… I guess if everyone loves it, we should make another.” There will be ten F&F movies by the time all is said and done, which may seem like they’ve taken that social proof overboard, but people still flock to the theaters to see them so perhaps not.
When you look at studies actually conducted on social proof, you’ll see that the results support this sort of zealous fandom when the majority rules in favor of something. For instance:
This is the Asch Conformity Experiment. As you can see, despite the subject’s better judgment, he went along with what the others in the group chose. There were a variety of reasons for why this happened, but the one that we as web developers and marketers hope to capitalize on is “Well, there’s a bunch of them and only one of me, so they must know something I don’t.”
Asch isn’t the only one to study the power of social proof either. Muzafer Sherif conducted “autokinetic effect” studies in the earlier half of the 20th century. These tests demonstrated how conformity to social proof isn’t just a random one-off case but instead can shape people’s perceptions long past the interaction with said object, person, etc.
Whatever you want to call it—FOMO (fear of missing out), mob mentality, follow-the-leader—social proof is a very real thing and something you should absolutely take advantage of as a web developer (and business owner). Social proof will help your website build trust, credibility, simplify the decision-making process for customers, and validate their decision to buy in the first place.
The 6 Types of Social Proof
You’re looking to get potential customers’ attention. Do you know what will make you stand out? In the minds of your customers, social proof would definitely help.
Now, despite the word “social” in the name, this doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with social media. In fact, much of social proof is simply about demonstrating that there are other, more trustworthy people (i.e. your audience’s peers) saying positive things about your brand. Here are the main types of social proof you’ll see around the web:
With 61% of consumers going online to read reviews before committing to a purchase, you can bet they’re going to take a lot of stock in what the experts have to say about your brand. Experts could come in the form of physicians, influential people in a particular field, or even online reviewers who specialize in certain subject areas.
There are so many examples of celebrity endorsements. William Shatner’s stint with Priceline is probably one of the most cited:
Then you’ve got the string of celebrities who promote Proactiv’s line of skincare products:
For smaller business websites, this is perhaps one of the easier forms of social proof to use. As consumers trust other customers’ words ( by 12%) more than what a brand will tell them, it’s imperative to get your customers’ opinions out there. One way to do this is through user-generated content. Another is by encouraging them to leave reviews anywhere they can online—on Yelp, Amazon, your product pages, etc.
There really is something to the whole strength in numbers thing. In this case, it’s the number of customers you’ve amassed, readers of your blog, followers on social, or purchasers of a product that demonstrates your strength as a brand. A lack of a crowd that can be evidence enough of a brand’s quality in both the digital and real worlds.
If you’ve ever taken a moment to look around a restaurant’s entrance while you wait for a table, you’ve likely seen signs touting the awards they’ve received. But they’re not the only ones who receive superlative honors for their quality work:
“Best Burger in Downtown Cleveland.”
“Most Trusted Accountant in the Tri-State Area.”
“#1 Doctor at ABC Hospital 3 Years in a Row.”
These honors are a big deal—especially if they demonstrate your trustworthiness within a specific geographic region or field.
This is one every brand should rely on, whether they’re trying to conduct business online or in person. 54% of people say they’d give a new product a shot if a friend or family member recommended it, even if there were overwhelmingly negative reviews otherwise.
Using Social Proof to Positively Influence Potential Customers
Okay, so we know what kinds of social proof there are, but do you know how to make those actually work for your WordPress site? Let’s take a look at some examples.
In general, when collecting customer testimonials (written or video) to publish on your site, try to stay away from generic ones like “Great job!” and “Awesome product!”.
Users want something helpful and that actually sounds like it comes from someone with first-hand experience. Those generic testimonials just sound plain insincere or made-up.
Even if you don’t have your site set up to collect reviews or ratings of your products or services, there are plenty of online services that will. By showcasing those reviews on your site, you can give your business a good boost in revenue. One study found that a one-star bump in rating on Yelp could yield between a five and nine percent increase in revenue.
But be careful with this one. Negative feedback can inflict damage on your reputation as a seller or provider. While you don’t want to avoid being transparent on your site, you do at least want to be mindful of how the average user is responding to your product. One study showed that when retailers first receive a negative review, it can result in a drop in weekly sales between 5% and 8%.
You can’t always choose who will do a review of your business, but you can surely promote the good ones when they happen. Keep tabs on trackbacks to your site and set up Google alerts to scour the web for good reviews of your brand. Then you can link to them from a “News” or “Press” page, showing customers what the experts think.
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Influencers don’t always have to be celebrities, but that’s probably the most common one people think of with these sort of endorsements.
Just be careful about using this sort of social proof on your site. Public opinion can turn sour very quickly for celebrities and you wouldn’t want that to reflect poorly on your site. Sometimes it’s not even that a celebrity has done anything immoral or illegal either. Sometimes if they become too popular, they pick up one too many product endorsements and then the public begins to perceive their opinion as meaningless since they’re obviously just doing it for the money.
Trust seals, or marks, can do a lot for helping establish credibility on a site, especially if it’s brand new or your name isn’t widely known just yet. In fact, there are studies that have shown that over 60% of customers won’t make a purchase if there are no trust marks on a website.
Even if you’re not running an e-commerce site that’s easy to equip with a payment security badge, there are other ways to use trust marks on your site.
There was an interesting example that ConversionXL gave about how to use data in order to sway public opinion in one’s favor:
“Consumers were told they would save $54 a month, that it was socially responsible, that it would prevent the release of more than 262 pounds of greenhouse gases monthly, and that 77% of their neighbors had already started using fans.”
Numbers will always play a big role in convincing consumers to pull the trigger because it’s hard to argue with the proof. Sure, a brand could fudge those numbers, but what would be the point? If customer and expert reviews contradict the “proof” provided, prospective customers will be able to see through the lie.
This is a little different from the data proof above. Whereas data focuses on relying heavily on what customers in the past experienced, real-time statistics focus on what’s happening on your site right now.
It’s like that example of the crowds from earlier. If you can show that there are 50 customers looking at this one product or 14 people who recently purchased it, you could effectively show off your digital crowd size and give customers the sense that they’re getting in on something of great value.
Here is another way to use numbers to lure in more customers. This one isn’t necessarily trying to sell visitors on the customer base; instead, the goal is to show how large the community of subscribers or members is.
Social Media Numbers
Let the popularity of your brand’s social media pages speak for themselves. Leverage what you’ve done outside of your website and integrate those impressive numbers into your content. You can add social widgets that display the numbers of connections or followers you have, along with a recent feed of posts shared.
You can also use a social share plugin like Floating Social to show off how many people have already shared, liked, or otherwise engaged with your blog content.
You really can’t go wrong with using UGC on your site. We already know how much consumers appreciate being able to see products and services in action through photographic or video proof, so if you’ve got customers eager to share it, then flaunt it!
For online businesses, there are a number of ways to show off your superlatives. One of the more creative ways to do it, and one which has proven effective in boosting conversion rates, is to create your own superlatives for your products and services. Specifically, the superlative should relate to its ranking when pitted against your other offerings.
This would be like viewing a restaurant’s menu and seeing five starred items that are the establishment’s best sellers. A study out of Beijing set out to prove this point by studying restaurant menus. “We find that, depending on the specifications, the demand for the top-five dishes is increased by an average of about 13 to 20 percent when the top-five popularity rankings are revealed to the customers.”
For a website, you could use indicators like “Best Seller”, “#1 [Product], or “Customers also bought”.
The whole idea of social proof is kind of a hard one to swallow as a business owner. You work so hard to build a brand and a website that you fully believe in, but you find that consumers just don’t want to take you seriously or trust in you… unless others do. Thankfully, it’s not all that difficult to integrate social proof into WordPress websites, so there’s a silver lining in all of this.
Just remember that social proof tends to be an accurate reflection on the experience of working with your company or using your products or services. If you’re finding that you don’t have the kind words, high ratings, or general statistics to back you up, then it may be time to reassess your business model or site’s design. The customers aren’t always right, but if the majority indicates that there’s something clearly wrong, it’s time to listen.