The Psychology of Social Proof (and Why You Need Your Customers' Help)

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Nathan Resnick
Nathan Resnick

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Are you a service manager or marketer wondering why social proof is important? If so, you’re in the right place. To understand the importance and impact behind social proof, you have to first understand the fundamentals of psychology and understand how it plays into business strategy.

people provide social proof to a website

In fact, PowerReviews study found that 90% of customers will read reviews before purchasing.

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With online shopping skyrocketing and the competition becoming more fierce, it's more important than ever to incorporate social proof into your acquisition strategy. In this article, we’ll explain the psychology of social proof and how you can employ your customers to help you crush your sales and conversion goals.

What is social proof?

Social proof, a term coined by psychologist Robert Cialdini, describes how people respond when they don't know how to act in a particular situation.

Much of what makes social proof work is rooted deep in human psychology. According to psychologist and mental health counselor Dr. Williams, “social proof is when someone is in a somewhat uncomfortable social situation and has a desire to behave in an acceptable way.”

Rather than relying on their knowledge or intuition, they look to other people for guidance on what they should do.

Dr. Williams says, “Cell phone use is a prime example of this. If one sits down in a room full of people who are restraining from looking at their phones, it is likely a person surveying the room for social proof will also restrain from getting their phone out.”

Social proof, when used for marketing, is a powerful tool. In a sense, social proof plays off our desire to fit in. We want to make decisions that our peers support and will help them accept us. This doesn't just apply to how we behave in public — it also directly influences what we buy.

Benefits of Social Proof

Social proof is most powerful when an individual is uncertain, like when making a buying decision. Our natural, comfortable response is to look at what others are doing as guidance for what we should do ourselves.

importance of social proof

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Additionally, while we tend to value the opinions of those who seem similar to ourselves, the more people share a particular sentiment, the more influential the social proof becomes. Banking on social proof to help sell your product or service is a good move, and plenty of benefits exist.

1. Increase Conversion Rates or Sales

When purchasing, buyers let other people’s opinions determine how they spend their money. Nearly 58% of customers will pay more for a product or service with good reviews. It pays dividends for your company to ask your customers for a positive review. Doing so will likely increase your sales or conversion rates.

2. Establish Credibility

When customers post reviews of your company (good or bad), they help you gain credibility with your audience and client base. While negative reviews might not seem beneficial, 72% of customers say they help provide a comprehensive look at a company’s product or service, helping them make buying decisions.

3. Increase Social Presence

Today’s digital world demands that your company have a solid online presence. Social proof can help your business stand out from the competition. With more customers reviewing your company online, you can easily reach a broader market.

4. Reduce Customers’ Anxiety

For customers on the fence about taking a chance with your product or service, boosting your positive reviews can help reduce customers’ anxiety. Nearly 74% of customers say that a positive review helps build trust in a company, making it more likely customers will click the “buy now” button.

5. Build Brand Awareness

Like it or not, a company’s reputation is often based on what its consumers say about it online. Social proof, like positive customer testimonials, reviews, and endorsements, can help create awareness about your brand. Plus, 30% of consumers are more likely to purchase if you partner with influencers to get the word out about your brand.

How to Generate Social Proof

Businesses have used social proof to sell their products and services long before it became a trending term. Ad campaigns with phrases like “Four out of five dentists recommend…” were an apparent attempt at leveraging social proof.

These days, however, the customer is more likely to turn to their peers when deciding to buy a product or service that's new to them. In our increasingly digital world, that means looking at reviews on Google, Facebook, Yelp, and other platforms for recommendations.

Reviews have become so crucial to the buying process that BrightLocal reports 98% of consumers look at online reviews when researching local businesses, with the average person reading ten reviews before they feel they can trust an organization.

But, while most customers consider reviews a trusted source of information, some are going to leave one if you're proactive and request it. While 23% of customers have never left an online review, most said they would be willing to write one in the future — as outlined in the chart below.

why is social proof important, local businesses

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If you are thinking of incentives to offer your customers in exchange for taking the time to leave a review, research from the Harvard Business Review shows this idea isn’t always the best course to follow. According to the Harvard Business Review, sending a follow-up email to your customers asking for a review is an effective way to collect them.

You’ll want to avoid offering a financial incentive, like a discount or a gift card, in exchange for a review. This might lead to an inflation of positive reviews, leaving your customers to wonder if the reviews are fake — and reducing your credibility.

Social Proof Best Practices

1. Devise a system for collecting customer reviews.

Positive reviews on Google or Facebook can dramatically influence a customer‘s decision to buy from you — especially if you have many of them. The previously cited BrightLocal data suggests that most customers won’t trust a business's overall rating unless it draws from 40 or more reviews.

Because of this, your first step for leveraging social proof should be devising a system for collecting reviews. Simple steps like claiming your profile on third-party review sites or adding a review link to in-store and digital receipts will help you collect more reviews across multiple platforms. Of course, an automated email request will also serve as a powerful reminder.

2. Publish testimonials on your brand's website and social media accounts.

You should also incorporate social proof into your brand's online media. On-site testimonials can be particularly effective on landing pages, turning customer experiences into visually engaging elements on your website. You can also publish them on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram, as testimonials and reviews are perfectly suited for your social media campaigns.

A testimonial could be as simple as a featured quote paired with an image of the satisfied customer. Or, you could take things a step further by transforming the testimonial into a video or case study. The image below shows one example of what a testimonial can look like.

social proof in marketing

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Adding social proof to your landing pages and digital campaigns will be far more influential than a scripted marketing message could ever be. In fact, a case study for WikiJob found that simply adding a few short, text-only testimonials to its landing page increased sales by 34%.

3. Focus on reviews that highlight specific details about your company.

The more specific a review is and the more closely aligned it is to your messaging goals, the more effective it will be for your campaign. For example, WikiJob is designed to help job candidates in the United Kingdom prepare for interviews and aptitude tests. One of the testimonial quotes it promotes is, “Almost a carbon copy of the real aptitude test” — a highly valuable review that demonstrated its worth to potential customers.

This is something to consider when you solicit customers for feedback. Ask them to share specific details about what they liked about their experience, and you'll obtain information-rich reviews that are more persuasive and convincing.

4. Partner with influencers within your niche.

A glowing review from an influencer within your industry is a great way to boost social proof. Influencers are well-known for being able to connect with their audiences, which is good news for brands because 78% of people are more likely to pay attention to authentic and relatable marketing videos compared to polished, high-quality videos.

However, before you partner with just any influencer, you’ll want to do your research and ensure the influencer’s audience is your target audience and aligns with your brand’s mission. No matter how positive the review, there is nothing worse than marketing to the wrong audience.

5. Display industry seals and certifications.

Social proof is more than just positive reviews. Customers are also impressed with businesses’ certifications and other seals of trust, like e-commerce badges. E-commerce badges help customers feel safe sharing their personal banking details with your company and let them know of any money-back guarantees you might offer.

Make sure to include these items on your landing pages, product pages, and checkout pages.

6. Respond to negative reviews about your brand.

No one likes a negative review. And let’s be honest, a negative can sting a little, especially when you’ve spent so much time developing your company’s brand. However, bad reviews sometimes happen. When they do, one bad review has the potential to deter consumers from doing business with your brand.

When a bad review happens, you need to act quickly to respond to the customer. 53% of consumers expect businesses to respond to their negative review within the span of one week’s time.

Responding to negative reviews is a must, as it shows customers that you are responsive and care about your clients. Plus, promptly responding to negative reviews can help lead 45% of consumers back to your business.

Social Proof Examples

1. Canva

social proof example from Canva

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Canva, a well-known visual suite for designers, effectively employs social proof by adding a scrolling banner of brands that have used the platform (even HubSpot!). This scrolling banner says brands who are looking for a visual editor. “If popular companies are using Canva, then we must, in fact, be a great investment for you, too!”

What we like: Canva’s scrolling banner is placed directly under the tiered payment options. The banner placement helps catch the eye of brands or individuals who are unsure of their decision to upgrade from the freemium package to Canva pro.

Pro tip: If you’re a B2B company, be sure to ask for logos from the brands who you work with. That way, you’ll have a collection of logos to add to your own banner for social proof.

2. Elna Cain

social proof example, Elna Cain

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Elna Cain is a freelance writer and blogger who knows a thing or two about social proof. At the top of her homepage in the menu bar, she links to her noteworthy praise. Elna’s collection of testimonials helps her stand out to those looking to hire her as a writer.

What we like: We like that Elna Cain includes both the title and a photo of the person who has left her a review. This helps the reader feel as if the person giving the review is a real person.

Pro tip: Display your testimonials or reviews on your website in a place that is easy to find. Customers likely will not spend time looking for glowing reviews if they are hidden on your webpage.

3. Dyson

social proof example, Dyson

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Dyson relies on the five-star rating system and customer reviews to help create buyer trust. This kind of social proof is most commonly recognizable for shoppers, as most companies employ the same type of rating system. A star system is easy to understand and does not leave customers confused about a product's rating.

What we like: We like that Dyson puts their product reviews right at the top of the product listing. This makes it easy for customers to find and read reviews without endless scrolling to get to the bottom of the page.

Pro tip: Always ask your customers for a review of your product or service. Don’t forget to send follow-up emails to customers who did not leave a review after the initial email!

4. Thrift Books

social proof example, Thrift Books

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Thrift Books, an online bookstore, knows social proof is not just about ratings and reviews. Instead, social proof also considers things like verification badges and confirmation of a secure checkout. Customers need to know the website is safe and secure before submitting any personal information, like their banking details or address. Thrift Books uses the footer of their website as a display of their verification badges, while also letting the customer know which major credit cards they accept as payment.

What we like: Thrift Books wisely uses the footer of their website to display their verification badges. These types of badges and verification certificates are important, but they also shouldn’t be front and center. Other things, like reviews and testimonials, should be higher up on the webpage.

Pro tip: If you are an ecommerce brand or you accept payment on your website, be sure to include verification badges to let the customer know your website is secure.

Using Social Proof for Successful Scaling

While customer feedback helps you improve products and services, it‘s also a very powerful acquisition tool. As you teach your team to prioritize social proof, you’ll collect marketing materials that are far more convincing than any scripted advertising campaign. By leveraging the testimonials of those who have already used your business, everything else your brand tries to communicate will be that much more effective.

Editor's note: This article was originally published September 2020 and has since been updated for comprehensiveness.

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