Whether we are conscious of it or not, people are pack animals. We need to feel part of something, we need one another, and we need to socialize. Thus, the purchasing decisions we make are influenced by what the people around us think and choose.
Every time you need to make a purchase, your brain will use a shortcut to help you make this decision. A simple way to do this is to look at what others are doing or have done.
A survey done by Five9 showed that nearly 80% of consumers would rather support companies that their friends, family, or peers are loyal to — a psychosocial phenomenon called "social proof." The idea behind this is that people will make decisions based on their need to conform.
How Social Proof Works
Imagine the following scenario. You own four apartment blocks with 200 apartments in each block. As the owner, you would like your buildings to be more eco-friendly, so you hope to persuade residents to use fans instead of air conditioners.
You decide to put posters up in the lobby of each block but can't decide which slogan would be more persuasive:
- "Knock $25 off your electricity bill if you switch to using a fan instead of the air conditioner."
- "It's your duty to conserve energy. Switch to using a fan instead of the air conditioner."
- "Help save the planet. Switch to using your fan instead of the air conditioner and reduce greenhouse emissions."
- "80% of our residents have already signed up to switch to using their fans instead of air conditioners. It's the popular choice in your community."
You decide to use all four posters, one in each building. Which one do you think will have the best results? If you guessed #4, you're right.
Research has proven that people would prefer to do what their peers are doing, even though saving money and green initiatives are also popular choices. When it comes down to business, we're more likely to go with what is already done or chosen by others. This is called social proof, and there are many different types of it. Let's explore this.
Social Proof in Action
Here are seven types of social proof and examples of how this can drive sales:
1) An expert approves
When an industry influencer or thought leader gives you their stamp of approval, it is brilliant social proof. This could be done with a blog, a social media post, or being quoted or photographed using your product.
For example, Dr. Rachel Paul, a nutritionist, promotes the Peanut Institute through social media posts. Dr. Paul also gives her expert approval for other businesses like Costco in social media posts.
2) A celebrity likes what you offer
Celebrity branding is using a famous person to create a buzz around a product. This is particularly effective if it's not paid-for advertising but is instead a natural brand association.
For instance, if celebrities like Selena Gomez and Taylor Swift are spotted wearing a particular clothing brand, like Mango, their followers will be more likely to support it. An example of a paid sponsorship is the basketball player LeBron James who endorses Nike sportswear.
3) Reviews, testimonials, and case studies
When someone writes a review or a testimonial, it shows that they were impressed enough with the product to spend time showing their appreciation. Similarly, case studies about customer successes are a clear vote of confidence in the product's value.
A great example of this is Amazon.com, where reviews literally drive sales. If you shop on Amazon, do you read reviews before you make a purchase? We know we do!
4) Business credentials
When consumers review a product, it increases confidence in its value. But when a business promotes credentials like awards, affiliations with industry leaders, or how many customers it has, it adds an element of trust.
For example, whenever a car brand wins the Motor Trend Car of the Year Awards, they use it in their advertising to gain credentials.
5) Referral marketing
Referral marketing is known as one of the most effective ways of driving sales. Whether this is done by word-of-mouth or through social media shares, a referral is often all the proof someone needs to know that it's wise to invest in a product.
This company incentive by Windstar Cruises gives the person sharing it, and the person they're sharing it with, $100 credit each to spend on their next cruise.
6) Building brand awareness with media
If you manage to get your business or products mentioned in the press, it's a great way to build your brand and an excellent way of boosting social proof. It could also provide valuable backlinks to your website.
You can do this by doing something charitable. An excellent example is when Starbucks gave free coffee to frontline workers — this became a big story across a variety of media platforms such as CNN and People.
This type of social proof is known as "wisdom of the crowds" and means that when many people are using a product, others begin to develop a fear of missing out (FOMO).
In an eco initiative in Washington, D.C., a five-cent tax was levied on disposable bags, and shoppers had to ask for bags (in front of other shoppers.) This resulted in a reduction of over 50 million disposable bags handed out at retailers in the area, all because people did not like asking for bags in front of other shoppers.
The (Social) Proof Is in the Pudding
If you're wondering which type of social proof will work best for you, it's worth looking at some statistics. Of course, it depends on your product or service, but here are some insights you may find helpful:
- Trustpilot found that, on average, nine out of ten shoppers read online reviews before making a final decision on a purchase.
- According to Voices.com, companies can increase conversions by as much as 400% with one simple change: all they need to do is place logos of established customers on their websites.
- A survey done by BrightLocal found that Close to 76% of consumers trust reviews as much as word-of-mouth recommendations.
What does this mean for your business? In a nutshell, these statistics show that social proof can drive sales, no matter what form it takes. Since all types of social proofing work, your best bet is to use the method/methods that best suit your capabilities and resources.
Last updated on August 16th, 2022.