Social Proof marketing leverages one of the most powerful psychological effects we experience in our everyday lives. It is the reason why trendy bars make people queue outside, and why bartenders “salt” tip jars with their own money. Using Social Proof in your marketing can have a dramatic impact on your online sales.
Build Your Business with Social Proof Marketing
- What is Social Proof
- Examples of Social Proof in Advertising
- Examples of Social Proof in Marketing
- Social Proof Marketing in Numbers
- 18+ Ways To Use Social Proof in Your Marketing
- The Problem of Fake Social Proof
- The 4 Key Principles of Ethical Social Proof
- Social Proof and Marketing in 2020
Websites that use reviews and testimonials on product pages have been shown to increase their order values by an average of 31%. Similarly, creating live Social Proof by showing information about recent sales can generate up to 15% more conversions from the same amount of traffic. This article explains why Social Proof marketing is so effective and shows you how to use it to get more sales and sign-ups.
Social Proof is a psychological effect that encourages us to imitate the people around us. The effect can lead us to conform to the expectations of a particular group or to follow the majority opinion without thinking rationally. A number of factors enhance the power of Social Proof, but it is most significant when we are unsure about a decision or how to behave.
Online businesses like Amazon and Booking use Social Proof to increase their conversion rate. That’s one reason why Amazon converts four times more browsers than an average eCommerce website. However, smaller businesses have started to use apps and plugins to take advantage of the same effect. Social Proof apps are now some of the most popular plugins for eCommerce stores, with over 200 options in the Shopify app store devoted to “Creating Social Proof”.
Adverts often sell us products by showing how popular they are. Rather than persuading us with statistics or facts, these ads rely on our assumption that other people are making good choices. Using an expert endorsement increases the impact of this kind of social proof.
By highlighting our membership of a particular social group, advertisers are able to enhance the effect of Social Proof.
For example, inviting a consumer to fulfil gender roles with a product can make it feel like an essential purchase. Even by challenging gender roles, adverts can take advantage of the groups we feel attached to. Brands like Dove and Nike have managed successful campaigns that create consensus around a rejection of traditional gender identities.
Even by challenging gender roles, adverts can take advantage of the groups we feel attached to. Brands like Dove and Nike have managed successful campaigns that create consensus around a rejection of traditional gender identities.
Social Proof Marketing allows a business or a website to grow, using reviews and testimonials to attract new customers. These are 10 common, but highly-effective, examples of how Social Proof can be used in digital marketing.
1. Star Ratings
When Amazon displays a star rating, it uses a low-resolution image. Why? Because there are hundreds of stars on every page. The simple format allows customers to quickly see what other people think about a product, and it can be used to rate different features of the same item. Most eCommerce websites have their own unique way of presenting star ratings.
2. The clickbait headline
Social Proof is often used to make a headline more striking or a story more intriguing. It is also used to give more authority to adverts. For example, these two headlines use a combination of expert authority, social groups, priming and visual symbols to trigger curiosity.
3. Highlighting the popularity of a product
We assume that best selling products are worth having. Because of that, big brands will often present their items as the best selling products on the market. We are particularly susceptible to this effect when the value of something is subjective and can’t be judged before buying it. Films, TV and books all rely on word-of-mouth and consumer buzz to attract consumers.
4. Customer reviews
Consumer reviews are an effective way to build trust in a product or a business. They are most effective if you can use images of real customers and make sure your reviews are as recent as possible. Video reviews are even more compelling because they combine voice and images, making them feel more authentic. It is important to remember that Social Proof expires fast, and the more up-to-date your reviews are, the more trustworthy they will appear.
5. “People like you” recommendations
Amazon converts with over 10% of browsing sessions and it has an exceptionally high average order value. One of the reasons for this is that it personalises the shopping experience. Once a customer has looked at a few items, Amazon suggests others that similar people have looked at. The same thing happens once you add an item to your shopping cart and even after you have purchased your item. Amazon also tells you which products are the best-sellers in each category. The way it uses Social Proof is one of the reasons Amazon has such a high conversion rate and average order value.
6. Showing Recent Sales Nudges and Sales Pops
Showing your visitors that an item has been purchased recently creates trust in both your website and the thing you are selling. It also creates a sense of urgency, because your visitors don’t know if it will sell out soon.
- 91.9% of Small and Medium Business owners say that their company’s reputation accounts for at least 25% of its value (PR Week, July 2018)
- 83% of customers trust reviews and ratings more than advertising (StatusLabs, 2019)
- 84% of people discount Social Proof older than 3 months and only 1% trust reviews older than one year (BrightLocal, 2019)
- The star ratings that provide the highest number of sales across all product categories are between 4.2 and 4.7 stars (Spiegel, 2019)
- A one star increase in a product’s star rating can increase sales by 7-9% (Harvard Business School, 2016)
- Only 53% of people consider a product or a business with less than 4 stars (BrightLocal, 2019) purchase probability star ratings
- Businesses require a rating of 3.3 stars minimum for most people to consider working with them (Podium, 2017)
- Only 5% of customers would use a business with a 1 star rating (RevLocal, 2018)
- 95% of customers say they often read reviews before making a purchase (Spiegel, 2019)
- 72% of customers say they never make a purchase until they have read reviews (Testimonial Engine, 2019)
- A Product with 5 reviews is 270% more likely to be purchased than one with 0 reviews (Spiegel, 2019)
- 82% of consumers look for negative reviews to prove that a collection is legitimate (PowerReviews, 2015)
- The average consumer reads 10 reviews before feeling able to trust a business (BrightLocal, 2019)
- Reviews were 60% shorter on average in 2018 than they were in 2010 (Review Trackers, 2018)
One of the first questions a customer asks when they visit your homepage is: “can I trust this website?” Studies suggest that this question is already being answered within 0.25 seconds and it has an effect on almost all of your KPIs. These Social Proof marketing tactics will help you to build trust at every stage of the customer journey.
Display testimonials on your homepage
Trust is one of the major benefits of Social Proof marketing, but it needs to be introduced early in the customer journey. Psychological studies suggest that websites need to reach a “trust threshold” before customers feel comfortable enough for a sales pitch to be effective.
Displaying testimonials on your homepage will put your customers at ease immediately. The testimonials will also help to answer a lot of the most common questions and doubts that your customers have.
Show industry awards and rankings on your homepage
Even if you don’t think the award matters, it could still be a very useful way to show that your business is legitimate. Being able to display a real industry award on your homepage gives you more credibility, helping to further establish trust.
Gather expert reviews and endorsements
When people don’t feel like they have enough information to make a sensible choice, Social Proof helps them to make a decision.That’s why expert endorsements are such a valuable part of marketing.
Showing that an expert endorses your products gives you credibility and adds to the prestige of your branding.
Incorporate Popularity Into Your Brand Identity
Some brands use their popularity to create a slogan or tagline. This elevates the brand above its rivals and creates immediate Social Proof. Here are some familiar examples:
- Specsavers – We are the UK’s Number One Optician
- HSBC – the world’s local bank
Identify doubts and concerns, then address them with Social Proof
With tools like Hotjar, CrazyEgg and even Google Forms, you can add surveys to your website to learn more about your customers. You can do the same thing with exit feedback forms. One of the most important things to find out is what worries your customers about your products.
Answering these doubts is one of the most powerful forms of Social Proof marketing, because customers will trust reviews more than your claims. Here are some examples of Social Proof being used to address consumer doubts…
- Clothes Websites “Fit at waist – 79% Just Right”
- Booking Websites “Great Location – 8.2”
Create urgency by highlighting demand
Customers often browse for products before they mean to buy them. However, you can reduce the time between browsing and buying by creating a sense of urgency. To do this, you simply need to highlight the activity that is taking place behind the scenes.
A simple page-view counter can help to prevent your customers from procrastinating. However, if you want to drive a larger number of your customers to the checkout, you could incorporate some information about your stock levels. By showing that your stock is low, and that there is a lot of interest from other people, you can create a buying frenzy.
Incorporate Social Media Networks
If you offer your customers the option to sign in using Facebook, LinkedIn or Google, then make the most of this advantage.
By displaying Facebook friends or LinkedIn contacts who have liked, used, talked about, or purchased the products from your site, you can tailor very specific Social Proof to your visitor.
Use Stars and symbols for non-verbal Social Proof
Star ratings have become so familiar that customers often compare product ratings without even realising. By inviting reviewers to assign a star rating to different aspects of your product or service, you can incorporate these highly-persuasive icons into your website.
Use case studies to highlight the benefits of your service or product
Customers will usually respond more enthusiastically to hearing about the benefits of your product than hearing about its features. One way to communicate the benefits more effectively is to show how your product has helped a former customer.
These case studies can even be hypothetical – based around how your offer would have helped a certain kind of person (eg. “Michael could have saved $450, had he shopped with…”)
Case studies are a specific kind of Social Proof marketing that works in a different way to star ratings or popularity. It is important that your customers relate to the subject – so you should pick case studies carefully.
Allow Your Customers to Identify With A Particular Group
If you’ve ever browsed a website and been invited to take a test to find out what type of customer you are (eg. “find your skin type”) you will know how persuasive the strategy can be. Assigning your customers to a group, and then suggesting purchases for them, is a powerful way to use Social Proof in your Marketing.
Not only does the tactic create a group for your customers to identify with, it also gives them recommendations that they feel will really fit them.
Use “Recently Sold” notifications to increase trust and drive more sales
Using “Recently Sold” notifications is a quick way to show customers they can trust your store. For example, Victorian Plumbing uses “Recently Viewed” and “Recently Purchased” notifications on its product pages. Activated in 2017, these notifications gave an additional 411 sales (increasing the site’s conversion rate by 2.41%). Websites like Oasis and Hotter have also seen Uplifts – by as much as 4.7% and 6%.
The easiest way to add these notifications to a website is with a Social Proof App. There are over 100 of these available on the Shopify App Store alone, but not all of them offer the same features or quality of messaging. For a detailed view, we have published a survey of the features and pricing of the best Shopify Social Proof apps for 2020.
Tag your most popular or best-selling products
Knowing that a product is popular allows your customers to place more trust in it. It reassures them that they are not making a mistake and gives them a reason to choose one item over another. It also creates a sense that activity is taking place behind-the-scenes, enhancing the credibility of your brand.
Display highly-specific and highly-detailed reviews for your products
As long as your reviews are positive, the most important thing about them is how credible they are. To make them more credible, you need to include as much detail as possible (even if this doesn’t feel like it should affect the value of the review).
For example, showing where a reviewer is from has a big impact on the way a rating or testimonial is perceived. People from a similar area will identify more strongly with it, and other people will be more likely to trust that it is legitimate. Similarly, displaying an image for the reviewer (even if this is a generic icon or map) helps other people to connect with them emotionally.
Basket Page: “People Who Bought This, Also Bought…”
By pairing products into sensible groups, you can display “People who bought this, also bought…” messages on your customers’ basket pages. This has two big advantages:
- Using Social Proof boosts your credibility and makes it more likely your customers will complete their purchases
- The message encourages customers to add more items to their basket – increasing your average order value.
Upsell add-ons and extras with Social Proof
Booking websites for services (like car rental) often include add-ons and extras. Rather than simply offering your customers every possible Upsell – use Social Proof features to help them decide.
Post-purchase: “People Who Bought This, Also Bought…”
Adding a “People who bought this, also bought…” message on your post-purchase confirmation page creates a new sales funnel. The most valuable audience for any business is its previous customers, and this is a chance to reach all of them.
Even if the customer doesn’t make any of the additional suggested purchases immediately, the message will still give them ideas for products to buy in the weeks or months ahead. That means more returning customers and higher lifetime value.
Reassure customers that they have made a good choice
Once a customer has made a purchase, the most important thing you can do is ensure that they are happy with their choice. Sending a follow-up email with cross-sell suggestions or details about your returns policy is an effective way to increase customer satisfaction. This email can also use Social Proof to reassure customers that they made a good decision.
Collect feedback and reviews at every opportunity
Customers do not usually provide feedback and reviews without being prompted. The times when they are most likely to provide feedback of their own accord tend to be when they are leaving a negative comment. So, it’s important to make sure your satisfied customers contribute to your ratings and testimonials.
An article recently published on the BBC website highlighted a problem with the way a travel website was creating urgency among its customers. Having browsed the website looking for a good deal, one browser noticed something strange. The website was telling her that 38 other people were also looking at the flight.
It’s common for websites to tell customers that there is only “one room left,” or that “10 people are looking at this flight” – these messages trigger Social Proof and encourage customers to book earlier. However, it is hard to know if the information is true. In the case of OneTravel, the number of people supposedly looking at the deal was fake. The notification was designed to show a random number between 28 and 45.
The article prompted an online debate about the moral principles that marketers should respect. One of the most obvious principles is honesty, but there are other considerations that website owners should take into account. Before we outline the 5 principles essential to ethical marketing, here are some examples of other websites using fake Social Proof.
Influencer Marketing And Fake Social Proof
In 2018, the market for influencer marketing was worth $1.3 billion, and it is expected that the industry will grow to represent $2.3 billion over 2020. The rise of influencer marketing has created an incentive for brands to fake that kind of social media activity. One online store even created fake influencer profiles to highlight the extent of the problem. The profiles, called “Amanda Smith” (or, “wanderinggirl”) and Alexa Rae (or, “calibeachgirl310”) attracted over 82,000 Instagram followers before being revealed as false.
Fake Reviews And Product Ratings
Reviews impact 95% of online purchases. Because they have such a big influence, a number of online brands have resorted to buying fake reviews.
In 2019, an investigation by the consumer investigator Which found thousands of fake reviews for products being sold on Amazon. The reviews were from unverified customers and could be easily identified by the language they used and the fact that they arrived in large groups at uneven intervals. The product category most associated with fake reviews was headphones. The investigation found over 10,000 fake reviews across 24 different products.
Fortunately, there are a number of online tools you can use to help identify fake reviews and report them:
- Review Meta
Fake Social Proof Notifications
Whilst some websites develop their own fake notifications (such as the OneTravel page with its “view_notification_random” variable), others use plugins that openly encourage fake Social Proof. For example, the WordPress app store contains plugins designed to imitate real notifications.
Similarly, an investigation involving the support staff for a number of small web notification developers found that customers were being advised to use “dummy” data to trick customers.
This kind of counterfeit Social Proof makes it hard for consumers to trust the information they see online. It is also a problem for businesses who want to display real data about their most popular products.
Using Social Proof in an ethical way is about treating consumers fairly. These 4 principles provide a framework for ethical Social Proof.
Keep Your Content Honest
Nothing should be added or removed from the information you show to browsers. That means no “dummy” data and no filters designed to mislead people.
One of the main advantages of Social Proof is that it allows companies to build trust fast. But, if customers can’t even trust the information you show them, displaying it is completely useless.
On the other hand, honest marketing is the most effective way to create a real connection with customers. Some of the most successful campaigns in history have emerged from a focus on the whole truth. For example, the “We Try Harder” campaign by Avis Car Rental focused on honesty.
Play Fair With Your Customers
It is important to be open about where your data comes from and why you’re showing it to your customers. Browsers already know that you’re trying to sell them something, but notifications from apps or plugins can sometimes be made to look like third party content.
You should never take advantage of a customer who does not have all the information, whose choices are limited or who misunderstands the circumstances. It is unethical to apply Social Proof to create urgency if your customers are buying something essential (like medicine).
Be Representative and Balanced
Anything you use to promote your products should be a fair reflection on the reality. It’s not just about being truthful in a literal sense – it’s about giving a faithful impression of the facts. For example, telling a browser that there are only 3 rooms left, in a Bed and Breakfast that has 4 rooms total, is true but not representative. Unless customers can see that they are getting a real insight, they will end up discounting most of the information they read.
Respect Your Users’ Privacy
There are legal guidelines to respect with any form of marketing, but Social Proof presents particular challenges with regards to data privacy. In addition to the formal requirements of the EU’s GDPR legislation, there are certain principles that should be respected in order to maintain an ethical approach to marketing.
- Individual consent – Anybody whose identity or actions are being displayed should have the opportunity to opt out.
- Legitimate causes – The use of an individual’s data should be necessary for achieving a reasonable aim.
- Minimisation – You should only use the information you need, and delete it once it is no longer required.
- Security – Any data you store should be impossible for a third party to access.
- Accountability – Individuals should have an easy way to access, question and remove their data from your records.
Consumers are exposed to social proof in a number of ways. Because of this, marketers need to think carefully about how and when they use customer reviews and ratings. However, when it is used well, social proof marketing is a great way to communicate key parts of your value proposition.
Why Social Proof Is Key To Your Marketing Campaigns for 2020
Perhaps the most important aspect of Social Proof marketing is the way it allows you to circumnavigate reactance and banner-blindness. Because you’re reaching potential customers through your current users, the normal responses to advertising are not triggered. That means people will pay more attention to your ads and will be more open to your message.
Additionally, taking an active role in gathering and responding to feedback is proven to improve customer satisfaction. Just knowing that you’re paying attention to your customers can create better reviews and more return business. In a world of fickle customers and expensive advertising, customer loyalty is key.