Social Proof – Why It’s Key to Online Conversion

thisweeksbuzzWhat’s social proof? If you’re a business owner with a beautiful web design or a social media presence that isn’t translating to actual customer conversions (people contacting you about your business), social proof – or lack of it – could be one reason why.

What’s Social Proof?

Social proof is a way of displaying the confidence others have in you. Academics refer to it as “informational social influence.” Put simply, it’s the human tendency to follow the crowd. This “doing as others do” is a decision-making technique people use when they feel unsure or lacking confidence about what steps they should take next. It’s why, when we’re trying to decide which restaurant to try, we often choose one that was recommended by others. It’s also why social media is so powerful as a way to make connections – when we see others “Like” a page or add a friend, we feel more confident about doing the same ourselves.

This tendency is also why reviews on sites like Amazon or Yelp are so powerful. When we’re trying to decide if we should try something sight unseen, learning about others’ experiences helps us feel more confident in our decision.

How to Leverage Social Proof

From a marketing perspective, social proof is one of the most effective techniques we can use to motivate people to click that button on our website or pick up the phone and call us.  Yet, the vast majority of websites do not leverage social proof effectively, if at all.

There are lots of ways to implement social proof in your digital marketing, whether it’s on your website or social media pages. These might include:

  • Customer case studies or portfolios of your work. Even a list of customer names can inspire confidence.
  • Testimonials from customers or influential people.
  • Badges, seals or certifications that indicate third-party trust in your business.
  • Reviews or ratings – Pew Research recently found that 82% of American adults consulted reviews before purchasing at least some of the time. So if you have a great rating on Google, Yelp or Facebook, you should share that information far and wide.
  • Subscriber counts, “Like” boxes or follower counters.  They may not be pretty, but those little boxes can make a difference when it comes to establishing trust online.
  • Media mentions – “As seen on TV” or links to reputable media outlets can be effective at gaining trust as well.

What NOT to Do

Social proof is a powerful tool and like any powerful tool, it can backfire if used improperly. Therefore, it’s important to use it judiciously. Keep in mind that social proof should  be focused around what you *DO* want customers to do, rather than on what you don’t want them to do. You want to use social proof as a way to demonstrate how happy they will be if they contact you, rather than how sad they will be if they don’t.

In fact, there’s an interesting study on negative social proof, which found that it increased the likelihood that people would do the opposite of what was intended. In this case, the researchers tested several signs that were intended to discourage theft from a petrified forest, and found that when combined with social proof, the negative message (“please don’t steal, we have a big problem with theft.”) actually led to MORE theft.

The results of this study likely come as no surprise to anyone with children. It seems to be a basic trait of human nature that people are more likely to follow a positive instruction (i.e., “do this”) rather than a negative one (“don’t do that). Which is why, when you instruct a young child NOT to do something, you are virtually guaranteeing that they will do the exact thing you wanted them to avoid. The same holds true with customers and social proof, so administer it carefully!