“Social proof” is a generic term that in fact combines a number of different types of techniques and methodologies, let’s take a look at the most common forms:-
Expert social proof is exactly what it sounds like. You or your product/company gets the seal of approval from someone or thing that is viewed as “credible”, i.e. An expert of some description.
Who doesn’t want to be famous, to live in the fast lane with an endless pot of money to burn? Celebrity is an aspirational lifestyle, and whether you like it or not, the importance of celebrity cannot be ignored in today’s society. We are exposed to it on a daily basis and it is for this reason celebrity social proof (or endorsement) can have a huge influence when trying to sell something.
This is social proofing that comes from actual users of your product or service and is ordinarily in the format of a customer review/rating or testimonial from the people at the front line. User social proof is in general “free” and can be an enormous source of positive social proof provided you meet the expectation that is required. It is however a double-edged sword. Get it wrong and this sort of social proof can be harmful and you’ll have a big mountain to climb to recover.
User social proof can also provide exposure to your product. A fantastic example of this happened on Amazon where a user posted a somewhat honest and funny review of Veet for Men Hair Removal Gel Cream, which subsequently went viral. See the sanitised entry on Amazon below, 35,451 people found the review helpful and it has received 1,711 comments. That is a lot of traffic and interaction ready to be reaped if harvested properly. I do hope Andrew made a full recovery.
User reviews are perhaps the most complicated to manage and manipulate to your benefit because of the complexity they present. There are lots of elements at play here, let’s look at a few more situations and how they can be handled:
Firstly, always consider how a negative can be turned into a positive. Ask yourself, why is the review negative? Is it a genuine product fault, is it user error and misunderstanding or have you dropped the ball and need to fess up and rectify an issue?
By proactively managing negative reviews you can actually benefit yourselves and your users. A helpful response to a negative review can demonstrate a genuine interest in your customers, and the reply you give may actually provide insightful information to other customers that they will deem helpful and ultimately reflect in their purchasing behaviour.
Don’t forget the other obvious benefit, if there really is something wrong, at least it’s been pointed out and you can fix it.
Don’t rest on your laurels and lounge comfortably on a bed of great reviews. It’s a two-way street. Interact with those customers who have gone to the effort to actually write a review and work towards building a community of reciprocation.
Think about how a user actually digests all the review information.
Are they only looking for high ratings, or low ratings (usually my first port of call, but I am a pessimist)? How do the good reviews balance out with the negative reviews? Make it as easy as possible for the user to decipher the information quickly.
Have you heard of Black Friday? It’s a designated day in the year that is used by retailers to make too good to be true offers on products and services – usually just before Christmas.
Black Friday is the epitome of the Wisdom of Crowd social proof. It appeals to one of our most inherent psychological traits, the fear of missing out when lots of people are buying something and the natural response is to want to follow suit (and probably the reason why I have a toasted sandwich maker that will probably never see the light of day again).
How many times have you made a decision based on the opinion of what one of your friends has said or told you?
Quite a few, I should imagine, and that is because the opinion of our friends in general carries much more clout than that of a random stranger. Exposing us to this type of social proof can add a persuasive refinement to convince users who are sitting on the fence about a purchase.
If your company or product has had a moment in the limelight, then tell your users! Winning awards and receiving positive press coverage are useful elements of social proof and should be used to build trust.
Some products are more difficult to market online than others. Let’s think about my toasted sandwich maker. It’s an object that does what it says on the tin – it toasts sandwiches. I don’t really need to know much more than that, subsidiary information such as its colour are easy to identify from a photo or 3, and if I am particularly bothered the product description will have the dimensions.
Now think about an item of clothing. That is more difficult to get a tangible grasp on. There are too many other factors at play for me to make an easy decision as to whether what looks nice on the screen will in fact make me look like a sack of potatoes when I try it on.
Crowdsourced images and videos (photos taken by users using/interacting/wearing with a product and uploaded to a service like Instagram or YouTube) can offer a way for other users to imagine what their real-world experience of a product may be like.
As such this sort of collaboration of user-generated imagery can offer that final bit of convincing evidence that a user needs to make a purchase, and even more so if you make the journey to buying the product from the crowdsourced media super easy.
As you have gathered, social proof comes in many forms, but how best do you use it to help with your website conversions? The answer of course is never simple and one solution does not fit all situations. The way in which you use social proof and benefit from it will be determined by:
With so many determining factors my recommendation would always be to test your social proofing strategy to gain an understanding of what works best for your company or product. It is my view that there is no “best practice” approach to social proof.
Whilst I could easily rattle off some facts, figures and wireframes from previous experiments we have run to lull you into a false sense of security, that would be a bit like me leaving a rave review for the mythical unicorn I ordered just last week on alltheanswers.com.
In this instance, every situation is unique, which is why at Endless Gain we always tailor our extensive research to create bespoke solutions for our clients and their customers. And we are certainly not afraid to step outside of the metaphorical box in order to get the best results.