Ever since the beginning of civilization, human beings have acted and behaved in a manner to be ‘liked’ or ‘accepted’ by peers and also are guided by influencers in society.
This concept of ‘social proof’ was first presented by psychologist Robert Cialdini in 1984 in his book, ‘Influence: Science and Practice.’ Social proof works best when we are indecisive about expected behaviour in a certain situation and look to other people to us guide us towards action. Social proof is also effective when people around us are perceived to be well-informed and more familiar about a situation than us.
‘Pull of the crowd’ is also an important factor that influences our behaviour. For example, when we see people queuing up at a particular food kiosk, we are inclined to join this line, believing the food to be good. This is best demonstrated by Apple’s social proof strategy showing long queues of eager customers waiting to pick up their new phone on the first day of its launch. All leading publications throng to click and publish the exciting moments before the stores open. Apple has managed to create a build up before the launch and make heroes out of consumers who manage to buy the product on Day One. This works as a great social proof marketing for its next product launch.
It is no wonder that marketers have capitalized on social proof to persuade consumers to buy a product—with promotional lines such as ‘99 per cent of people prefer’ or ‘highly recommended by’ to considerably increase the chances of a product being bought.
Social proof in the digital world
Things are no different in the digital world. In fact, in the world of online and social media, the desire to be liked, accepted and fit in is also very strong. Thus, people imitate or follow the actions of others because they believe it is the ‘correct’ behavior in a particular situation. For instance, social media messages by Indian celebrity couple Anushka Sharma and Virat Kohli endorsing an ‘animal and pet friendly’ life has gone down well with young people. The couple regularly posts messages to show sympathy and concern towards stray animals.
Digital marketers are also using the power of collective influence to win over uncertain customers because they find comfort in large numbers. For instance, when the concept of UPI was introduced in India, there were doubts about its safety. But, in just two years, people are saying, “When large number of people are using it, it must be safe” and are downloading online payment apps.
Marketing companies are using social proof to reinforce marketing messages and substantiating product/service claims through testimonials, user reviews and feedback, customer referrals and social media shares.
Whether it is choosing a laptop for work, a beauty product, a vacation rental, or any other product or service category, social community recommendations, referrals and customer ratings go a long way in improving consumer trust, leading to a successful purchase or decision.
Research by Nielson says that globally, around 92% of respondents, trust recommendations by friends and families. According to research by BrightLocal, in 2019, about 91% of consumers stated that positive reviews make them more likely to use a business. As many as 63% of customers are more likely to make a purchase from a site with user reviews. For example, every restaurant listed on food delivery app Zomato gets a rating by users. The higher the rating, the more likely that a new set of users will order from the restaurant.
New-age marketers are also using trust icons, data/numbers, influencer marketing, user generated content, and ‘featured in’ badges to boost social proof.
Benefits of social proof
- Authenticity: Authenticity is very important to consumers, especially millennials, when choosing brands they want to support. User generated content, like reviews, are seen as the most authentic form of content a brand can use to showcase their products.
- Trust: Social proof builds trust with the audience. For instance, company reviews by employees enhance trust in a company for a new prospect; in fact, further boosted if companies add a name and a face to the testimonial.
- Emotional connection: Social proof from other customers creates an instant emotional connect with potential shoppers. For example, if a person is looking to go on a pilgrimage, a carefully worded testimonial from a like-minded individual who has gone on a similar trip will strike the right chord.
- Click-through rate: Social proof can boost click-through rate by catching the attention of potential customers. By harnessing the power of social proof, marketers can convince people to purchase their product or service simply because other people are doing the same.
- Conversion rate: Social proof gives a huge boost to conversion rates. Research shows that great testimonials can increase conversion rates on sales pages by 34%. Online product reviews can result in an uplift of an impressive 270% (Spiegel Research Center). Using FOMO (fear of missing out) as a push method, marketers can improve conversions from anywhere between 40% and 200%.
For ecommerce brands, leveraging social proof pushes people’s confidence in making purchase decisions and helps eliminate doubts before making the actual purchase. Marketers must first identify the uncertainties of their customers and buffer them accordingly with appropriate social proof measures.
If there is a lot of uncertainty and weak social proof, the impact could be negative. So, it is important for marketers and retailers to adopt high-quality social proof techniques to realize a huge conversion impact.
Brands also need to bear in mind that social proof is not always a quick fix for persuasion and conversion. And one method does not serve everyone. It’s important to assess and understand the audience well and choose a social proof type that works best for them. They must also use it subtly, cleverly and sparingly, so that they do not come across as being too pushy or too direct.
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