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What is Social Proof and how to apply it in E-Commerce

Persuasion is a tricky subject – after all, no one likes to be manipulated. However, like it or not, we are all influenced in some way or another all the time. One of the ways we are influenced is through a concept called Social Proof.

Pedro Paranhos
Pedro Paranhos

Humans are social creatures. As such, what other people think and do has some kind of an impact  — either strong or weak, positive or negative — in what we think or do. This is proved by social psychology.

We may not like it, we may even try to actively avoid it, but we cannot escape the way our brains are wired. Social Proof is a particularly strong type of influence, and we are constantly subjected to it, especially in uncertain situations.

However, if you run an online business, Social Proof can also be a golden opportunity for marketing your brand and improving your results by gently and effectively nudging visitors towards a conversion. So let's dive right in.


Summary


What is Social Proof?

Social Proof, also known as "informational social influence", is a psychological and social phenomenon reflecting people’s tendency to reproduce other people’s behavior.

This term was coined in 1984 by Robert Cialdini in his book Influence: Science and Practice. Drawing from his experiences as a salesman, fundraiser and advertiser, Cialdini explored in this book the psychological factors that cause a person to say “yes” to another person’s request — in other words, the psychology of compliance.

Social Proof is especially effective in uncertain situations, in which people aren’t sure how to behave — so they look for the behavior of others as a clue or a social influence.

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For example: imagine you’re walking in a park and suddenly, without a clear reason why, you notice everyone is running in the opposite direction. Would you continue moving forward, or would you feel the urge to circle back and move away as well?

Chances are you would probably circle back — I know I would. But if there wasn’t a clear reason, why would we change our behavior so easily?

Is Social Proof the same as blind conformity?

Although it might seem that way, Social Proof is not quite the same as blind conformity. While the principle of social proof is considered a type of conformity — after all, it is a change in behavior based on an external reference —, it is different from normative conformity, such as wearing clothes you don’t like or doing activities you don’t enjoy just to fit in with a group. Let’s leave that for teenagers.

social proof normative conformity
“It’s not just a phase, mom! I’m adapting my behaviors based on other people’s assessments of an ambiguous situation”. If your child says this, they are hanging out with the wrong kind of people — marketers. Photo by Mikita Karasiou.

With Social Proof, we are influenced simply because we believe that other people’s assessments of an ambiguous situation or decision are better than our own — we just want to get it right and believe others have the answer.

That’s why informational social influence often leads to a change not only in behavior (I will do this because other people’s behavior indicates I should do it), but also to a change in opinion (other people know more about this than I do and they are probably correct, so I should update my understanding accordingly).

While we can’t say that it is a completely rational process, it is certainly more so than blind conformity or herd behavior.

5 examples of Social Proof

OK, this all might seem quite abstract, so let’s get specific: what does Social Proof actually look like?

A few good examples of Social Proof Marketing include:

  1. Long lines in front of restaurants, stores or clubs – if there are so many people waiting to get in, it must be worth it, right?
  2. Clapping in large groups – usually, it starts off slowly, but once a few people are clapping, everyone else feels encouraged to join in, until almost everyone is clapping and you would actually feel bad not clapping.
  3. Influencers on Social Media – if you admire someone and they endorse a specific product or activity, you will certainly take that into consideration when making a decision. After all, if it’s good enough for them, it’s probably good enough for you as well.
  4. Online hotel bookings – have you ever looked for a hotel online and seen a notification saying that “15 other people are viewing this room and there are only 2 vacancies left”? If that made you decide to make the reservation right there on the spot, you were influenced by Social Proof.
  5. Product or Services reviews – this is a classic Social Proof scenario. If you are considering making a purchase but aren’t sure if it’s worth it, or which brand to choose, chances are you will look at some product reviews before making a decision. Boom! Social Proof.
social proof example waiting in line in front of a restaurant
“If there are so many people waiting for it, it must be good” – you say, as you enter the line and reinforce the very psychological phenomenon that just influenced you. Photo by Xiangkun ZHU.

If you are still wondering if all of that makes sense, check out some social proof statistics gathered by Bright Local for the Local Consumer Review Survey 2022:

  • 98% of people at least "occasionally" read online reviews for local businesses;
  • 77% of consumers "always" or "regularly" read online reviews when browsing for local businesses (up from 60% in 2020);
  • 75% of consumers feel positive about a local business with written reviews that describe a positive experience;
  • 85% of consumers consider the overall average star rating of the business before making a purchase decision.

Notice that all of the examples I mentioned involve some degree of uncertainty — is this place any good? Should we clap or not? What product should I buy? Should I do it right now or leave it for later?

Why is Social Proof important for E-Commerce?

These last two questions highlight the importance of Social Proof for E-Commerce.

Buying something online is uncertain because of the sheer number of options available. You can find almost any product, in any variation, being sold by dozens of online stores. So, where should you buy? Which product to choose? Is it worth it?

As an online store owner, you want to remove all doubt from your visitor and have that person make the decision to buy from you, right now.

As we’ve seen, Social Proof can help tremendously with that, because:

  • It generates a sense of urgency – “I have to buy now, otherwise I’ll miss this opportunity”.
  • It generates a sense of scarcity – “I have to buy this before they run out of stock”.
  • It generates a sense of safety and trust – “a lot of people like this product, so I’ll probably not regret buying it”.

In other words, Social Proof can generate FOMO (fear of missing out), which is a powerful driver of sales.

social proof fomo toilet paper hoarding 2020
The Great Toilet Paper Hoarding of 2020 is a good, but sad example of the power of Social Proof and FOMO. Photo by Nature-Pix.

Of course, as with everything, Social Proof has its pros and cons. Let’s look at them.

Advantages of Social Proof for E-Commerce

  • It can increase conversions (buy here instead of somewhere else, buy this instead of that);
  • It can increase purchase frequency (buy now instead of later);
  • It can reduce product returns, since the customer will be more certain of their choice;
  • It can improve customer satisfaction;
  • It feeds a virtuous circle, because the more people are influenced by Social Proof, the more they reinforce it – for example, if a customer bought a product because X people also bought it, they have now turned this number into X+1.

Disadvantages of Social Proof for E-Commerce

  • It requires somewhat impressive numbers – your customers will hardly be impressed if you tell them that “2 people have bought this product over the past week”;
  • The same goes for product reviews – if you have too few, or if they are too negative, it might have the opposite effect. It will still be Social Proof, but instead of influencing the decision to buy, it will influence the decision to not buy.

The bottom line is: Social Proof is a great way to show your customers how other people love your store and your products. This means that, in order to implement it, you must first make sure they do!

How to implement Social Proof in your E-Commerce

So you’re confident that your customers actually love your store and its offerings. That’s great! You’re a prime candidate to take advantage of Social Proof.

So let’s talk about how to actually implement it in your online store. Here are a few ideas:

  • Showcase product reviews – this is Social Proof 101. Customers who are visiting your online store will probably look for product reviews anyway, so you might as well showcase them right there on the product page. And don’t forget to ask for a review whenever you make a sale! The more reviews a product has, the more impact they have on conversion.
  • Work with influencers – this is also a no-brainer. If you’ve spent more than 5 minutes on Social Media, you’ve probably noticed the power of influencers (I mean, influencing people is literally their job). And it’s no wonder these profiles are paid millions of dollars to promote specific brands or products — it just works. And if you think about it, it’s not even something new – celebrity endorsements date back to the 18th century. The only difference now is that it happens online, and anyone can theoretically become an influencer – it’s not just for celebrities anymore. This means you don’t have to give a boatload of money to a Hollywood celebrity or an olympic athlete. Instead, you can work with micro-influencers that are relevant to your niche and it will probably bring you great returns.
  • Take advantage of USG (User-Generated Content) – sometimes, customers love a product or a brand so much that they share it on their social media profiles. They might also send a message to the store expressing their appreciation for the quick delivery or the extra care that went into the packaging. This is all user-generated content that you can share with your customers to show how other people fell in love with your store and its offerings.
  • Use a specialized tool – as with any other Marketing concept, you don’t necessarily need a specialized tool to implement Social Proof — but it does help a lot, as it can help you maximize results with minimal efforts. That’s why edrone offers a Social Proof feature which allows you to quickly and easily set up notifications that will generate a sense of urgency in your visitors and drive conversions. To learn more, visit our website.

Conclusion

Social Proof is a powerful marketing concept that can influence customers to make the right decision — buying from your online store, of course!

However, it’s important to make sure that this influence is positive. Otherwise, instead of attracting more sales, you will be driving potential customers away.

If you’ve done your homework and are confident that you can show your customers that others love your online store, go ahead and implement Social Proof messages right now — after all, other online stores of all sizes and segments are doing it and achieving great results, so you shouldn’t miss out! (see what we did there?) 😉



Pedro Paranhos

Marketing Manager LATAM at edrone. Full-stack marketer interested in technology, history (and thus, the future), business and languages. Bookworm and craft beer enthusiast.