Social proof: the secret ingredient for online entrepreneurs?
SEPTEMBER 23, 2022 | USE CASES
If you’re wondering how to increase online sales, here’s one secret ingredient to add into your mix: strong social proof. This means using others to display the value that your product and service has created for them – but it’s more than just reviews, as we’ll see.
The psychological roots of social proof
If you’re wondering what on earth social proof is, the term was coined by psychologist Robert Cialdini – better known for his book ‘Psychology of Persuasion’ – to refer to the phenomenon by which we as humans have a tendency to copy the actions of others. More specifically, this copying occurs, says Cialdini, in situations where we’re unsure of the best action to take, and implicitly trust the already-taken decisions of others more than our own.
How does this apply to marketing? Well, imagine your average internet shopper: they’re faced with an embarrassment of riches (and choice) when searching on your average e-commerce website. How can they possibly choose the right product for themselves with so much on offer? Product descriptions certainly help them, but they can all be written so enticingly…and so you turn to recommendations from other buyers just like you, or perhaps from industry experts or independent testers. In this case, you are implicitly trusting them to have taken a better decision, just as in Cialdini’s example.
How can social proof help increase online sales?
In a time where the internet feels increasingly corporatized, consumers are less and less trustful of overt advertising, with Nielsen research showing some 92% of buyers are more likely to trust what they consider to be non-paid reviews or advertising. In other words, they are more likely to trust peers or other such individuals as mentioned above over something overtly from a company itself.
This means that social proof can be a key driver of conversions, and thus of increasing online sales. When consumers don’t connect with an overt piece of marketing telling them to ‘buy now’, but they do connect with the opinion of someone who has purchased it telling them ‘buy now’, then you see the power of social proof.
So, what does social proof look like in practice?
Product and service reviews
If you’re after increasing your e-commerce sales, then you’ve likely at least started to collect reviews and testimonials. They’re the simplest and clearest form of social proof: buyers just like our hypothetical audience willingly tell of their experience with the product, give it a high rating and show that it’s added value to their lives.
The first type of reviews to keep in mind are those on your own site or platform. Many big platforms attachment great importance to these reviews, such as Amazon, for whom it’s a key determiner in their sales ranking. Whatever the case, having the stars under your product and the presence of multiple positive reviews directly on the product and purchase page can be a key decider for the potential consumer to add to basket.
If you have your own store, you have even further freedom in how you use these reviews. Many companies choose to display more detailed demographic information. One example is budget retailer Argos in the UK and Ireland, who helps to turn anonymous reviews into more relatable ones with information displayed under the name like an age range and gender. It’s also of course an important source of information for their own marketing team on the backend, so it’s a win-win!
Secondly, you have reviews hosted on third-party, dedicated review sites, like Trustpilot. These might not be as readily accessible to your average purchaser, but their independent status massively taps into the benefits of social proof. Even though you do have the ability to solicit Trustpilot reviews, the fact of having customer experiences hosted on an independent site with quality controls can reduce the feeling of being ‘marketed to’ for consumers. Plus, the independent status helps give them a certain level of authority, meaning that even adding the badge on your website or store can be a strong evidence of your brand being backed by social proof.
If the first sort of social proof we’ve discussed depends on ‘people just like us’, this one is all about authoritative figures who are set apart from your brand.
You may well solicit reviews and send products to independent reviewers in the hope of a good write-up and an increase in online sales. However, with the assurance of editorial independence, these can be powerful opinion-formers for your audience. Research from Deloitte shows expert reviewers are second only to consumer testimonials as a trusted source of information on a potential purchase (with the product provider themselves coming in 5th place).
Let’s head a little further up the funnel. While straight-up reviews can help to directly increase online sales at the point of conversion, social proof can also be a strong player at the point of building trust in your wider brand and educating your potential buyers on who you are and what you stand for.
There is an increasing number of e-commerce brands out there starting to use dedicated, purpose-made communities to generate buzz, engagement and excitement around their brand.
The way it generally works is to create small communities on social media where your audience is present, based around fans of your brand and your product. For instance, if you sell baking wares, your group would revolve around this, encouraging people to post their creations using your products and talk about their experiences. As more people engage in the community, it almost takes on a life of its own, with people sharing and commenting on each other’s work – and people begin to feel a human connection to your brand.
Now imagine the impact from a social proof perspective of a potential buyer coming across your community. Here is a collection of people who have bought the product you’re considering and cannot stop sharing and shouting about the value it’s added for them. It’s a no-brainer.
Putting social proof in place to help online sales
Now here’s the rub: getting reviews can be a tiresome and difficult task. It’s worth it, but it isn’t always easy, especially when every brand out there wants a piece of the consumer’s time.
Here are some hard-and-fast tips for e-commerce brands to get reviews:
Offer incentives: offer incentives for people to fill out reviews in a time-limited way or offer the possibility to win a single incentive if you’re on a more limited budget
Utilize contacts: get the ball rolling with those already-engaged consumers who have been in touch with you before
Make it part of follow-up: rather than overtly beginning with asking a review, send follow-up emails to offer post-purchase advice and then, having warmed them up, ask for the review
Take advantage of long-term customers: get in touch with those who have been using your product for a longer period, flattering their expertise and asking for their feedback
Keep testing what works for your audience, as your satisfied customers are a goldmine of strong social proof. Show the value that your products can add to potential buyers’ lives, and you’ll be well on track to helping increase your online sales.
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