The Real Proof Behind Social Proof

“Social proof”, it’s a phrase that has been talked about a lot in recent years. People talk about how urgency, messaging, and similar tactics are driving greater conversion rates in eCommerce. FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out) propels people to make a purchase – virtual or physical – because no matter how unique we like to think we are, we’re intrinsically programmed to believe that if everyone else is doing something, we probably should be too.

Social proof

Heaven forbid there should be a sale or special promotion on for a limited time! What if we miss out on a limited time 30% discount? Retailers have been aware of this behaviour forever. But, while online businesses have used the concept of urgency for some time, they’ve been slow to catch onto social proof and what it really means in the marketplace.

What is social proof? How does it work, where’s the real proof, and how can you use it?

Also known as informational social influence. Social proof is, in broad terms, where people listen to the social crowd to make decisions. Nobody goes into an empty restaurant. They go into the packed one across the street, with people waiting in line to get in. Partly because we’re suspicious. Why is there no one in this place? The menu looks great, but there’s nobody in there. We want to see why the other place is so packed. Why is everyone else in there? What do they know that I don’t? So, we leave the empty restaurant with the great menu and guaranteed instant service, in favor of the place across the road that we have to wait 20 minutes to be served!

In eCommerce, it’s harder to create that vibe. With no other customers literally waiting in line, how can you show your visitors that yours is the website that they need to be using, and your goods are the things that everyone else wants? Urgency messaging – Sale now on! Prices slashed for TWO DAYS ONLY! Order NOW for 20% off! When it’s gone. It’s gone! These and other urgency calls have become the norm, to attract instant sales.

What’s the “proof” behind social proof?

In 2010, researchers put social proof marketing to the test. They wanted to see whether people were more compelled to act through the power of social consciousness (this is the right thing to do for everyone). they also examined environmental awareness (you’re screwing up the planet, you can do this to stop it). Next, budgetary considerations (hey, doing this will save you $$$). Finally, social proof (everyone else is doing it, why aren’t you?). Counter-intuitively, it was the social-proof-driven marketing that was the most effective. While everyone wants to save money, branding has to be at the top of everyone’s list.

It’s not a new concept. In 1951, the Solomon Asch conformity experiment took place. The gist of it was that in test conditions with a bunch of strangers, young men would deny their own senses, agreeing to give what were clearly the wrong answers to a series of judgement questions: Eg., “which one of these lines is most similar to this line in length – in favour of fitting in with the rest of the crowd” (who were planted by the psychologist). The end result? Relating to people is important to us.

In the eCommerce arena, we’ve carried out our own research at Taggstar– market research is crucial for a company working to boost conversion rates for you, or your customers. A/B split testing proves over and over again that current social proof messaging strategies increase online conversions by up to 12%. This translates in many cases into millions of dollars in revenue increases in a short period of time. Who knows why we all want to be and do and have the same as everyone else, but we do.

How can social proof help my business?

You can use social proof marketing in a couple of ways:

  • Urgency messaging: Show scarcity in your product. Show a limited offer. Show an ability to deliver NOW when you customer needs it. This creates a sense of urgency, encouraging instant sales. It’s hard for customers to click away from a limited time deal on the products they want NOW.
  • Social proof: You have various options here. You can show how many of each item has been purchased in the last hour/day/week/month, according to your strengths (eBay is great at this). Try showing viewers how many people are looking at a specific product right now. Use reviews – according to BrightLocal, 84% of people read reviews before making a purchase – and feature genuine customer testimonials. All of these utilise the power of social influence.

We’ve all experienced it. That sensation of building angst that comes with FOMO. It began when we were toddlers: ‘Well, if you won’t eat it, I’m going to…’ And suddenly we’re cramming a whole, previously unwanted sandwich into our mouth, while mommy smiles on smugly. That’s the principle upon which social proof is built. And that is why, as a marketing strategy, it keeps on working. We all want something that everyone else has got, just in case we’re missing out.

We all want to gain the same benefits as our friends and neighbours, otherwise it’s just ‘not fair.’ We all want to be part of the in-crowd. And social proofing makes us feel that we are… which is life affirming for your customers, and great news for your business.