According to Robert Cialdini, who studied the principle of social proof in his book, Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, “We view a behaviour as more correct in a given situation to the degree that we see others performing it”.
The idea is that people are driven by a powerful human instinct to fit in, and we follow others’ behaviour naturally, even when we don’t always know why.
In situations where we are uncertain about what to do, we assume that the people around us (friends, experts, celebrities and influencers) have more knowledge about what’s going on than we do, and we conform in an attempt to fit in.
It’s one of the most rigorously researched biases in social psychology and is used by brands and marketers to influence user behaviour.
Here are 6 ways to use Social Proof in marketing:
Expert: When we buy something that we are unfamiliar with or requires research, we are more likely to trust the review or recommendation of an expert, as we assume they are more knowledgeable than us in their area of specialisation. This could take the form of them providing a testimonial, being quoted or photographed as a product user or providing expert advise relevant to the product or service in question (e.g. financial planning).
Celebrities and influencers: We buy products endorsed by celebrities or influencers because we want to be like them or have chosen to follow them based on shared interests. Whilst a celebrity endorsement can cost an arm and a leg, Influencer Marketing is a cost-efficient alternative to gaining celebrity social proof. An endorsement from an influencer has the power to drive traffic to your website, amplify your message across social media platforms, and directly sell your product via referral programs.
Users: We trust user reviews because other people have experienced the product or service and chosen to voice their opinion. Brands that use testimonials and reviews in their marketing are perceived as being more trustworthy and transparent. An article by Forbes, suggests that brands with polite but negative reviews can actually be perceived as being “more honest, down-to-earth, cheerful, and wholesome” than one without any complaints.
Wisdom of crowds: Wisdom of crowds is used by companies like Amazon to increase basket size, ‘people who bought this also bought this’. Another great example is Kickstarter, by showing how much funding a project has received we get a sense of how popular it is and trust it is a worthwhile investment.
Wisdom of friends: We tend to trust people who have similar tastes and interests to ourselves, so we trust that what a friend bought or recommended; we might enjoy also. TripAdvisor uses this tactic with great results. When customers log in to their Facebook account from TripAdvisor, it shows them the locations their friends have visited and will show them any reviews left by friends or connections.
Certification: Any type of ‘indicator’ that shows you have been certified as an expert or leader in your field. This could be an award, a tick of approval or an endorsement by an authoritative leader in your industry. An alternate approach, is adding a ‘best seller’ category or badge on popular items. A best-seller category serves by showcasing what your brand does best, and new customers are more likely to feel comfortable buying something that a large number of other people have bought.
One of the best things about the social proof principle is that you can use multiple approaches to amplify your brand’s perceived popularity and credibility. Being so ingrained in human nature, social proof might be the nudge your customers need when they are choosing between your product or service over a competitors.
If you are interested in learning more, head here.