Social proof is hugely important to marketers. Social proof speaks to your audience in terms that are valuable to them. After scarcity, Influence, by way of social proof, is the most powerful marketing tool of all.
In the 1950s, researcher Solomon Asch proved that people ultimately just want to fit in, to be part of the crowd. His experiments proved that 75% of participants would go along with the group in a variety of scenarios – even if they had reason to believe the group consensus to be wrong.
In all likelihood, you have seen social proof at work before. If you are visiting a new city and drive past a restaurant at 8 o’clock on a Friday night and the parking lot is nearly empty, you are likely to opt to eat at the packed restaurant across the street – even if there is a queue stretching far outside the doors!
Lack of social proof is the online equivalent of an empty parking lot. Photo from Grist.org
The implication here is that the restaurant with the empty parking lot must serve lousy food, because everyone in town (apparently) is at the place across the street. You can assume that those in the know (the locals) have an idea of just how bad the food is at the empty restaurant. For dining establishments, an empty parking lot is damagingly bad social proof. (It’s also why they seat the first dinners of the evening towards the front, near the windows)
So how does social proof work in a Web-based context? Are you more likely to watch a video on YouTube that has 67,523 views or one that has 52 views? Looking at video thumbnails in YouTube search results offers no other indicator aside from social proof (view count). Yet, videos with high numbers of views tend to draw even more views in a kind of snowball effect. This is basic social behavior that goes back to Asch’s studies of the 1950s.
Since social proof connects to two of The 7 Levers of Business, opt-ins and conversion, we’ve created this essay to help you get more of both, by adding credibility via social proof.
In this essay we cover the following:
- Why social proof matters to you
- Highlighting positive social proof
- How to manufacture social proof.
- Avoiding negative social proof
- Social proof superstars [Examples for opt-ins and conversions]
Social Proof on Etsy. Image by Zurb.com
Social proof has a lengthy psychological meaning, but it also has a simpler explanation that matters to marketers.
James Chartrand of The Micolancer Blog sums up this second meaning of social proof in the following way:
“Social proof can also mean that someone bought a product and found it useful. Or they read a blog and learned something new. Or they’ve tried a service and got results. They’ve experienced something before you, and they survived – they even liked the experience!”
“Your perception is one of increased safety and less risk.”
In other words, social proof shows your customer that your offer is something they can accept without worry.
Let’s look at how you can harness the credibility of social proof to increase opt-ins and conversions.