Hearing the same positive message several times from different trusted sources can provide the social proof that helps users form a decision.
- If you see a tip jar full of bills, you are more likely to tip. If you see a nightclub with a line outside, you’re more likely to think it’s a popular venue. If you see a restaurant full of happy people, you’re more likely to think that eating a meal there would be worthwhile. That’s why baristas “prime” their tip jars in cafes, why nightclubs keep a slow-moving line outside even if the club is quiet inside, and why restaurants seat people at the window seats first thing in the evening. This influence is known as social proof: “If other people are doing it, it must be right.”
- People rely on social proof more when they are unsure what to do. New users, people shopping for infrequent or unfamiliar purchases, or people seeking expertise are all likely candidates for social proof persuasion.
- By 2011, only 13% of consumers purchased products without first using the Internet to review them. The best forms of social proof come from outside the direct sphere of influence that a site has. This has led to the rapid growth of pay-to-blog advertising and sponsored posts. Companies exist to match advertisers with bloggers and a whole army of bloggers exists to take advantage of these paid endorsements.
In 1969, Stanley Milgram ran studies that looked at how influence varies with different numbers of sources. He had a paid helper stand on a busy sidewalk and look up at the (empty) sky. He noted that approximately 40% of people passing would also look up. With two confederates, that number rose to 60%. When he paid four people to stand together and look up, around 80% of people passing would also look up.
If more people are doing something, it lends additional credibility to the activity. If you hear about the same product from several different sources, you tend to attribute more positive views to it than a product you were unfamiliar with. In other words, familiarity doesn’t breed contempt, it breeds reassurance.
How to use social proof
- Try to create several statements that back up the same general positive concept about your product or service. Users are more likely to believe you if they hear several variations on the same theme.
- Get statements placed on different sources or sites. Seemingly impartial reviewers have more credibility, and hearing the same statement from multiple sources also improves social proof.
- Place statements at locations on the site where they’ll be seen by new users, people shopping for infrequent or unfamiliar purchases, or people seeking expertise.
- Describe your process, product, and so on as the accepted norm—for instance, the industry standard or reference item. Being seen as a standard gives the product implied social proof.
- Work with common stereotypes of behavior—if it’s commonly held that people will do x in situation y, then reinforce that stereotype to your advantage, as it plays to social proof.
- Use site statistics to impute social proof—for instance “70% of our business comes from client referrals” demonstrates that clients like the business enough to recommend it to others.
- Make sure the social proof example you use emphasizes your desired behavior rather than trying to dissuade people from the opposite behavior. Don’t even raise the opposite behavior as an option.