Guest blog by Lisanza Faccilongo from Sortlist.nl
Social proof is one of the best known psychological concepts in marketing. Popularized by Robert Cialdini as the man behind persuasiveness and influence, it is discussed by every sales guru. The rise of marketing on social media, the phenomenon of 'fake users', the unprecedented success of influencer marketing - everything is attributed to the power of social proof. But what does this actually mean?
Social proof means that we use other people to determine what is right.
We copy the behavior of others and follow the majority. Such as all psychological heuristics this is not unfounded: very often the best way to judge appropriate behavior is to look at how others behave. It is an evolutionary mechanism, but still a mental shortcut. In an ideal world you would look at how others behave, process the information with your own knowledge and experience, and then a result (oninfluenced by emotions). In reality, people often stop at the first step, even if the decision conflicts with their own interests. This is especially the case when people in a certain situation are insecure, have a collectivist approach to life (ie, they place social goals above personal goals) and live in a collectivist society (eg Poland as opposed to the US). Like many other cognitive biases, it will probably work best if the person is in a happy mood.
The effect of social proof was demonstrated in situations such as bringing back a lost wallet, cleaning up his things in a public space, donating money to charities and the like (source). However, it was also shown that it sometimes leads to a number of strange and severe consequences. The first social psychologists, such as Asch, showed that the subjects copied the wrong answers from others, even though the correct answers were obvious and well-known. In a famous study about the bystander effect researchers showed that bystanders in a group are less likely to help in an emergency situation than if they had been alone. When they saw that others were not taking actions, they concluded that the actions should simply not be taken. A few happened scandalous affairs (including in the US and the UK) in which this was effectively the case. Even incomprehensible events such as the mass suicides in Jonestown were explained by social proof.
Social proof works best if it is delivered through the actions of many other people who are like you.
The volume of social proof is very important: some studies showed it number assessments of a product or service affects sales, while the assessments themselves are less important. It seems that potential customers are impressed by the fact that so many other people have bought the product, and are following the example without looking carefully. Even the laughing bands that you hear on sitcoms are not there to annoy you: many studies have shown that viewers experience the jokes as funnier when accompanied by a laugh band. You would think that deep emotions such as humor are not affected, but even the perceived pain and expression of fear are intensified when they are socially confirmed (source).
The parable is the second most important explanation of the effectiveness of social proofs. In a charity donation study, sentences such as "students like you have donated around 3 to 5 euros" were it most effective in stimulating to donate. In a study where researchers focused on promoting and increasing the use of online security, they found that showing the user that his / her friends are using the function is the most effective method. In this case, 37% more viewers examined the safety features involved compared to the others who did not see this message.
Social proof (comparable to other prejudices) works best with a low degree of self-control. This usually works against the person, but it can also work to promote healthier purchases, for example. In a study a healthy, low-fat cheese was promoted with banners that said it was the most sold cheese in that supermarket. Customers with little self-control (it was experimentally induced and compared to people with high self-control) were more likely to buy the skinny cheese if the banners were there.
It is therefore no surprise that marketers do not want to spend time devising logical arguments, statistics and comparisons with competitors to prove that their product is the best. Instead, they use different types of social proof.
1. Social proof by experts
Expertise is not required for social proof to work. But in general we have more faith in experts, which makes sense. That is why it makes sense to have a mix of both when selling your product. You will often find that companies post a list of other well-known companies that use their product on the homepage. Very little information is often displayed on the homepage, but this will always be there.
2. Social proof by celebrities
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'Celebrity endorsements' are a growing success: just look at the prices for a promotional item on the social media of certain celebrities. The biggest reason for these prices, however, is their reach, not their influence on decision-making (although of course this is huge). In addition, more and more advertisers are targeting niche influencers instead of big celebrities with the largest reach. In both cases, however, social proof lies in their image. People see the number of likes the promotional post receives, and assume that it must be something that people really agree with, even if they are aware that responses to social media often have little or no meaning.
3. Social proof by users
Social proofs from users are also used on high-quality home pages. Get testimonials, ask customers to leave a review on Google, Amazon or specialized review websites, share positive reviews on social media - all these efforts are very effective. Remember the study above: it's the quantity it counts in this case. Read more about this review marketing.
4. Social proof by the "wisdom of the crowd"
Since ancient times we are sure that the majority is right. We have created a political system based on this view. It is what underlines so many of our beliefs and behaviors. All-time advertisers love slogans that imply that "a million people can't be wrong." That is why it is necessary to point out the general popularity of your company, of a certain product, and so on, for example by letting customers know when you touch your millionth customer or what your best-selling product of the week is.
5. Social proof through "wisdom of your friends"
However much we trust strangers, we naturally have more confidence in our own friends - even though they are not experts in a particular subject. That explains why when you use sites that you have not used before (eg Couchsurfing, AirBnB, TripAdvisor, etc.), they show you which of your Facebook friends are already using the site. This leads to confidence and proves that the product or service is popular among your friends.
Building your 'own' social proof is not an easy task. It requires a growing online follow-up, working with influencers, growing word of mouth, brand reputation and brand awareness. But it's much easier now that we have social media and a host of ways to work with it.
How will you build up social proof?
Guest blog by Lisanza Faccilongo from Sortlist.nl