How social proof can help you sell

I came across an excellent guide to harnessing social proof this week, over at AdEspresso. It’s a treasure trove of info and research on this fascinating topic, that I started posting on back in 2010, here. As a recap, social proof is our tendency to follow “the wisdom of the crowd” when it comes to making decisions. We might like to think we’re all individual. In reality, most of us are influenced by what everyone else is doing. An example of this is the “busy boulangerie” effect I learnt when living in Paris. Mrs Taylor told me to always buy bread from the place with the biggest queue, as it meant it had the best bread!

Below I share some highlights from the article.

1. How social proof works

AdEspresso helpfully highlight two main forms of social proof, drawing on “Why We Conform: The Power of Groups”, by Phillip Zimbardo and Cindy Wang.

“Informative conformity” often when there is high uncertainty and ambiguity. A good example of this is in the mobile phone network market. It’s so bloody complex, with multiple tariffs and deals and so many of us just go with the market leader.

“Normative conformity” occurs when we want to be liked by a group and fit in. This is clearly visible in fashion trends, when everyone wants to wear the cool brand of shoes or handbag, eat at the most popular restaurant or get their kids into the most famous private school.

An example of social proof in action from the article is where describing a dish on a menu as the most popular increased sales in a restaurants by 13-20%, based on this research.

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2. Benefits of social proof

AdEspress suggest several benefits of using social proof for your brand

  • Trust: people trust what other people say and do more than they do marketing from a brand. The data below from BazzarVoice   the sales boosting effect of having more reviews (from 1 to 15) and ratings (from 3.5 to 4.5 stars) for the product categories of a top 25 US Internet Retailer.

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  • Credibility: related to the point on trust is building credibility for your brand. Demonstrating how your brand has helped other people via reviews and testimonials can help make you more credible. This is especially important for any new business starting out.
  • Validates buying decisions: this taps into a phenomenon called “cognitive dissonance”, which is the worry we have after making a buying decision: did I make the right choice? This is especially true when it comes to big ticket items, such as a car. Communicating that lots of other people have made the same choice helps get over this fear.
  • Simplifying decision-making: as discussed above, in complex situations with imperfect information, or too much of it, recommendations from other people helps shortcut the decision making process

3. Types of social proof you can use

AdEspresso shows different ways to use social proof for your business, with loads of examples, including the following:

  • Expert endorsement: using a credible source to endorse or approve your product. Using celebrity endorsement increased content engagement +355% in research on advertising done by AddThis. An example (I hate to say this) is Kim Kardashian becoming a chief stylist for ShoeDazzle helped grow sales from $25M to $70M in a year, according to this source. The key is to ensure the endorsement is genuine, to avoid cock-ups like Oprah Winfrey tweeting about Microsoft’s Surface tablet … but not doing it on the device itself. AdEspresso even shares the cost per tweet for different celebs, with LeBron James top with a cool $139,000
  • User reviews: as the article says, “online reviews are now an integral part of reaching the buying decision.” Research by by TripAdvisor shows that 77% of holiday makers don’t book a hotel without reading its reviews. And review platform, Reeve, discovered that positive reviews typically result in an 18% uplift in sales (source).
  • Follow the leader: reminding people how popular your brand is can help encourage people to follow the wisdom of the crowd and trust the leader brand. Oracle makes use of this technique in their communication campaigns like the one below.Screen Shot 2016-05-20 at 15.36.48
  • Find a friend: word of mouth is the highest point of influence for customers (74%) according to joint-research by Ogilvy, Google and TNS , surpassing actual in-store visits, social media and search.One way to tap into this form of social proof is to encourage people to refer friends and family members. For example, Dropbox offer free storage space if you refer a friend.Screen Shot 2016-05-20 at 16.07.44

In conclusion, social proof can be a powerful selling tool to help boost your brand if used wisely. The key to success of course comes down to having a great product that people want to talk about. Investing to make your service or product distinctive and relevant for customers is maybe the best way of all to generate social proof.