Consumers are influenced by other people more than they realize or are willing to admit.
This is what makes the concept of social proof a powerful one.
What is Social Proof?
First coined by Robert Cialdini in his psychology book Influence, social proof, sometimes called informational social influence, is often described as a psychological and social phenomenon in which people assume the actions of others in order to best reflect what is considered correct behavior for any given situation.
We’ve traditionally turned to a variety of useful sources as social proof. These include:
- Credible experts
- Thought leaders
- Celebrities and influencers
- Family and friends
- The wisdom of the crowd
All these sources, in one situation or another, can influence people’s decisions on how to behave. Even canned laughter used in TV shows serves as social proof: studio executives use it to effectively increase the perceived “funniness” of a show.
Online Reviews as Social Proof
In today’s social media age, online reviews have emerged as one of the most potent forms of social proof.
Diners rarely visit a restaurant without first checking Yelp. Travelers seldom book a room without first going to TripAdvisor. Shoppers rarely buy anything without first reading what previous verified buyers had to say on Amazon or Google.
Online reviews have a significant effect on consumers’ research process, guiding shopping decisions and behavior and even impacting overall brand perceptions.
Reviews Guide Purchase Behavior
- According to the Online Reviews Survey, 94 percent of consumers say an online review has convinced them to avoid a business.
- 92.4 percent of consumers use online reviews to guide most of their ordinary purchasing decisions (NRC Health).
- 62 percent of consumers age 18 to 34 trust a brand because of good reviews and ratings. (Marketing Charts)
Negative reviews and low ratings drive customers away. Meanwhile, people take positive reviews and high ratings as social proof that a product or service is worth the purchase. “This has great reviews, so I’m buying it.”
Reviews Shape Consumer Perception and Brand Reputation
More than convincing people what is worth buying versus what isn’t, reviews also serve as social proof for determining what to think about a certain business, product, or service.
According to Cornell research, the average rating for a hotel with 11 to 20 reviews is 3.5 out of 5 stars, with “terrible” reviews (with a rating of 1 star) at close to 12 percent. But as a hotel sees 101 reviews or more, its average star rating increases to 3.9.
The pattern is that the more reviews you have, the more likely it is that your business will have higher ratings.
So apart from providing social proof for customers looking to make a purchase decision, reviews also provide social proof for how people perceive and what they should say about a given product or service.
For example: a customer’s opinion about a TripAdvisor-listed restaurant with 200 reviews and an average rating of 4.5 stars is therefore less likely to go against the grain and differ from those who shared positive feedback. “This has great reviews, so I’m going to say the same about it.”
How to Use Social Proof in Online Reviews
Marketers are learning to leverage online reviews to provide compelling social proof and foster shopper confidence. Here are some of the ways you can leverage reviews of your business.
Use Review Widgets and Customer Testimonials on Your Website
Remember: when choosing a business, 94 percent of consumers rely on online reviews.
Adding them to your website through the use of review widgets can help you inspire confidence in website visitors.
One option is to copy and paste your customers’ online reviews to your website. But this can be inconvenient. The copy-and-paste approach might also take away some of the legitimacy of your reviews, especially if they’re not linked to a third-party review source or platform.
With review widgets, you can embed reviews directly from third-party sources.
Here’s an example of how a review widget transforms the voice of the customer into powerful social proof:
Use Google Review Stickers
The Google My Business Marketing Kit lets you create, download, and print personalized Google review stickers and marketing materials and turn your reviews and business information into ready-to-use social posts, stickers, posters, and more.
The messaging in these materials centers around promoting your business using customer testimonials, or requesting customers to find your business on Google and share their photos and reviews on the site. It’s definitely a great example of harnessing reviews as a form of social proof for your potential customers to see.
Be a Master at Responding to Reviews
If customers took the time to present social proof for other potential customers to see, expressing your gratitude is the very least you can do. It’s so important for your business to respond to reviews and say thank those who leave them.
Also, be sure to reinforce the things that customers loved the most about their experience.
For example: in your response, explain that the delicious red velvet cupcakes they loved so much are actually homemade. Let customers in on how you grow your own rocket lettuce. Tell them that others have also commented on the amazing views from the cliffside swimming pool.
Don’t forget to respond in a reasonable amount of time: 7 days or less is the ideal time frame to start with.
Customers who are vocal online can influence other consumers’ attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors.
While there is no way to control what people say about your business (online or offline), you do have the power to change the conversation and leverage the kind of social proof where the positive opinions of your happiest customers are accounted for.