In 1984, Dr. Robert Cialdini, a professor of psychology and marketing, published his seminal book Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion. In it, he describes the principal concepts of psychological influence. One of the most important concepts he develops is the idea of social proof.
Social proof is a psychological concept in which people are persuaded by the actions of others to attempt the same action in order to fit in with their social situation. In practical terms, it means that people are heavily influenced by their peers when making a decision in a social setting.
Merchants harness this concept in powerful ways in trying to influence a consumer decision. There are a multitude of factors consumers make when they are considering a purchase, but positive social affirmation ranks among the highest factors in decision-making. Reviews by others act as a 3rd party validation for a product or service and adds credibility on top of the merchant’s claims. Just look at the top performing sellers on Amazon in any category – they always have hundreds if not thousands of reviews, and this large quantity of feedback further propels a product’s success as people generally gravitate toward products that have been thoroughly validated.
There are several aspects of the concept of social proof that play into the overall role the concept has and it’s influence on marketing:
As online shopping grows to be a larger share of consumer purchases, finding online reviews before making a purchase has become the norm for savvy shoppers. Studies show that 70% of consumers say they look at product reviews before making a purchase, and 90% say that their decision was based on the reviews they saw when researching. It goes both ways – positive reviews can have as much of an effect on increasing sales as negative reviews can hurt them. Don’t filter out negative reviews on your e-commerce site, though – this can have the reverse effect as shoppers will find your site untrustworthy and suspicious if the reviews are completely positive.
Celebrities, experts in the field, and popular bloggers all have enormous sway when they endorse a product. If someone of influence demonstrates a preference for something, especially industry leaders, it can send a signal to fans that that particular product is worth seeking out. Oprah’s Book Club is a great example – every book she endorsed on her show became an instant bestseller from her fanatically faithful audience.
Celebrity branded product lines work the same way. Celebrity chefs like Emeril or Rachel Ray have put their name on cookware lines and tomato sauce because it’s effective. Fans of their show choose their product out of the pack from recognition and familiarity.
Social Media Influence
According to data from Hubspot, 81% of shoppers say that social media posts from their friends directly influence their purchase decision, and 30% are most likely to respond to brand offers when they have been reposted by a friend. It’s important for brands to encourage social sharing of their content and products to increase their audience size, and word of mouth reviews can have a viral effect on social media.
In addition to taking advantage of the power of sharing on social media among friends and family, one of the best ways to utilize social proof as a marketer is to build communities around certain products: one of the tenets of the phenomenon is that similarity begets proof. When a person perceives themselves as similar to others around them, they are more likely to adopt the behavior. Thus, providing forums and social outlets for discussion can be essential in gathering feedback for your product.
The “fear of missing out” concept is one not to be overlooked as well. When the majority of a group of people advocate for a certain solution or rave about a product, others will join in out of fear that they are not making the optimal decision. This social anxiety can be very powerful in influencing choice and is ever more relevant as people choose to share every aspect of their lives on social media.
Why users are compelled to review
Luckily for brands, lots of shoppers like to leave online reviews after making a purchase. There are several reasons:
• They want to appear knowledgeable and as a resource for others
• They like to feel as though the brand is listening and provide improvements and critical feedback
• Satisfied shoppers love leaving product reviews because it helps them justify their purchase and mentally cement their choice as a smart decision
• Loyalty – brand advocates want to support their favorite companies and spread the word by sharing their positive experience