Making a purchase is a journey, not a one-off event. Ecommerce websites should make buying products or services a logical step on that journey. If you lead your prospects to a “no-brainer” decision that feels right, they’ll become happy buyers who buy from you again and share that good feeling with their friends.
A simple and effective persuasion technique to reduce friction in customers’ buying journey and help them take that final step is social proof. You’ve undoubtedly seen countless examples of social proof and been influenced by it yourself.
“Social proof is one of the most powerful tools of persuasion that sellers can employ on their sites,” says Jon MacDonald, Founder and President of The Good, in a recent podcast on social proof. “Getting others to promote you is infinitely more effective than just promoting yourself.”
In this article, we help you understand the concept of social proof and how it works. We also explain the different types, offer examples, and show you how to implement it on your site.
What is Social Proof?
Social proof is a psychological phenomenon coined by author Robert Cialdini in 1984 in his book Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion. “We view a behavior as more correct in a given situation to the degree that we see others performing it,” he says.
Basically, social proof is the idea that people are likely to emulate the behavior of others in order to reflect the correct behavior in similar situations. This effect is heightened when we lack sufficient information to make informed decisions on our own. We presume that other people have more knowledge about the situation, so we should follow their lead. That’s why it’s also referred to as “herd mentality.”
We rely on social proof all the time. When you have dinner at a restaurant, for example, you assume it must be good if it’s busy. You might pick a meal based on the server’s recommendation. You also take cues about eating etiquette from other people in your party.
Social proof applies to ecommerce marketing, as well. When visitors shop at your store, they look for clues from trusted sources to help them make decisions. They might consult reviews, testimonials, or expert recommendations. They might watch videos from influencers they trust or solicit recommendations from organizations, nonprofits, or other entities.
If you’re smart about collecting social proof and leveraging it across your ecommerce website, newsletter, social media profile, and product packaging, it can have a substantial impact on your conversion rate and – ultimately – your revenue.
Why is Social Proof Effective?
Human beings are social creatures. We want to fit in. We want to be accepted and admired. We don’t want to look foolish or make mistakes. Our tendency is to do what others are doing, even if we pride ourselves on individuality, which is why social proof works so well.
If everyone is buzzing about a newly-released movie, and you’re hearing nothing but recommendations to go see it, you’re quite likely to go. On the other hand, if the reviews are sour and your friends tell you the movie was a waste of time and money, you’ll probably skip it.
Social proof is evidence that something is popular and that others have endorsed it. By creatively and soundly displaying social proof, ecommerce website managers can stack the deck in their favor and get more sales.
After all, claims by the seller or manufacturer are suspect. Buyers are used to marketing hype. When other consumers are raving about your company, though, the prospect is more inclined to accept that “social proof” as fact.
Let’s look at some data on social proof. As you can see from this graphic, people rely on social proof signals to make decisions. And this reliance is growing! Younger generations depend on social proof more than previous generations.
Implementing social proof on your site can be one of the most effective methods for increasing your overall conversion rate. 93% of consumers say that online reviews influence their purchase decisions.
It works the other way too. Negative reviews can convince people not to buy. 94% of people say poor reviews have convinced them to avoid a business. Four out of five consumers have changed their minds about purchasing after reading a negative review.
Social proof isn’t just for sales, of course. You can use this phenomenon to help users make any decision. For example, we were able to increase form submissions for one of our clients by 8.63% by highlighting social proof in the registration flow, thereby creating $543,400 in annualized revenue gains.
Types of Social Proof
Generally speaking, there are seven types of social proof:
- Expert – This is when a trusted authority in an industry or niche recommends a product.
- Celebrity – This is when a celebrity endorses a product. It’s effective even if we know the celebrity was paid for the endorsement.
- User – This is when your users or customers recommend your products based on their personal experiences (e.g., ratings, reviews, social media comments, etc.).
- Wisdom of the crowd – This is when a large group of people endorses your brand (e.g., millions of social media followers).
- Wisdom of your friends – This is when your friends recommend a product. We tend to weigh recommendations from our circle of friends more heavily.
- Certification – This is when a product or brand receives a stamp of approval from an authority that you trust.
- Earned media – This is when the press publishes positive stories about your brand.
Keep in mind that some uses of social proof can qualify as multiple types. For instance, Michael Jordan’s long-standing endorsement of Nike is expert and celebrity social proof, since we can reasonably assume that a professional basketball player knows a thing or two about sneakers.
Examples of Social Proof
There are lots of ways you can incorporate social proof into your ecommerce marketing. Let’s go through some examples of social proof to inspire your marketing.
1. Reviews from purchasers
Product reviews are regarded as one of the most effective forms of social proof to utilize on ecommerce sites. 93% of shoppers read online reviews before making a purchase, and the purchase probability for a product with five reviews is 270% greater than the purchase probability of a product without them. 91% of 18-34 year-olds trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations.
The bottom line is: If your website doesn’t include customer reviews somewhere on the product page, you’re losing a substantial amount of business. These come in a variety of forms, such as star ratings, comment-based reviews, or reviews on your own online store or on third-party review sites, such as Yelp, Amazon, Trustpilot, and others.
LuluLemon makes great use of social proof. They allow customers to leave feedback and ratings. They offer an aggregate score (so customers don’t have to browse every review) and even give reviewers the opportunity to grade whether the product fits their size or whether it runs small or large. (Check out a product page to see the different options.)
The bio includes basic information about the customer (athletic type, age) so users can find a review from someone that has a similar body type to them.
2. Customer testimonials
A customer testimonial is a bit different than a generic product review. These are positive reviews that differ from product reviews in the way they are presented. Whereas reviews are typically listed on product pages, testimonials are written or spoken words from customers displayed prominently on the website, usually on the home page.
“[Testimonials] are only really helpful if I can see myself in that consumer,” says Jon MacDonald, Founder and President of The Good, in a recent podcast on social proof. “If it’s somebody that is not an ounce like me, or isn’t for a product that I would relate to, then likely not going to be much help.” If the testimonial doesn’t look and sound like the customer, the customer may assume the product isn’t right for them.
Blue Apron is a great example of using customer testimonials. They’ve placed a widget with quotes from customers just above the page’s primary call to action
3. Celebrity and influencer endorsements
89% of marketers say ROI from influencer marketing is comparable to or better than other marketing channels. Clearly, celebrity and influencer endorsements can be a very effective form of social proof, but it depends upon the types of products you’re selling and the influencers you’re selecting.
Aviation Gin, for example, has relied on its celebrity endorsement (actor Ryan Reynolds) since its inception.
The key thing to understand about endorsements is that it doesn’t matter how popular or famous the influencer you enlist is, just as long you find someone who is a celebrity to the people who use your product or service.
Note how Post Planner (see below) combines the testimonial format with celebrity endorsements. Not everyone knows Kim Garst, but those who are power users of social media (Post Planner’s prime audience) definitely know Kim.
Keep in mind that you don’t need to work with massive celebrities in order to get effective social proof. You can sponsor small or micro-influencers to post about your products. These kinds of influencers are typically easy and inexpensive to work with, but they still have access to valuable audiences. Plus, as they grow, their endorsement becomes more valuable.
“The other thing is [social proof] doesn’t have to be a massive celebrity,” says Jon MacDonald. “It could be somebody who has 1,000,000 followers on TikTok. To you and me, that might seem like a massive number, but in the age of TikTok, that’s really not. It’s something that can get you in front of a large audience. And if they say the right things, put that quote with a screenshot of the TikTok up on your site.”
4. Wisdom of the crowd
Generally speaking, we assume that a large group of people are collectively smarter and more trustworthy than a singular expert. This form of social proof speaks to the popularity of a product, and our sense of FOMO (fear of missing out).
Just like the “most popular dishes” section on the menu at a restaurant, the “best-selling products” section in an ecommerce store typically maintains the highest sales volume. If you have the numbers to back up the success of what you’re selling, capitalize on that.
Take the example below from Quip. “Over 2 million mouths and counting” is a simple but effective way of conveying how many other people use and enjoy Quip’s products. They cleverly back their statement up by displaying Instagram posts directly below from happy customers.
The quintessential example of this is McDonald’s ubiquitous golden arches, where they state “Over 99 billion served.” They stopped updating this in the mid-90s, so the number is obviously bigger now, but the point is clear: LOTS of people eat at McDonald’s.
Besides showing off your number of customers, you can also brag about the number of your social media followers, social shares, newsletter subscribers, distribution partners, countries served, goods sold in a week, retailers, and more. These data points are great for supporting ad copy, landing pages, and calls to action.
5. Earned media and press
If your company has been endorsed by recognizable media brands, you should definitely be leveraging this earned media on the homepage of your site.
Casper displays their press coverage front and center on their homepage. When you have glowing reviews from popular, well-respected media outlets, that leaves an impression on your prospective customers that will definitely have an influence on their decision to purchase.
Keep in mind, however, that some brands do not permit the use of their names and logos on your site. Make sure you get explicit permission before using any.
6. Certification and trust badges
Certification and trust seals have been a time-tested method of implementing social proof on ecommerce websites. Statistics from Actual Insights show that trust logos actually increased the perceived trustworthiness of a brand in 75% of respondents.
Baymard Institute conducted a study to determine the most effective trust badge to use on an ecommerce website. Although Norton beat the other contenders out by a long shot, it’s important to understand that your customers may respond differently to different trust badges. This is where testing comes into play. Experiment with different trust badges on your site to see how (if at all) customers will react to them.
For instance, if you sell a baby product that’s approved by the American Academy of Pediatrics, you should definitely publish their logo on your site. If your truck accessories are recommended by the Monster Truck Racing Association, put their name on your store.
7. User-generated content
User-generated content (UGC) is an umbrella term used to describe any content that your customers are creating about you. This content can take a variety of different forms, including social media posts, in-depth video reviews, blog reviews, or even a podcast mentioning your brand/product.
“User-generated content is basically a celebrity or influencer endorsement, but down to a common level,” says John MacDonald. And with the prevalence of social networks like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and LinkedIn, everyone is a potential creator of user-generated content.
With over 1 billion monthly active users, Instagram has quickly grown to be one of the best sources of user-generated content for brands. It ranks as the most effective and impactful social media platform to develop your brand or promote a product. Many brands have started to utilize customer-created Instagram content for their product detail pages, and even on homepages.
A report from Hubspot identified social media posts as the most popular form of content that customers want to see from brands. If you’re not leveraging the content your customers are producing for you, you’re leaving a lot of money on the table.
How do you get user-generated content? A simple method is to encourage them to use a branded hashtag that you monitor. If they post something positive and flattering, ask permission to repost on your own page.
Boxed Water does this often and their social media engagement is huge (especially for a brand of water). Many of their social media posts are produced by their own customers.
8. Expert social proof
Receiving a stamp of approval from industry experts or thought leaders in your industry can carry a lot of weight. Being able to reinforce the quality of your product/service through an expert’s recommendation is especially impactful if you’re selling products that customers will typically research before purchasing (mattresses, footwear, supplements, etc.).
Consider the skincare industry. Many leading skincare brands have leaned on the “dermatologist recommended” statement of social proof to sell products, and it works. CeraVe, for instance, leans hard into their expert approval by publishing dermatologist testimonials all over their site.
9. Client logos
If you’ve helped other companies build their business, display their logos to potential clients. At The Good, for example, we’re proud of the work we’ve done for companies like Nike, Bell Helmets, Xerox, and others.
Note (below) how we stack on more benefits to social proof by not only citing client names but adding numbers showing the revenue gains those companies realized from our services.
10. Social media verification
It seems trivial, but getting yourself verified by a large brand shows authenticity and legitimacy. It tells potential customers and followers that you’re trustworthy, popular, and influential.
Most social media platforms – including Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram – offer verification. They indicate verified accounts with a blue checkmark on your bio. (You would also gain access to special features reserved for verified accounts.)
If you want to take your social proof marketing to the next level, consider producing case studies on the clients and customers you were able to help the most. New customers in your target audience will get to read, first hand, how you help people just like them.
How to Implement Social Proof on Your Website
Ready to use social proof to boost your conversions and revenue? We’ve explained the different forms of social proof and shown you some examples. Now it’s time to collect and display social proof on your website to entice potential customers.
Step 1: Identify critical points in the buying decision
While it’s smart to use multiple types of social proof throughout your website, you don’t want to fill every pixel. Instead, focus on the points where you ask customers to take significant steps.
Your checkout page is the most obvious example, but you can also implement social proof on your shopping cart page, product detail pages, and sign-up forms. The homepage is another popular location for certain types of social proof.
For example, Yousign knows that prospects who reach the signup page may need an extra push, so they smartly place a customer testimonial right alongside the form.
Step 2: Select an effective type of social proof
Once you know where you need social proof, consider the right type. You’ll have to make some decisions here about what your audience will find most persuasive in that moment.
For instance, if you’re trying to move prospects from your home page to a category page, it might be appropriate to showcase recommendations from experts, celebrity endorsements, or the logos of your big customers.
But on the checkout page, you probably want to be more personal by using a quote from a regular customer. This helps drive home the point that the product is for them.
If you want to move fans from social media to your site, consider reposting someone else’s user-generated content. This feels organic and natural as if the whole world is talking about your products, and everyone should visit your site to learn more.
Don’t worry if you don’t pick the most effective type of social proof right away. In a moment, we’ll talk about testing different options. Plus, you can always try something new if your conversions don’t improve.
Step 3: Create a plan to collect that social proof
Now that you know what you need, the next step is to find a way to collect it. The process you use for this step will vary depending on the type of social proof you need.
If you want to add social proof to your product detail pages with reviews from previous customers, it would be your job to implement a strategy that collects reviews from previous customers. You might set up an email flow that prompts previous customers to leave a review.
If you think an award or certification would be most effective, identify the organization that provides those assets and devise a plan to obtain those accolades. You get the idea.
Step 4: Test different variations
Your final step is arguably the most important. You need to know if the social proof you added to your website had an effect and whether a different type of social proof would have a greater effect. The only way to learn this is through testing.
Design experiments that test different types of social proof to gauge their effect on your conversion rate. Then experiment with different versions of the same type. For instance, if you decide to include a customer testimonial above a call-to-action, experiment with different testimonials to find the one that gets the most clicks.
Social Proof is Here to Help
Our aim is to get you thinking about additional ways you can incorporate social proof on your ecommerce website. At its core, social proof is simply homegrown advertising. It provides a way for your customers to shout your praises and encourage them to do so.
Social proof is similar to word-of-mouth advertising. That’s why many businesses figure they don’t have to do anything to get social proof. And while that’s true on a small scale, it’s not true on a large scale. The best ecommerce and lead generation sites include the cultivation of social proof in their marketing strategy, then develop ways to implement that strategy.
If you’re actively looking for ways to improve the conversion rate of your site but don’t know where to start, request a free landing page assessment from us. In our assessment, we’ll take a close look at your site and identify key areas where you can improve your customer experience and optimize your site’s ability to convert visitors into buyers.
About the Author
Jon MacDonald is founder and President of The Good, a conversion rate optimization firm that has achieved results for some of the largest online brands including Adobe, Nike, Xerox, Verizon, Intel and more. Jon regularly contributes content on conversion optimization to publications like Entrepreneur and Inc. He knows how to get visitors to take action.