Social proof is nothing new. It’s the idea that people will naturally follow the actions of the majority. Basically it’s a fancy way of saying 'herd mentality'.

My first (unbeknown to me at the time) experience with social proof was through a game my friends and I used to play at school.

We’d stand under a random tree and stare up as if something interesting was happening. Gradually a crowd would begin to gather, joining us in the staring until they finally realised they were looking at absolutely nothing.

It was probably funnier at the time (as a ten-year-old). For a slightly less silly example just watch any street entertainer.

Long before they do any actual entertaining they encourage people to gather round clapping and cheering. It’s all about convincing others passing by that something incredibly exciting is going on.

That’s pretty much social proof in very simplified nutshell. What this post is concerned with, however, is the not-quite-so-simple process of turning social proof into an effective digital marketing tool.

Let’s take a look at five ways to secure social proof online and convince potential customers to take action. 

1. Encourage user-generated content

By encouraging people to upload their own photos or videos to social media, you achieve two things: free advertising, and a healthy dose of social proof. 

The Ice Bucket Challenge is probably one of the most famous examples of this type of social proof in action.

Ice Bucket Challenge

Another example is the ‘customer selfie.’ In the example below, Manchester-based clothing shop Le Boutique asked customers to send in pictures of themselves wearing items they’d bought in-store:

2. Combine social proof with urgency

Creating a sense of urgency is a great way to tip wavering browsers towards the ‘Buy’ button. When it is combined with social proof it becomes even more effective. 

Groupon does this really well by showing a count of the number of people who’ve purchased the deal right below the phrase “Limited Availability” (complete with red font, a picture of a clock and an exclamation mark, in case the words alone weren’t urgent enough for you).

Booking.com is another great example of this combination.

It shows you, in real time, when the last booking was and how many people are looking at the hotel. It’s a great way to make people ‘panic’ into a buying decision.

3. Draw a crowd with experiential marketing

In his post about experiential marketing last month, Christopher Ratcliff talked about Carlsberg’s ‘Probably the best poster in the world’ campaign (which has been covered to death by this point, but bear with me). 

Carlsberg 'Probably the best poster in the world'

Remember what I was saying earlier about the street entertainers (and the tree staring)? This is the perfect example of a brand taking that concept and applying it to digital marketing. 

The key difference here being that rather than only drawing more people in from the street, Carlsberg was able to spread the image of that social proof far and wide across the web.

4. Use customer reviews

When done right, online reviews can give consumers the confidence to buy something they’ve only ever experienced through a computer screen.

I like the Argos review system because it is broken down into the elements people are likely to be concerned about for each individual product type, such as picture or sound quality for televisions (see the example below).

Argos social proof

Another example I really like is On the Beach. It lets you sort hotels by Tripadvisor rating and see a snapshot of the reviews from that site.

This adds an extra layer of credibility because the reviews and ratings are completely external.

On the Beach

5. Show what others are buying

If a consumer wants a certain type of product but they’re undecided on their specific choice, one of the first things they’re likely to do is look at what others are buying. 

The Amazon site is absolutely awash with this type of social proof. Just take a look at its homepage below. Everywhere you look, from the centre of the page to the sidebar, there are 'best seller' product lines. 

When you click on one of those products for a quick view, the social proof goes one level deeper.

Now you can see the review score for that product along with a 'Customers also bought' list of items below.

This technique works for two reasons: firstly, it gives people more confidence to make the purchase because they know lots of others have done the same (I purposefully chose a fashion item because I think that point is particularly relevant there).

Secondly, it puts other products in front of them that they may not otherwise have considered.

Bonus tip: keep it real

When it comes to social proof, it’s a bit like being popular at school. If you try too hard you’ll end up Sellotaped to a chair with people throwing Blu Tack at the back of your head.

All you need to do is create (and point people towards) content that will make them feel more confident about interacting with your brand and purchasing your products or services. The format you use to achieve that is completely up to you.

Jack Simpson

Published 11 June, 2015 by Jack Simpson

Jack Simpson is a Writer at Econsultancy. You can follow him on Twitter or connect via LinkedIn.

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