Imagine that you’re looking to buy something you’ve never bought before: maybe it’s a blender, a pair of hiking boots, or a new mattress. Or maybe you’re not buying a physical product, but you’re still making an important purchase you don’t regularly make. That might include booking a cruise, finding a new doctor, or hiring a new nanny to watch your kids.
How do you make your purchasing decision?
If you’re like most Americans, word of mouth affects your decisions big-time. In fact, a 2018 study found that half of Americans would choose word of mouth if they could only use one source of information. Plus, 83% of Americans say that a word of mouth recommendation from a friend or family member makes them more likely to purchase the product or service being recommended. That’s huge! And it’s also a great example of social proof in action.
1. What is social proof?
Social proof, also known as social influence, is the theory that people make decisions or change their behavior according to what other people are doing. The “proof” part of it means that if other people are doing something or saying something, it must be “right.” Right?
Here’s an example: you use Instagram a lot, and you notice that a certain tote bag seems to be popping up on many of the accounts you follow. It looks good with a lot of different styles of clothing, and it seems like it’s a high-quality product that doesn’t cost too much money. Why else would everyone be showing off this tote bag?
That’s social proof. You notice other consumers using this bag, so you assume it must be worth buying for yourself.
2. Why consumers turn to social proof
So why do consumers turn to others when making decisions? For one thing, if you’re unsure how to behave in an unfamiliar situation, you probably refer to other people for guidance. Another principle of social proof is similarity. If you find someone easy to relate to, you’re more likely to adopt that person’s attitude or behavior. Or at the very least, they’ll have some small influence on your actions.
What if you don’t find someone similar to you? You might look to a person you perceive to be an expert. When someone seems knowledgeable or even just slightly more familiar with a topic or situation, their expertise can influence others. Finally, the number of opinions also has an impact. The more people who think something is “right,” the more an observer will agree with everyone else. Humans are pack animals after all, and we tend to go along with the majority.
3. Why this matters for your business
Businesses can use this information to inform their marketing strategies, website design, or social media strategies. By understanding how your consumers behave according to what other people are doing, you can influence them to take action.
Here are some ways that the principles of social media can affect your business, and simple ways you can use them in marketing and design.
Has your business won a lot of awards? Do you have a lot of employees with impressive certifications or backgrounds? Has the business gotten a lot of good press?
Businesses can use their credentials to add trust to their brand, which can help if consumers are unsure whether to support you. Highlight your credentials on your website to build trust with your customers.
How often do you get recommendations on social media? Facebook pages you might like, Twitter accounts of people you might be interested in following, Instagram ads for pages that sell products similar to what you already have. We tend to like and associate with people like us, so similarity can hugely influence people’s behavior.
If you have the budget, look into targeting Facebook ads. If not, take advantage of user-generated content and share it on social media. It may entice potential consumers who are new to your brand if they see content from people they already follow on your feed.
A celebrity or someone in the industry gives your product their stamp of approval. Their expertise or high status gives your brand value. You might ask an influencer to “take over” your social media for a day to tell Instagram Stories or go live. Your followers can view that content, connect with the influencer, and possibly like and support your brand more because of that positive association.
User reviews or testimonials can have a big impact on one consumer. If a lot of other people are giving you rave reviews, they’re adding value to your product or service. It’s not just limited to reviews, either. Businesses with good social media presence can get a lot of people to share and engage with their content.
Spotlight your positive user reviews. Emphasize subscriber numbers on your website. Thank the number of followers you have on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter.
4. In short: social proof is important
Whether it’s online or in-person, word of mouth can be a powerful tool of influence and persuasion. Social proof can make a big impact on what a consumer buys, what they think of your brand, and whether they recommend you to others in turn. Experiment with using the principles of social proof in your marketing and design strategies. You’ll probably find them pretty effective.