The Importance of Social Proof

We’ve all been in one or more situations where friends have recommended products or services that we should absolutely try and buy because it just worked for them. We’ve also watched boat loads of infomercials that try and sell you everything from slimming belts to construction tools.

What’s important to note is that these infomercials aren’t very different from traditional 30 second advertisements. However, they do run a lot longer (typically 30 minutes to an hour) and they include dozens of user reviews that convince you to pick up the phone and dial in to buy the product no matter how ridiculous the offering is. How do they do this? What makes you pick up the phone and share your credit card details? In this article, I’ll tell you why social proof is important and if done right, how it can influence your investors and clients to work with you.

Social Proof

To understand social proof, we have to understand the fundamentals of human behavior and consumer attitude. The concepts of influence, persuasion and authority are very important. At the very crux of it all, we humans form our opinions and decisions based on our own experiments and also on what others think of a certain issue. I’ll shamelessly admit that I’ve purchased products solely based on user reviews.

Knowingly or unknowingly, we are all victims of influence. There are situations when we agree with someone but, keep our real opinions private. There are situations where we make decisions based on the opinion of someone who’s liked and respected. Then there are situations where we genuinely agree to another person’s opinion both publicly and privately.

How many times have you watched a famous celebrity endorse a watch, a car or even a house and thought “Gee, I think I should buy that”? In most cases, the celebrity endorsing the product has little or no connection to it. Yet, they sell it and we buy it. Why do we do this? We assume that the celebrity (a famous person with influence and authority) possesses greater knowledge of the product or that if they’re using the product, it’s got to be good.

Another factor that greatly influences people’s decision is their need to be part of the gang and feel socially accepted. Tell an investor that another reputed investor is seriously considering putting money into your firm (you’ve got to also be able to prove that, obviously) and you’ll notice that his / her opinion is also positive and that they will most likely invest in you. The same applies with consumers too.

Social Proof On The Web

The internet uses this phenomena more than any other medium. The first websites to make use of social proof in a mass scale were online commerce stores like Amazon. You’ll find user reviews on products throughout their store. More often than not, this plays a major role in most people’s buying decision.

With Facebook’s ‘Like’ button implemented in almost every popular website, it’s become extremely easy to tell our friends if we find something interesting and that tickles them to take action on it as well. In this ecosystem, everyone wins.

  • Facebook gets more people to use it’s service to learn about other places on the web.

  • The website which uses the ‘Like’ button generates more traffic and possibly, more sales / conversions.

  • The user is happy that they purchased / checked out something that was actually interesting.

The same applies on other websites such as Twitter and Google as well. As a matter of fact, the very core of Google’s search algorithm ‘Page Rank’ determines the importance of a site based on how many other quality sites link back to the site that is displayed. While this isn’t the only criteria, it is one of the most essential features of the algorithm. The algorithm is smart enough to count the number of links to a website and also count the number of quality links. What does this mean? It’s very similar to the real world. We tend to believe and follow people with more authority. Google considers a page to be more relevant and real if a popular website (such as Engadget) links to your website.

Conclusion

It’s no doubt that social proof plays a very important role not just in marketing but, also in other deep technological innovations. However, what I’ll talk about is how you can use social proof to build your business and I’ll cover some important aspects on how to do this just right in the next article. I’d love to read your opinion as well so, feel free to share it in the comments section.

[Guest article by Nagarjun Palavalli/Reproduced from his blog. Follow him on Twitter @palavalli]

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