How to use social proof to sell your products

Colin Shaw
Founder & CEO
Beyond Philosophy
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Three ways to use social proof to your advantage - and why social proof isn't always a good thing for brands. 

“If all of your friends jumped off a cliff, would you do it, too?”

Who hasn't heard that one before? We all know the evils of peer pressure from our parents, teachers or, in my case, the authorities.

But what if I told you peer pressure could be great for your Customer Experience? Would you reconsider your judgmental stance against it? Everybody else is doing it.

Moreover, it’s how other people sell your product.

We discussed how other people sell your product with peer pressure last week on our podcast. Of course, we use fancy psychological terms like “social proof” because we like to sound smart. However, social proof, aka peer pressure, is a huge influence on people’s behavior.

Social proof is a concept that people will do what other people are doing because they want to fit in. We see value in doing what everybody else is doing. It’s a surprisingly powerful persuasion technique.

Social proof has a lot of influence when you apply it to social situations that don’t have hard rules. For example, consider this video from Candid Camera (For the record, I am not sponsored by Prudential, but they apparently own the rights to this clip).

Now, some of you probably think you wouldn't do that in the elevator, and you could be right. Some people are not as influenced by the actions of others. Psychologists refer to these individuals as low self-monitors, which means instead of conforming to their surroundings they are driven from within by their personal beliefs. High self-monitors, on the other hand, do the opposite. However, like all personality traits, they exist on a scale, meaning you can have degrees of conformity depending on the situation or the individuals involved.

If you want to find out what you are and to what degree, take this quiz.

Social proof and selling your stuff

It turns out that as customers, we often rely on social proof to help us pick a product, mainly when it is an area we are unfamiliar with or trying out for the first time. In essence, we look for what everyone else is doing to find a place to start.

Marketers use this fact to get your attention to their product. They use social proof claims to draw you to the product and stand out from the competition. A great example of this type of marketing is found on Amazon.

When you search for something on Amazon, you might see a product that says, “Amazon’s Choice.” Here is a search for men’s hair gel that I did the other day.

image

This banner is an example of how marketers use “social proof” to sell products. It implies that Amazon likes this one hair gel with the “Amazon’s Choice” banner. So, if you don’t have strong opinions on hair gel (more on that later), then you might go with this one, especially if you have a history of feeling pleased with the “Amazon’s Choice” option in other categories.

However, in the lower right, you might also see the “Suavecito” product says, “Best Seller.” It implies that most people buy this one—and with a name like that, who can blame them?

So, again, if you didn't have a strong opinion, you might gravitate toward this one thinking, “well, it’s the best seller, so that must mean it’s a pretty good one.”

Now, we don’t know that the best seller is the best product. Just because people bought it doesn't mean they liked it. This point is where reviews might be helpful. However, social proof is what got your attention enough about Suavecito hair gel to read those reviews.

Some of you might be thinking, I wouldn't buy either of these products. One looks like a J. Crew rip off and the other I have never heard of, awesome name or not. I always use Style Sexy Hair Hard Up (!) because I like the way it [fill in the blank attribute here].

Social proof isn't as influential for you here because you know what you want and have some experience with the product type. “Amazon Choice” and “Best Seller” are labels that have no meaning for you.

Three ways to use social proof to your advantage

From a business perspective, you can use social proof to your advantage in the following ways:

  1. Recognize how important other people’s opinions are to your customers. Social proof is a concept that some people understand intuitively, likely because they are low self-monitoring types. Some of you high self-monitoring types might need to look into it a little more. Once you know how people behave regarding social proof influence, you can design it into your Customer Experience moving forward.
  2. Communicate to your customers other peoples’ experiences. People might need reassurance before committing to your product or service. Determine how you can tell your customers that other people have taken advantage of your offer and had a great experience. A practical example of this tip is how movies advertise after they open. The film is almost always the #1 movie. If it isn't the overall #1 movie, then they categorize it until it is in the first place, e.g., #1 action film, or #1 comedy, or #1 animated comedy. Movie marketing companies use social proof to help undecided movie-goers who are unfamiliar with the film decide whether to risk their time and money on the experience. “Well, Joyce, it is the #1 animated action comedy film of the year. Maybe we should see this one.”
  3. Revisit the idea of segmentation. We did a podcast on segmentation also. You should understand which group of customers are likely to fall into a category that will be influenced by social proof. As I mentioned before, there is a degree of this trait in each of us. Some people are more likely to be affected than others, e.g., first-time buyers, people responding to a marketing campaign, or members of a particular social group. Looking at the different types of customers that you have and determining how to build social proof into the message can be an effective way to target your marketing and enhance your experience.

Social proof isn't always a good thing

Many of you might know that I started my global Customer Experience consultancy in 2002, back when the movement began. Not many organizations were doing much in this area back then because Customer Experience was not yet a thing. However, today, almost two decades later, everyone is climbing on the Customer Experience Bandwagon.

The problem with bandwagon riders is that they aren't there for the right reasons. I believe the only reason many organizations are addressing Customer Experience is that everyone else is. Social proof made them do it.

The reality is these organizations are not into the Customer Experience movement, or they are not handling Customer Experience initiatives well. They might have appointed someone to manage Customer Experience for the organization, but the appointee doesn't have any resources or authority to do anything. Their actions do not support enhancing the Customer Experience because they don’t really believe in the concept.

It means these bandwagon-riding organizations haven’t investigated the underlying reasons why Customer Experience is essential or what contributes to the current Customer Experience; they are just going through the motions. It also means these organizations are going to fall off that bandwagon before they do anything worthwhile for Customer Experience.

So, they say they are working to enhance their Customer Experience, but they aren't. In this case, social proof hasn't indeed produced a “customer” at all, just a bandwagon rider.

If your motivation is to fall in with the crowd, to ride the bandwagon as it were, your motivation doesn't run that deep. So, sure social proof can be a great thing for your product, but it isn't enough to create a loyal customer. You might be able to get the customers’ attention with social proof, but you won’t keep it if it doesn't prove out. The best strategy for loyalty is to follow up on any claims or indications communicated through a form of social proof with the actual goods.

Social proof isn't a beneficial thing when you are a teenager who does something dumb because all the other kids are doing it. However, social proof is an excellent marketing tool for getting the attention of customers. Appealing to a person’s desire to do what everybody else is doing is excellent when choosing hair gel or a running shoe or a Sunday matinee at the cinema. However, ensure that you deliver what you said you would or instead of gaining a loyal customer you will only feel a lighter load on your bandwagon as the customers jump off to ride the competitions’.

Follow Colin Shaw on Twitter @ColinShaw_CX

About Colin Shaw

Colin Shaw

 Colin Shaw is founder & CEO of Beyond Philosophy, one of worlds first organizations devoted to customer experience. Colin is an international author of six best-selling books. Beyond Philosophy has a proven track record. They provide consulting, specialised research & training from Sarasota, Florida and London, England. Follow Colin Shaw on Twitter @ColinShaw_CX

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