How to Use Social Proof to Generate More Sales

Social proof can be a powerful marketing tool for your ecommerce business.

If you run an online store, you can use social proof to build trust, increase your conversion rate and generate more sales.

So, what exactly is it?

In this article, we'll review social proof and several ways you can use it for your business.

What is Social Proof, and How Does it Work?

Social proof describes the tendency for people to view an action as being more appropriate when they see others doing it. Robert Cialdini coined the term — and discussed it at great length — in his book “Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion.”

Social proof relies on four core principles:

  1. Uncertainty: When customers have many different products to choose from, they can get overwhelmed and feel uncertain about which particular product will be the right fit for their needs. This uncertainty forces them to look for recommendations from others.
  1. Attractiveness: People tend to imitate the behavior of those they consider attractive. This is why many ads feature models and celebrities.
  1. Desirability: Additionally, people have the tendency to copy the behavior of individuals who have one or more qualities they desire. This is why lots of commercials for men’s grooming products (think, cologne) often feature a suave male character.
  1. Similarity: Finally, people also imitate the behavior of those they consider to be similar to them in one way or another. This is why certain products are often marketed as gender-specific, like women’s razors.

Social proof takes advantage of two common cognitive biases: confirmation bias and zero-risk bias.

Confirmation bias refers to people’s tendency to look for something that would convince them to make a decision they already want to make. For example, if you found a pair of shoes online that you really liked, you’d look for reviews praising how comfortable or durable they are or verify that the particular brand selling them is reputable.

Zero-risk bias, on the other hand, is a type of cognitive bias that explains why people prefer to engage in situations that pose no risk for them. For example, making a purchase from a store that offers a money-back guarantee.

How to Use Social Proof to Generate More Sales

Now that you know the basics, here are four ways you can use social proof to boost conversion rates and generate more sales for your ecommerce business.

1. Show Off Your Sales Numbers

Remember the principle of uncertainty we discussed a bit earlier? You can take advantage of it by showing off your sales numbers on your website.

Once shoppers see how many other people have bought your product, they’ll feel a lot more confident about buying it themselves. If your online store is built on Shopify, you can implement real-time sales notifications easily using apps such as Sales Pop Master or Popify.

Another tactic — display the total number of sold items on your product pages. If you’re not comfortable sharing sales numbers, you can show the total number of social likes or shares for your website or product pages. This is a similar type of social proof that can be highly effective in building trust and helping you convert shoppers.

Social proof on RadioShack's website featuring an AM/FM weather tabletop radio
Image source: Radio Shack

2. Encourage User-Generated Content

User-generated content (UGC) is another form of social proof. Customer-created reviews, testimonials and social media posts are all examples of UGC. You can use this content to showcase your brand’s credibility and generate more sales.

As many as 79% of consumers claim that user-generated content has a big impact on their purchasing decisions, making UGC an excellent source of social proof. Here’s how you can encourage your customers to create and share UGC:

  • Email them: Send customers an email a few weeks after their purchase. Ask them if they’d like to review it on your website or share it on social media.
  • Make it as easy as possible to create and share UGC: Simplify the process of leaving a review or sharing a purchase from your website. Ensure that as many customers as possible will go through with it — that means, don't make it a 10-step, cumbersome process.
  • Provide an incentive: You can increase the chances of customers creating and sharing UGC by providing them with an incentive to do so. Great incentives include discounts and free samples.

Once you get customers to start posting UGC, make sure you give it as much exposure as possible; share the content on your social media pages and feature it on your website.

young woman with red hair on a bicycle featured on Vans instagram page
Image source: Instagram

3. Get Endorsed by an Influencer, Celebrity or Industry Expert

Another great way to create social proof and use it to boost conversion rates and sales? Have an influencer, celebrity or industry expert endorse your brand or products. As many as 49% of consumers rely on social media influencers for product recommendations.

For some influencer collaborations, sending a free product to an influencer in exchange for getting promoted through their social media account will be enough. However, many partnerships will require monetary compensation. When working with celebrities, you’ll need to provide monetary compensation in almost all cases, and high-profile celebrities will command more than less famous ones.

You can use different software to find influencers for your product and even use tools to determine how influential they are before you agree to terms. Depending on your industry and budget, paid influencer promotions can be an affordable way to build social proof, generate brand awareness and drive more sales.

Celebrity endorsement as social proof - Ryan Reynolds on Instagram
Source: Instagram

Apart from working with influencers and celebrities, you can also find and reach out to experts in your industry. Use a tool like BuzzSumo to seek out industry experts who may be willing to review your products. Once you get their recommendation, share the review or recommendation on your social media pages and website.

4. Launch a Referral Program

Consumers are four times more likely to buy a product if it was recommended to them by a friend or family member. Referred customers also have a 37% higher retention rate and a 16% higher lifetime value compared to non-referred customers.

Referral marketing relies on word of mouth, which is another form of social proof that can be highly effective at influencing consumers’ purchasing decisions. The best way to take advantage of referral marketing is to launch a formal referral program.

Here’s how to do it in five steps.

1. Choose a Referral Marketing Software Solution

You’ll need a software solution to help you create and manage your referral program. Popular solutions include Ambassador, Buyapowa and ReferralCandy. If your online store is built on Shopify, you can also use apps such as Refersion, Swell and LoyaltyLion.

2. Provide an Incentive

As many as 83% of satisfied customers are happy to refer their friends or family, but only 29% of them do.

Why? Simply put, there’s no incentive for them to do so.

You need to find a way to reward people who refer customers to your business. Popular incentives include discounts, gift cards and freebies.

3. Make it Easy to Refer Customers

You want to make it as easy as possible for people to refer new customers to your business. This will increase the chances of customers actually going through the process of referring new people.

Create a dedicated page on your website where customers can learn more about your referral program. Make sure to include everything they need to refer new customers on this page, including social share buttons and referral tracking links.

Harry's referral program
Image source: Viral Loops

4. Start with Your Most Loyal Customers

Once you launch your referral program, reach out to your most loyal customers first since they are the more likely to provide you with referrals. You can rely on customer lifetime value or your customers’ NPS scores to identify your most dedicated consumers.

5. Promote Your Referral Program

Apart from creating a dedicated page for your referral program on your website, you can write a blog post and create other marketing assets for it. Send an email to your customers, letting them know more about the program and the benefits they'd get for joining. Finally, you can post about it on social media and invite your followers to participate.

Start Using Social Proof to Generate More Sales

Ecommerce businesses can take advantage of social proof in a number of ways. And the benefits are great: You can build trust and credibility, increase conversion rates and drive more sales.

Social proof provides another opportunity to connect with people and get them interested in your product. When done right, this can be an effective, and even low-cost, marketing channel for your store. So, get started today.

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Boris Mustapic

Boris Mustapic is a writer and content marketing specialist with a decade of experience in the digital marketing industry. Having built his own successful ecommerce business, he likes to share his knowledge with ecommerce enthusiasts. Apart from writing about marketing and ecommerce, Boris also enjoys a good book and a glass of red wine.