What is Social Proof? Strategies For Growing Customer Trust & Sales Online
December 9, 2021
Social proof can be a powerful marketing tool for your ecommerce store.
If you run an online store—be it Shopify, BigCommerce, or another platform—you can use social proof to build trust, increase your conversion rate, and generate more sales.
So, what exactly is social proof and how can you leverage it to generate trust in your brand?
In this article, we’ll talk about:
- What social proof is
- The importance of social proof for ecommerce
- How you can use social proof marketing for your business
- How to easily add social proof across your entire store with Shogun
We also show the best social proof examples that’ll inspire your strategy. Let’s dive in.
#cta-visual-pb#<cta-title>Create social proof that generates trust with Shogun Page Builder<cta-title>Dive into Shogun’s highly customizable elements and start building today.Start building now
Social proof describes the tendency for people to view taking 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.
In the book, he wrote:
“We are willing to place an enormous amount of trust in the collective knowledge of the crowd…Social Proof is most powerful for those who feel unfamiliar or unsure in a specific situation and who, consequently, must look outside of themselves for evidence of how best to behave.”
Let’s take a look at how social proof works in more detail.
How social proof works
Social proof relies on four core principles and mechanisms to work:
- 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.
- Similarity: People imitate the behavior of those they consider to be similar to them in one way or another—like physical appearance, age, community, and school. This is why certain products are often marketed as gender-specific, like women’s and men’s razors.
- Expertise: Additionally, people tend to copy the behavior of individuals who they believe are knowledgeable about a particular topic. This is why many commercials for men’s grooming products (think, cologne) often feature a suave male character.
- Numbers: The more people who agree that an idea is correct—the more others will see this as evidence that they too can trust the idea.
What is social proof used for?
Social proof is ultimately used as a means of persuasion to guide people towards taking certain actions. A psychological phenomenon—it has been heavily researched and backed by studies.
Let’s take a look at some of these studies.
Two studies examined the hypothesis that social proof is particularly effective when people have no clear prior preference.
This is either because they were indifferent or experienced a choice conflict (making shopping decisions about products).
In both of the studies, they used social proof to direct the participants’ choices. The results showed that social proof was effective in steering the participants’ decisions.
These kinds of results drive ecommerce brands to utilize social proof in their marketing campaigns.
Social proof helps shoppers feel comfortable purchasing from online stores.
Why is this important for ecommerce?
A survey analyzed over 2,000 individuals in the U.K. and U.S about how various advertising tactics affect their buying behavior.
It found that less than 3 in 10 consumers said they trusted each kind of digital advertising, including: weekly marketing emails, commercials for products during online streaming, search advertising, targeted ads on social media, and sponsored ads on social platforms.
As seen in the image above, targeted ads on social media and sponsored ads on social platforms are viewed with particular skepticism and are resistant to advertisers’ claims.
Another study found that advertising executives are the least trusted profession overall.
In contrast, the same study notes that more than two-thirds of the people surveyed stated they usually or regularly viewed online reviews before buying a product.
Ultimately, research indicates that shoppers trust social proof.
Instead of heavily relying on advertising tactics your potential customers may not trust, invest in social proof to remove the friction and untrustworthiness shoppers experience when purchasing products online.
How do you show social proof?
There are plenty of ways to show social proof across your website. And where you display it usually depends on the space you are willing to make for it on your website.
Since social proof can be both long and short, the length will depend on the type of social proof you use.
Keep in mind that shoppers prefer longer reviews. A study that analyzed 7.8 million reviews found that a review of 500+ characters is 2.3 times more valuable than a review of 20 characters or fewer.
This means that it may be best to dedicate larger spaces on your store to showcase your social proof.
Negative social proof in ecommerce
Sometimes negative social proof can influence customers away from purchasing certain products—but this isn’t always the case.
Research has shown that shoppers are more likely to purchase a product when it has some negative user reviews.
And a staggering 85% of shoppers seek out negative reviews—and another study showed that approximately 6 in 10 individuals said the inclusion of both pros and cons was a key indicator of review quality.
Meaning, brands can effectively use negative social proof to drive positive results.
6 main types of social proof you can use
There are six main types of social proof that your ecommerce brand can use:
- Expert. An expert in your industry is associated with or recommends your products.
- The wisdom of the crowd. Humans are conditioned to follow the wisdom of crowds. When a large number of people purchase your products, it influences others to do the same.
- Certification. A trusted authority from a third-party entity or organization gives your brand its stamp of approval.
- Customers. Your customers who have already purchased your products and share their positive experiences.
- Celebrity. A celebrity endorses your products to their fanbase.
- The wisdom of your friends. People who see their friends use your products are more likely to convert.
Next, we will analyze 11 real-world examples to see these different types of social proof in action.
Now that you know the basics—here are ways you can use social proof to boost conversion rates and generate more sales for your ecommerce business.
1. Show real-time activity to trigger FOMO
FOMO (fear of missing out) is a term used to describe the feeling of anxiety a person experiences when they think they’re missing out on something—and often takes action as a result.
Ecommerce brands can trigger FOMO in shoppers by displaying the popularity of products they are browsing—in the form of messages based on real-time activity. This is wisdom of the crowdsocial proof.
It subsequently influences a shopper’s buying decision and moves them further down the funnel.
Use your store’s live website data to display real-time activity like:
- The number of shoppers that have purchased a product in the last 24 hours
- How many times a product has been viewed
- The amount of stock that a certain product has remaining
This type of social proof gives your website visitors insights into what your other shoppers are interested in and lets them know that an item is popular.
And since FOMO happens a lot—studies showing that nearly 7 in 10 (69%) millennials experience the psychological trigger—ecommerce brands should utilize it in their social proof marketing strategy.
Missguided evokes FOMO by using well-timed notifications on its product pages. They show shoppers that other people are viewing the same product as them at the same time.
Another excellent example of social proof psychology—the ecommerce brand leverages FOMO again on its category pages by displaying tags with the message “going fast.”
This type of message lets shoppers know that the product is selling fast and stock levels may be low.
2. Display certificates and awards
Displaying awards and certificates adds an air of authenticity to ecommerce brands and taps into trust factors.
Essentially seals of approval, they show that unaffiliated third parties and organizations recognize certain products—and that they stand out amongst their competitors. This type of social proof is known as certification.
If shoppers feel they can trust you, they are more likely to purchase. Consequently, it’s best to display your store’s awards and certificates front and center for your shoppers to see.
Let’s take a look at the ecommerce brand Casper.
On their homepage, website visitors can see that their products have won awards for their comfort levels. And since the brand is best known for selling mattresses—comfort is exactly what their shoppers are searching for.
3. Position yourself as the industry expert
When you position your ecommerce store as an authority—people pay attention.
Many shoppers want to purchase products from stores known as experts in their industry and who only sell the best quality products.
Stores should aim to become trusted and helpful expert advisors to their shoppers. This helps your customers carve out a place for your brand in their minds and think of your store when they want to make a specific purchase.
This type of expert social proof builds awareness, drives consideration, and increases sales.
SuitShop lets shoppers know that it has expert stylists on-hand to help them choose the proper sizing and fit.
Since SuitShop sells high-end products, providing this service gathers leads and sets them apart from their competition, who sell cheaper products.
4. Build an online brand community
An online brand community is a destination where like-minded customers and potential customers can come together. It ties together multiple types of social proof: Wisdom of the crowd, wisdom of your friends, and customers.
In this type of community, people can engage with your ecommerce brand, its products, and each other. It helps loyal customers connect with interested customers at the beginning of their buying journey.
This is a dedicated space where members can create shareable and authentic content, and they often share images of themselves using the product.
This type of social proof is ideal for conversions, with studies showing that 88% of consumers specifically look for visuals submitted by other consumers before making a purchase.
Sephora launched their online community platform in 2017 called “Beauty Insider Community.”
Their intention was to provide visitors with an open line of communication to its experts and fellow shoppers and provide almost instant feedback to its customers about products that interest them.
The online community also offers its users the opportunity to join groups. One group connects users with similar skin types, for example.
This is a valuable feature when deciding which expensive foundation to purchase, especially when shoppers can’t test the product first.
Anyone can view Sephora’s Beauty Insider Community. But to post, visitors must first create an account.
Then they have a space to discuss the products they like and products they don’t. This increases the credibility and trustworthiness of Sephora and the products it sells.
Apple also has a forum where its community can ask and answer questions about its products.
5. Collaborate with brands
When brands join forces with other like-minded companies, they align their marketing muscle and interests.
They use celebrity social proof to amplify their message and broaden their reach, exposing both brands to a larger base of targeted and qualified customers.
Keep in mind, it’s essential to pair up with the right brand for the collaboration to be a success.
Brands should have similar goals, target customers, and values.
Fendi x SKIMS is a collaboration between the iconic luxury house Fendi and Kim Kardashian’s company Skims. Many of the items contain Skims typical similar stretchy, sheer material—styled with the Fendi FF logo.
This collaboration helps Skims reach a higher-end customer while introducing Fendi to shoppers who may have never shopped with them before.
BPerfect Cosmetics collaborates with various influencers to create their own collection of products.
They choose influencers that appeal to their audience and sell the collections on BPerfect Cosmetics website.
The influencers also promote the products on their social media platforms—a win/win collaboration that demonstrates the power of social proof.
6. Feature and filter your best selling products
Feature your best-selling products across your website—a type of wisdom of the crowd social proof that will appeal to your customers.
Place them on your homepage, collection pages, or landing page—like a bundles or special offer page.
If your store sells multiple product variations, display the best-selling version. Optimized product filters also help customers focus on the best-selling products they are searching for quickly and easily.
However, according to research by the Baymard Institute, only 16% of major ecommerce sites provide a good filtering experience—and 42% of those sites don’t have category-specific filter types for their main product categories.
With this in mind, there may be an opportunity for your brand to increase conversions further by installing an optimized product filter on your store.
Allbirds features their best-selling products by framing them as gifts—appealing to their shoppers during the holiday season.
7. Display product star ratings under products
Highlight product star ratings on category pages to drive more qualified customers to product pages.
Seeing customer social proof in the form of product ratings instills confidence in shoppers to explore certain products further. Indeed, studies show that shoppers who interact and consume ratings consistently convert at a 25% higher rate.
Birchbox displays star ratings under its product thumbnails—which shoppers see when browsing through category pages.
8. Display a verified buyer badge
Customers are becoming increasingly aware of fake reviews—a process that significantly undermines consumer trust in buying online.
A way to combat this problem is to utilize customer social proof and publish product reviews that contain a verified buyer badge. These trust badges add veracity to your product’s reviews and show shoppers that the review is genuine.
Take this type of expert social proof a step further by allowing customers to filter product reviews by Verified Reviews.
LookFantastic lets shoppers know when a verified customer has left a review, adding integrity to their product reviews section.
9. Show off your numbers
A principle of social proof we discussed earlier is uncertainty.
Your brand can take advantage of this principle by showing off its social shares, likes, tweets, and followers on its website.
Once first-time shoppers see the total number of social likes or shares for your website or product pages, they’ll feel a lot more confident about buying it themselves. This wisdom of the crowdsocial proof can be highly effective in building trust and helping you convert shoppers.
RadioShack displays how many people have liked its products on Facebook.
It has also placed share buttons on the product page to encourage people to share the product on their social media pages.
Secretlab tells users that it has over 1,000,000 happy customers in its Facebook ads copy.
This type of social proof section on a Facebook ad will help drive the best possible results from the campaign.
10. Influencer marketing
Another great way to create celebrity social proof is to seek out influencer or celebrity endorsements.
Influencer marketing is one of the most popular and effective forms of online marketing—with the global influencer marketing market valued at a record 13.8 billion USD.
And as many as 67% of brands use Instagram for influencer marketing.
For some influencer endorsements, sending a free product to an influencer in exchange for getting promoted through their social media account will be enough. However, working with some high-end influencers will require monetary compensation.
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.
Piaget is an excellent example of using social proof in marketing.
It worked with Ryan Reynolds to promote their Polo S watch on Instagram. The post received excellent engagement with 361,584 likes.
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.
11. Launch a referral program
Referral marketing relies on word of mouth, a form of wisdom of your friends social proof that can be highly effective at influencing consumers’ decision-making.
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.
Step 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, there are some great apps you can use to power your referral program.
Step 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.
Bombas offers customers’ friends and family $25 off their purchase—and $20 off for the person who made the referral too.
Step 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 going through the process of referring new people.
Create a dedicated page on your website where customers can learn more about your referral program. Include everything they need to refer new customers on this page, including referral tracking and social network links.
Step 4: Start with your most loyal customers
Once you launch your referral program, reach out to your most loyal customers first since they are 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.
Step 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.
#cta-visual-pb#<cta-title>Add social proof to your Shopify store without having to code<cta-title>Check out all the powerful page elements you can use to start customizing your store today.Start building now
Add different types of social proof to your online store using Shogun’s Page Builder app.
Add certifications and awards
Place your certifications and awards front and center with the Image element. All you need to do is drop the Image element onto your web page and then select “Pick Image.”
This will open a window that allows you to choose the image of your certificate or award that you want to upload and display.
You can also edit the images of your certificates and awards to be rounded. Do this by adjusting the element’s border-radius style setting.
Add product reviews
To display customer reviews with the Product Reviews element, you first need to drag the Product Box onto your page and choose a product.
Next, pull the Product Reviews element.
From there, you can further customize your product reviews—including the design, so they match your store and how many you want to display.
Highlight positive social proof in quotes with the Slider element.
Very easy to use—simply drag it onto your page.
Since you can insert other elements into the Slider—it’s easy to get creative when designing the look of your quotes.
You can even insert the Button element, like below.
Add video testimonals
Once you upload your customer video testimonials to YouTube and Vimeo—add them to your Shopify store in a few steps with Shogun Page Builder.
Simply drag the Video element onto your web page. With this element, you can literally place a video anywhere on your page.
Then paste the URL of your video into the Video URL field.
The video plays on the live page and not the editor.
Start using social proof to generate more sales
Ecommerce businesses can take advantage of social proof in several ways.
And as the social proof statistics in this post back up—the benefits are great—you can build trust and credibility, increase conversion rates, and drive more sales.
The use of social proof provides another opportunity to connect with people and get them interested in your products.
This can be an effective and even low-cost marketing channel for your store when done right. So, get started today.
#cta-visual-pb#<cta-title>Start adding social proof to your store with Shogun Page Builder<cta-title>Drag and drop powerful page elements into place to build your perfect Shopify store.Try out Shogun for free
Michelle Deery is a writer and strategist for B2B SaaS companies. She writes content that helps brands convert visitors into paying customers.