Marketing and Social Proof: The Invisible Influencer

Why do people buy what they buy? What influences any of the thousands of decisions we make per day? Researchers and analysts throughout the years have discovered a number of unseen forces that can influence our purchasing decisions, but few are as influential as the social phenomenon known as social proof.

Social proof is a psychological model that attempts to explain the phenomenon that influences people to assume the actions of others in social situations. Essentially, it’s the reason you look up when the people around you look up, why you may avoid restaurants with an empty parking lot, and, of course, why you buy certain products and services.

Humans are very social animals. And because we’re such a social species, we’re constantly being pushed and pulled by the attitudes, opinions, and values of the people around us. It’s part of the nature vs. nurture debate (i.e. whether our actions are governed by genetics or environment), but it’s an inescapable aspect of the human condition.

Positive Social Proof

There are two categories of social proof: positive and negative. Positive social proof is a relatively simple concept. When you see testimonials on a web page, that’s social proof. When you read a case study that demonstrates a solution to a problem your company is facing, that’s social proof. When you see that well-known brands and industry giants are using a product or service, that’s social proof. All of these reinforce the credibility of the product, service, or brand you’re considering, and serve to quell purchase anxiety. Essentially, positive social proof is the most human way to raise a brand’s perceived value.

Negative Social Proof

Negative social proof, on the other hand, is rarely an effective selling tool, and often results in fewer sales and a decrease in engagement, or an increase in undesirable behavior. A well-known study, for example, was conducted at the Petrified Forest National Park in Arizona. Researchers Robert Cialdini, Steve Marin and Noah Goldstein designed an experiment to test social proof and to curb the ongoing thefts of petrified wood in the park. Cialdini et al placed two signs in different areas of the park. The first sign read “Please don’t remove petrified wood from the park, in order to preserve the natural state of the Petrified Forest.” This was their positive social proof. The second read “Many past visitors have removed the petrified wood from the park, changing the natural state of the Petrified Forest.” They discovered that thefts of petrified wood in the area of the negative social proof sign tripled. Not only did it do nothing to decrease theft, the sign actually correlated with an increase. It’s a classic example of the effects of social proof, and one that all businesses and companies should be familiar with. (You can read more about their incredible proofs here.)

The Takeaway

So what does this mean for your brand? Everything. Social proof can be an influential selling tool. But it can also be a business killer. Wisdom of the crowd—particularly when it comes to reviews and testimonials, likes, shares, retweets, followers and engagement—often determines future revenue, and even one ill-formed post or ad can have devastating effects.

According to a 2017 survey from Statista, between 60% and 90% of common purchases were influenced by product reviews, and up to 40% were influenced by social media. So, while social proof may not be the sole factor driving sales, it’s clearly one of the key influences in determining brand awareness and advocacy.

So put more effort into your brand’s social proof in 2018 (and beyond). Put more effort into creating a better customer experience and better relationships, and it will undoubtedly create a snowball effect that positively impacts sales and brand advocacy in the future.

Here at IDealogic®, we’ve spent 20 years learning the ins and outs of human behavior, so we understand the power of social proof as a marketing strategy. It’s one of the many principles that guide our Brand to Human® philosophy to help our client partners surpass their idea of success to become significant.

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