How To Use Social Proof To Boost Sales

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Note: this is part three of an ongoing series of psychological marketing techniques based on renowned psychologist Dr. Robert Cialdini’s work. So if you haven't read the others, you can jump to part one or part two.

3. Social Proof (Consensus)

"When in Rome, do as the Romans do."

"Safety in numbers."

Even in the United States, where we prize independence above many other qualities, we still have a lot of proverbs around the concept of Social Proof.

It's a universal human impulse.

Social Proof, sometimes referred to as Consensus, is the principle that when we are uncertain, we naturally look to the actions of others to help decide what to do. 

If everyone else is doing it, it can't be that bad of an idea.

That's an impulse that pulls us very strongly, even if we rationally understand that it shouldn't matter.

And even though each of us thinks thinks we're smarter than average.

Social Proof works even when we understand that it's being used on us.

Here are a few examples you've probably seen:

  • The reason canned laughter was used on every sitcom for so long is that people watching laughed more and rated shows as funnier when it was used -- even if they thought the laugh tracks were annoying. That's also why it's against the rules for the live studio audience to laugh or cheer during US Presidential debates: the effect on TV viewers at home is too strong. (Though the rules aren't enforced very strongly.)
  • Why do nightclubs make people wait at the door, even when it's empty? Because when other people see a line outside, it makes the club look busy. Soon, it really does become busy.
  • Informercials get more sales by saying “If the line is busy, call again” than by saying “Operators are standing by”.

Fashion trends, cults, mob mentality, the New York Times Best Sellers list, and FOMO are all driven (at least in part) by the principle of Social Proof.

But how can startups use this concept to increase signups and sales?

Here are 4 proven, effective ways:

1. Testimonials and customer reviews are extremely powerful. 88% of consumers trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations.

2. Calling out the "most popular" option makes more people choose that one. (Ever notice that it's never the cheapest option? Instead, it's usually the middle one.) 

Here's how Box does it:

Box Pricing page - using social proof for SaaS.png

3. Social media - the number of followers and shares your brand and business have serve as strong social proof.

The whole industry of influencer marketing is built around social proof concept as well: when someone we follow shares something, we're more likely to want it and to trust its brand.

4. Show an on-site live feed of the people who are purchasing signing up, or viewing your product or site.

You can see this in action when you look at a hotel on Expedia. They'll show you how many other people are currently viewing it or when the last booking for it was. (Plus a big emphasis on customer reviews.)

You can use the plugin Proof for similar effects on your own site.

Using the Proof plugin for social proof.png

All right, let's wrap this up.

If I wanted to use the principle of Social Proof to encourage you to subscribe our email newsletter, I might say this:

Join the club.

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Now it's your turn.

How are you going to use Social Proof to grow your startup faster?

Let me know in the comments!