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Patrick Walsh, Stilorgan, Dublin, Ireland

Social proofing is said to be a very powerful tool in persuading people to make a purchase or get potential customers further down a purchase funnel.

 

Social proof is the concept that people will conform to the actions of others under the assumption that those actions are reflective of the correct behaviour. Ed Hallen

In the online world this manifests itself in the form of customer testimonials, user ratings and reviews, endorsements, number of likes etc, all with a view to persuade you to use purchase a product or service.

But how effective is it, does anyone actually believe it anymore? Is most of it just astroturfing?

Astroturfing is the deceptive practice of presenting an orchestrated marketing or public relations campaign in the guise of unsolicited comments from members of the public. Thanks google!

Basically manipulating you into picking a product or service, false grass roots hence: astroturfing. For those of you who are not familiar with the term here is a great Ted talk about astroturfing from Sharyl Attkisson

Social proofing a test

Recently we conducted user testing on a service we were updating, there were many new features and a whole new interface, all very exciting! Within the booking funnel we had some genuine positive comments from former customers of the service. This was an attempt to reassure potential customers of the service of the benefits. Over the course of the user testing it became apparent that the comments were being dismissed as fabrication. Our social proofing was not working (fortunately they did like many of the new features)!

So should social proofing be used?

Well yes and there are appropriate ways of using it but comes down to credibility and timing.

Credibility is becoming more of an issue. Clearly in our testing the testimonials had no resonance with the user. If people know there are genuine customers scoring or leaving the comments they are more likely to believe them, that stands to reason. We clearly have a credibility gap. There are many examples online where credibility is not an issue and trust has been built up or earned like: chainreactioncycles.com where you are asked to leave a review after you have made a purchase. Therefore making sure only actual customers can leave a review. Boden.co.uk, jcrew.com all have similar practice. Community review sites like trustpilot and reviewcentre should be viewed with a degree of scepticism as not only can the reviews be bogus and the presentation can be curated so you may not be getting the full picture.

Timing is also critical, use your social proofing sparingly and appropriately or not at all as the case may be! The only real way to find out where to put it and what type to use is to test the location on your shopping funnel or page. There is probably a good reason why so much of the social proofing is in close proximity to the product or the payment sections.

Back to the drawing board

In our own case we have to go back to the drawing board and reassess how we implement social proofing. Likely do an A/B test to see if it makes any difference. There are a number ways to use social proofing and many sites that implement it very well. Think of sites you shop on regularly and I would be very surprised if some of them did not have well integrated social proofing in their shopping funnel, perhaps you are not even aware of it. The good ones will all have a common thread credibility and timing.