UX of Social Proof

Joydeep Sengupta
10 min readMar 9, 2021

This is a generalized secondary research on social proof I did as a part of our practice to redesign our Insider product’s social proof widget and what kind of templates we need to design based on user psychology and several user research and psychology studies and articles found on internet.

What is Social Proof?

“When you say it, it’s marketing. When your customer says it, it’s social proof.” Andy Crestodina

People are like animals, they are more likely to do something when they are shown some evidence that others have also done it. This is true, more than we are willingly to admit. This behavior applies in most of the cases and stands true for our shopping applications.

Some marketers dubbed this psychology and translated this into something called as social proof. Employing best practices and industry standards, Insider’s product is also equipped with Social Proof product among many others, to power their ecommerce partners. This is an comprehensive research on how the social proof can be used on your ecommerce business to boost your growth.

Studies Overview

A study by Baron, Vandello and Brunsman was done in 1996 where a group of people were asked to identify a criminal from a line of suspects. They glanced at the photos very quickly so it was hard for them to be confident about their judgements. In the group of participants there were 2 undercover crew members of the experiment. They knowingly gave an incorrect answer so as not to disagree with others, and following them, the other participants tend to follow their lead and went ahead to choose the same person, demonstrating how social anxiety influences someone’s decision making and behavior.

A study found that a one-star increase in Yelp ratings led to a 5–9% growth in sales (Luca, 2011).

92% of people trust recommendations from their peers, and 70% of the consumers trust a recommendation from someone they don’t even know (Nielsen, 2012).

Here are few research studies which I could find, but there are several more which tells us how effective social proof can be. I have curated bunch of broad categories on how to use Social Proof template and how it influences user behavior and psychology.

Kinds of Social Proof Templates

1. Showing numbers

Expose your visitors to huge numbers on anything from your mailing list, customer base, and number of downloads to any relevant statistics that remind potential customers that a large crowd is using your service — so it must be good enough for them. Wordpress, for example, uses this powerful tactic in the headline of their landing page: “WordPress powers 28% of the internet.” Use exact numbers instead of rounded ones to be perceived as even more believable (Mason, Lee, Wiley & Ames, 2013).

Real-time statistics

Present real-time data to your visitors, such as “89 people are shopping right now,” or “The last purchase of this course was 7 minutes ago” to build trust and create a sense of urgency. This is something Insider’s template has been capable of since years and it has been giving quite great results to our partners as well.

Mentioning numbers off-site

So the numbers doesn't necessarily has to be something on your website it could be any stats related to your product or company in past can also work.

Live feed of user activity

Show your visitors that others are purchasing products, publishing posts, or doing something else that’s relevant to your service right now. It’s not only adding social proof, but also enhancing the discovery of items on your website.

Sold out

Have you ever wondered why some online stores leave items that have sold out on their website? It’s the combination of social proof and loss aversion: What others buy, it’s safe for me to purchase, too, coupled with the fear of missing out again. Amazon employs this similar strategy during their Prime Day sales, they keep on showing the deals and products that go out of stock to give a sense that people are running out of time and they need to hurry up to pick up the leftover deals and stocks.

Xiaomi and Oneplus are notorious for holding flash sales which goes out of stock in seconds after their release in South Asian markets and they tend to advertised those numbers in their website too, causing a loss aversion among the users.

2. Testimonials & Reviews

Displaying quotes from happy customers is one of the most used and most persuasive forms of social proof online. Be sure to add a high-quality photo to boost the perceived credibility (Newman, Garry, Bernstein, Kantner & Lindsay, 2012).

The partners already have reviews of their users on their website which can be routed to be used as toasts in the bottom maybe.

Negative Reviews?

This is highly controversial but it does help people make purchase decisions and shows transparency of the brand and the product. According to the Pew Research Center, 82% of Americans read reviews before making a buying decision. Furthermore, we are paying more attention to highly negative reviews than to the extremely positive ones. Therefore, check review sites like Yelp regularly to know what’s being said about your brand and products. If you own an e-commerce store, displaying customer reviews can increase the conversion rate by 207%. A healthy mix of positive and negative customer reviews is more trustworthy and can even improve conversions.

Video testimonials

It’s one thing to read about somebody’s experience with your service or product. It’s another to see and hear someone tell others how much they enjoy it. Allowing your prospects to immerse directly into the world of another customer will go much further in building trust.

2. Social Media metrics

Social share count

Showing the raw number of social shares is a simple form of implementing social proof. People are more likely to read an article that has been shared by thousands. It gives more credibility and encourages even more shares. But, be careful. A low share count can create negative social proof and is worse than no share count at all. People might think that the content you’re providing isn’t good enough. In an experiment by VWO, the removal of social sharing buttons led to an 11.9% conversion increase.

Accumulated share count

Instead of displaying every counter separately, you can show the total number of shares across the different social networks to expose the user to an even higher number.

Subscriber count

Show the people how many fans, subscribers, or followers you have. You can use the official Twitter follow button, the Facebook page plugin, or the provided plugin of the community of your choice. Most larger platforms also provide a public API for developers, from which, alternatively, the subscriber count can be fetched.

Referrals

Attract new customers using social proof by offering a referral bonus for sending friends and family to the site. Recommendations from people we know personally continue to be the most trusted source for referrals (Nielsen, 2012).

3. Influencers

Influencer endorsements

Give your product away for free to people with a high social media influence in a niche area and ask them for feedback. Another way is to sponsor these (micro) influencers to post your product on their channels, or even hire them for long-term relationships as brand ambassadors. Since they have a positive reputation, people tend to associate this positivity with anything else they are involved with. This cognitive bias is called the halo effect. Using a badge beside product description

Several major brands do this, Pioneer shows that their speakers are designed by Andrew Jones right inline beside the product details page. Some companies quote Youtubers and link to their review. Galatasaray Store shows an inline page on their product details page that they are official licensee.

Cosmetics brand show a badge called ‘Kylie’s Favorites’ to show influencer Kylie Jenner’s endorsement
Football Club Galatasaray show a badge that they are official license of this merchandise
Beats show Billie Eillish’s photos to promote her endorsement for the brand

Quoting celebrities

Instead of having someone talk about your product, find a quote from a celebrity or an influencer that supports a bigger picture of your industry. Even if they are not directly associated with your product, showing a quote with a picture of them can add social proof through the halo effect. Some brands like Beats, Nike do this by showing their celebrities photos and endorsements and wearing and using their product.

5. Badges

Formal standard certifications

If your company operates in regulated industries, add credibility to your website by demonstrating that your business meets requirements of national or international standards organizations, such as ANSI or ISO.

Trust seals and badges

If a stranger asked you for your credit card details, how would you feel? Hesitant? Uncomfortable? Doubtful? Such feelings are similar to those that your customers may experience. Establish more credibility and legitimacy by displaying trust seals, security certificates, or association memberships.

6. Sharing

Sharing milestones

Celebrate growth and the accomplishment of milestones with your audience, and thank them for helping you achieving them. This can be reaching a certain number of users, followers, downloads, or an anniversary. Most popular one being Amazon Prime Day, where they celebrate their birthday by offering discounts to their customers, marketing it as its their success too.

Thank publicly for received awards

If you’ve won an award or been publicly honored by the media, show appreciation for such mentions on your social media channels.

Engaging brand advocates

A brand advocate is a person who enjoys your product or service so much that they say amazing things about it. It’s not just someone who leaves a good review or agrees to be quoted for testimonials. They are passionate enough to share their positive experience with your brand repeatedly. An advocate says things with more credibility because money does not drive them. Keep them engaged, and you’ll likely catch more advocates along the way. Here are some ideas: Provide them a branded hashtag that they can put in posts or their bio, give discounts, or just send a handwritten note to let them know how much you appreciate their support. Nike shows the people who are using their shoes and tagging them on Instagram and then they show that feed in the product page.

Customer case studies

Tell an in-depth story of how some of your customers use your product. This technique provides not only social proof, but also gives other potential clients ideas on how to use your product or service.

Backing it up with studies

Expose your visitors to hard facts and numbers backed by research to leverage the expert social proof. Present studies to your potential customers that exhibit the same benefits that your product provides.

Lot of people notion case studies social proof to be only valid for B2B or enterprise products and services but the biggest advocate of case studies in B2C space is Apple. Apple has been producing so much video content to show off their customer stories on their website. Recently GoDaddy overhauled their visual identity where they use photos of their real customers and their websites which they bought on GoDaddy as their banners.

Media mentions

Did a recognized media outlet give you a positive endorsement? Let others know by featuring their logo in a classical “as seen in” showcase, or by quoting positive things they say. Consumers often trust big publishers, so showing that they have mentioned you improves your brand’s legitimacy and trustworthiness. Several e-commerce brands show the set of media companies who covered their products, inline in product details page.

Similar to the media mentions, displaying logos from big brands your service integrates with can also induce the halo effect, which can positively influence your brand’s credibility.

Joydeep Sengupta is product designer at Insider. Insider is an AI-powered growth management platform which help marketers to drive growth. Some of the world’s major ecommerce brands trust and use Insider.

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