Commerce blog | Ecommerce
Under the Social Influence
March 15, 2017
Confession: Not until this week did I come across the concept of social proof. Or rather, not until this week did I learn the name of this psychological phenomenon. Of course I'd succumbed to the power of social proof—also called social influence or herd behaviour—before. And if you've ever chosen one restaurant over another simply because it was crowded while the other was empty, you have too.
Basically, social proof is when you behave in a certain way because there's evidence that others have also behaved that way. As a marketer, you can wield its power to increase your sales.
In its (fascinating) white paper "Leveraging Psychology in Digital Marketing," marketing automation provider Marketo cites a test by betting website Betfair: To drive registrations, on its home page Betfair tested a "Don't Miss Out" message, an offer of free tips, and a social-proof appeal that prominently displayed how many Facebook likes it had. This last version outperformed the control and the other tests, generating a 7% lift in click-throughs.
With that in mind, I took a gander to see how other websites capitalise on social proof. Sure, any business with a presence on social media is using social influence. But I wanted to see how organisations use it on their ecommerce sites, where people are visiting primarily to shop and not to socialise, as it were. Below are six ideas worth considering.
The user-generated photo gallery
A number of websites—from companies as diverse as fast-fashion retailer Forever21 and home furnishings merchant Crate & Barrel—include near the bottom of their home page a gallery of photos from customers showing their wares in use. Some of these galleries are shoppable, for maximum synergy. Even when they're not, they serve as visual testimonials and an effortless way to tie social channels to sales. And I'm sure the customers whose photos are included feel even more loyal to the brand than they had before.
Not sure what outfit the teddy and the dog in the lower right corner are modelling, but they're pretty cute nonetheless.
Why limit yourself to highlighting photos submitted by customers when you can highlight your customers themselves? The website of art-supplies merchant Jerry's Artarama has a page, appropriately titled "Artist Spotlight," where it presents bios of and artwork by customers. Another page, "What's My Story?" consists of photos and brief, usually inspirational tales from customers. To ensure a steady stream of stories, the site includes a form where customers can submit their bios and photos, and those chosen to be featured online (or in the print catalogue) receive a $15 gift certificate. Both "Artist Spotlight" and "What's My Story?" are featured on the home page for maximum exposure, emphasising the robustness of the site.
What better way to show that you love (or in the case of Jerry's Artarama, "heART") your customers than by featuring them on your site?
Product reviews beyond the product page
Customer reviews are a tried-and-true way of leveraging the power of social proof. Footwear retailer Payless makes the most of this tool by including on its home page a section titled "Our Highly Rated Products" with a carousel of five items. One caveat if you opt to implement this: Make sure the items featured really are among your top rated. One of the Payless shoes on the carousel when I visited had a rating of only three stars out of five. If that's really one of Payless's "highly rated" items, I wonder just how many zero- and one-star products it sells.
Including a customer quote along with the rating provides further credibility as well as additional product information.
Company reviews on the home page
Ironmongery Direct goes loud and proud with its customer reviews: The first screen of its home page touts its 9.4 (out of 10) rating on online community Trustpilot. What's more, it lets you know that these ratings come from more than 15,200 customers, a sizeable number for a purveyor of hardware. If you sell highly visual, aspirational, or trend-driven merchandise, you probably wouldn't want to replace a lifestyle image at the top of your landing page with this sort of info. Since Ironmongery Direct sells a commodity, however, exceptional customer satisfaction can be a huge differentiator, so this sort of quantifiable endorsement likely drives more click-throughs than a photo of door hinges and nails would. Even placed near the bottom of the page, this nod to social influence can bolster interest.
If you've got it, flaunt it.
A user-activity ticker
A purveyor of holiday rentals in Tennessee, Jackson Mountain Homes plays into the "I'll have what she's having" mentality on its product pages with a simple pop-up letting you know "This property has been viewed XX times today." This has an added advantage of creating a sense of urgency, another effective sales trigger. (Full disclosure: I've worked as a freelance copywriter for Jackson Mountain Homes. Unfortunately I cannot take credit for that brilliant pop-up.)
If 33 other people have viewed this home today, it must be pretty good, right?
As anyone who's ever watched Top of the Pops or Total Request Live, knows, trying to guess which songs are the most popular can be a lot of fun. What's more, lists of the most popular songs—or dog breeds, or baby names, or destinations—can instill a fear of missing out ("Oh wow, everyone's listening to that song but me!")... and fear of missing out is, like urgency, a key sales driver. At the same time, such lists provide a sense of validation to those who agree with the popular opinion. That's no doubt why gifts, gadgets, and gizmos merchant Firebox includes a link labelled "Top 50" on the top nav bar of its site. Click the link and you're taken to a page that shows exactly that: "Our super-scientific algorithm feeds itself on sales statistics, social feedback, and your votes—and then spits out a ranking. All of our products yearn to reach the top of the chart, so get voting!" As it does with so much else, Firebox gets the execution right: It explains how the items are rated, which establishes credibility. It enables you to sort products not only by rank but also by "highest climbers," "new entries," and "most hearted," adding a dash of personalisation. And because it anthropomorphises the wares ("...our products yearn to reach..."), customers really are more likely to heart, share socially, or buy these items, or others that catch their fancy.
Fan girl here: Firebox comes up with some of the coolest copy ever, not just on its website but on its social channels too.