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Social Proof: How to Use It to Engage Users

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October 13, 2022

You know “the proof is in the pudding,” but did you know the proof is also in the social?

Recently, we shared insight on how nonprofits, associations, and other humanitarian organizations can use FoMO marketing, without losing their integrity. Now, we dive into another part of marketing psychology—social proof—and how you can combine it with your usability efforts to build and engage audiences.

What social proof means

Coined in 1984 by psychologist Robert Cialdini, the term social proof refers to the phenomenon that people tend to do what others do. In other words, as humans, we’re wired to conform and to follow in the crowd’s footsteps. Social proof, then, is not unlike the concept of a herd mentality, and when users visit your website or one of your social media platforms, you can bet that the behaviors of others will influence them, while helping them trust you as a viable partner.

“We view a behavior as more correct in a given situation to the degree that we see others performing it,” writes Cialdini in his book Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion. In this sense, most users imitate the actions of others, while a small segment of users serve as initiators, who break out and act on their own accord. “Since 95 percent of the people are imitators and only five percent initiators, people are persuaded more by the actions of others than by any proof we can offer,” he argues.

Marketers have, for decades, used Cialdini’s ideas about imitators and human behavior to build and retain their client, member, or customer base and boost sales. And the concept applies to usability, too. Consider, for instance, that your users are more likely to visit and explore your site, sign up for your newsletter, apply for a membership—or take any number of steps along your sales funnel—if you can demonstrate social proof. But how can you do that in a website, landing page, or social media platform?

How to use social proof

In digital media and even print marketing, social proof takes many forms, ranging from member or customer reviews, ratings, and testimonials to awards, accolades, press coverage, endorsements, case studies, user-generated content, influencer marketing, partnerships, and milestones. Say, for example, that your association just reached the milestone of 5,000—or even 50,000—members. Displaying that number in a prominent place on your website can send the message to users that “others are joining—they should, too.” Likewise, sharing regular case studies of your work with clients reveals the gains other organizations are experiencing through their partnership with you, pushing the point: “They’re benefitting. Why shouldn’t you?”

While major brands might hire celebrities to endorse their products (think: Michael Jordan and Nike, or Jennifer Aniston and Aveeno), you can integrate social proof into your digital assets in far less expensive, more practical ways. The key is to think strategically and creatively, while making social proof part of your overall marketing and usability plans.

Ask yourself questions like:

Keep in mind, too, that social proof is part of the user experience, and the last thing you want to do is use it in a way that detracts from usability or elicits a negative reaction. While users typically look for and respond well to various forms of social reassurance, they can get overwhelmed by an inundation of social proof—and even view it as overkill. For these reasons and others, usability testing is critical. With testing, you can shore up your social proofing efforts and know with more certainty how your efforts land with users. You can also avoid taking up real estate better used for other purposes or interfering with performance elements like load time, all of which affect the user experience—and your ability to attract and retain clients, members, patients, and customers.

Combining marketing and usability effectively isn’t easy and involves broad expertise and experience. At Astriata, our consolidated skills in marketing, usability, design, and technology make us unique. Reach out to learn how we can help.

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