A Word Fitly Spoken
Do you usually check the reviews over at Rotten Tomatoes before going to a movie?
If you're staying overnight at a hotel, do you check tripadvisor.com or Hotels.com to compare hotel reviews before making a reservation?
Have you been influenced to buy something because you saw that thousands of others did?
These are all examples of ways people use social proof to make a decision before purchasing. "Social Proof" refers to the psychological tendency of humans to assume the actions of a group reflect correct behavior and then conform to those same actions.
This drive is so powerful that people will even go against what they know to be right and true in order to avoid criticism and gain acceptance from the group. You may have experienced a time, for instance, when someone in your group told a racist joke, and even though you didn't think it was funny, when you saw everyone else laughing, it gave you kind of a "permission" to laugh and you did so without even understanding why.
(Then you hated yourself later and vowed to never laugh at an off-color joke again!)
People have always followed the recommendations of others, but now the quick access and availability of obtaining social proof online before purchasing products or services means it's essential for businesses to be paying attention to what's being said about them.
More than that, if you're a small business owner or marketer, you need to think about how you can:
Ignore Social Proof at Your Own Peril
Unless you influence others to see your offering as more favorable and popular, all your other efforts will be in vain."
Word of mouth is still the most effective influencer of purchasing decisions, and today we have options like online review sites, social media, testimonials and endorsements.
A 2014 study showed that 88% of purchasers have read reviews to determine the quality of a local business. And about 40% read reviews regularly.
The study also showed that 88% of consumers say they trust online reviews AS MUCH as personal recommendations. This is great news, because it's relatively easy to track what people are saying online.
Social proof influences almost every purchasing decision we make
As a consumer culture, we've become used to the pre-purchasing drill:
Understanding this, you'll need to take the initiative. You can't control what people are saying about your product or service, but there are things you can do to influence the conversation.
The first step is to get your head out of the sand and check to see what the major review sites are showing. This could vary depending on your industry and whether you're an ecommerce business, retail chain, or local mom and pop shop. Here's a list of some places you need to check (in no particular order):
Positive v. Negative Reviews
You want reviews. User reviews increase conversions, because shoppers are more likely to trust the social proof of others over your list of features and benefits. They will also make a buying decision faster when they see the many other happy customers.
Now that the online buying process has become mainstream, users are more savvy and discriminating when it comes to reading positive reviews. Often, it's obvious which reviews are glowing love fests posted by the owner's mom, and which are based on actual user experience.
Negative reviews aren't necessarily a bad thing...
...for that same reason. Recent studies show that the presence of negative reviews actually increases conversions, because it lends credibility to the review pages. And people who take time to seek out bad reviews are highly engaged in the buying process.
Maybe the reason you haven't checked the review sites is because you're afraid to see the bad things people may have said.
But those are exactly the things you need to know about so you can make adjustments to your business systems or get ideas for future upgrades. Those negative comments will also give you great insight into the pain and frustration of your audience, which you can leverage in your marketing campaigns.
But that doesn't mean you want lots of negative reviews
According to information put out last year by Moz, you could lose a quarter of potential customers up front if they see a negative article about your business in search results.
So you'll want to work to build up a base of positive reviews of your company or products. And since the majority of people are making their decisions based on the local Google+ search results, according to that same Moz study, you have an opportunity to make a huge impact on your social proof strategy simply by encouraging your customers to leave a Google review.
Handle criticism in reviews
Occasionally you may see some unjust criticism that harms your reputation. If the review is on a site that allows you to respond, a friendly reply to the critic explaining the facts will both disarm the critic and allow readers to understand that the remarks were unfair.
Perhaps the criticism was valid. Your friendly, humble apology and promise to rectify the problem will make you out to be the hero.
For instance, have you ever been to a restaurant where the your medium rare steak came out well done, and after you notified your server, the manager came over right away to personally make sure you were taken care of? Doesn't it make you feel more forgiving? Oftentimes this caring manager turns a disgruntled patron into a repeat visitor by turning a negative into a positive.
So even if your blood is boiling at an online complaint, put a smile on your face and type your friendly response, because "A gentle answer turns away wrath."
Now it's time to stop worrying and start intentionally increasing your positive online presence.
6 ways to improve your social proof measures this week
Take these steps over the next several days to begin improving online opinions of your business and products
Why not start implementing today? Post in the comments if you've tried one of the above steps, or something else, to add to the social proof factor of your business.
Need some help with your online marketing strategy but aren't sure where to start? Click here to tell us what you're struggling with.