70% of Americans say that they look at reviews before they purchase and 90% of customers say that their decision was based on the reviews they read prior to purchasing. Online reviews and other forms of social proof form an important part of a business’ social media marketing. However, as we are talking about the human behaviour of making a purchase, be it online or offline shopping, then we need to consider the psychology of reviews and social proof.
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Types of social proof
When we think about social proof, we think of reviews and testimonials; however it can extend to such things as posts, videos, and brand ambassadors. In fact, there are five main types of social proof: Expert, Celebrity, User, Crowd, & Friends.
The expert social proof is based upon our opinion of the person or brand providing the proof. This social proof is generally seen in the form of endorsements, comments, and paid ads. These work on the psychology underpinning the ‘like, know, & trust’ effect. It builds upon the relationship that the expert already holds with the customer & uses their underpinning belief that the expert knows so it must be good.
Celebrity social proof uses the customer’s self-perception and their desire to improve their position. This is where businesses can use brand ambassadors to promote their products. They do not need to use A-list celebrities, anyone who their client looks up to will have this aspirational effect.
A good example is Oprah’s Book Club, any book listed has become best sellers.
This is what businesses classically know as social proof. These are the reviews, stars etc. seen on Facebook pages, Yelp, TripAdvisor, Google, and Whirlpool. Psychologically these allow us to put ourselves in someone else’s shoes. We are able to imagine their experience. This social proof concept draws directly from the psychology of the collective conscience.
The crowd effect of social proof marries in with the User form of social proof. However, it pulls upon the psychology of the Fear Of Missing Out (FOMO). This is where businesses can use numerics, through number of items sold, to encourage buying behaviour.
Friends are an incredible influence online. Just think to your own activities, how often do you ask friends about specific brands via social media? Consider how you feel if a friend has an adverse experience with a particular brand. Businesses can dig deeper into the psychology of Friends social proof as it also applies to people we perceive to be like ourselves.
Why people provide Social Proof
There are six main reasons why people give social proof: Altruism, Reward, Influence, Complaint, Loyalty, & Fame.
Customers will give you reviews because they want to help and they like to feel valued. In fact, just doing this can make them feel happy long after the actual event. Additionally, the act of providing the social proof can reaffirm the benefits they received from the purchase and reinforce that they made the right decision.
Some customers will provide reviews because they will receive something in return (discount, free items). This is where Brand Ambassadors fit, you send them items to use either free or heavily discounted in return for their endorsement.
Some people will provide reviews & feedback so that they can influence (change) the product or service. They are sometimes doing this altruistically, so that others will not have to share their experience, or so that their experience is improved in the future. (social listening)
Self-explanatory, but some people do just like to complain. While this one causes the most anxiety for businesses, showing that you can positively turn around a negative experience not only influences the behaviour of those making the complaint, but also those reading it.
This seems to be the pinnacle of desired customer behaviour. Brand loyal customers will spread their message far and wide. They will do it purely because they believe in your business & message. These people are most likely to be your ideal client.
Some people will leave reviews in the hope of becoming famous. Now this could be with their actual comment going viral, think of the Haribo reviews on Amazon. It can also be people posting pictures of themselves using your product in the hope that they will be seen by your followers. This ties nicely into the ‘Friends’ form of social media, particularly as this type of social proof is most effective when accompanied with a photo.
How can businesses use psychology of reviews in their social media marketing
Psychologists know that people are most likely to remember either the first or last few things they see or hear. This is called the primacy & recency effect. This is why large review driven sites will list the best reviews first. Businesses can benefit by doing the same. You can even keep negative reviews when using this format as psychologists have found that so long as people read positive reviews first, negative reviews will not adversely impact on their buying behaviour.
It is better however to not list any social proof than little social proof. Some suggest a minimum of 10 pieces of social proof. When customers see low levels of social proof they perceive the business as being ‘new’, ‘untrustworthy’, ‘or ‘not being used by others’. This goes against the psychology of Crowd social proof.
Likewise, businesses should be wary of 1 & 5 star reviews. These polar reviews can be seen by customers as either being too good to be true and as review numbers grow they can be perceived as less credible (especially if there aren’t comment accompanying the review). There is a psychology behind reviewers who give polar reviews, in so far that people will tend to exaggerate their views so as to compete for influence & the attention of the business.
In the end businesses need to remember that their reviews will be read and will be used by their customers to reinforce their underlying beliefs about the business. Negative reviews will reinforce negative perceptions and positive reviews reinforce positive perceptions. These perceptions & beliefs drive your customer’s behaviour to purchase from your business.