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Part Three: Six Principles of Persuasion - Social Proof

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Part Three: Six Principles of Persuasion - Social Proof

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This is the third post in a six part series that looks at Robert Cialdini’s 6 Principles Of Persuasion and identifies areas where they can be used to increase a websites conversion rate. Want to know more about this series?Read the Introduction post.

social-proof-cialdiniWhat is the principle of Social Proof?

Social Proof is a principle that states that people are more likely to take a desired action if they can see that others have also taken the action, it becomes even more powerful if the people seen to have taken the action are similar to the prospect and even more powerful when the others that have taken the action are people the prospect knows.

It relies on our deep-rooted sheep instincts where we are more likely to follow the herd than make our own choices. It is the same instinct that makes us choose to eat in busy restaurants over empty ones, leave more tips when the tip jar is already nearly full or work late when we see others working late.

This principle works best when people feel uncertain about a decision and want to believe that it is the right choice to make, so if they have seen that many other people like them have made this choice then it can drop the prospects guard and make them more likely to commit.

A great example of social proof in action can be found in TV advertising,  there was a period of a couple of years here in the UK where every product appeared to be advertised by some celebrity or another. Brands felt that people would be more likely to buy if they saw their idols/heroes/powerful people using a certain product. The truth is that people are actually less likely to buy from or associate themselves with people that they see as their superiors or people who live completely different lives to themselves. In recent years this has not changed to advertisers using people that are their key demographic in their ads.

So an advert for babies products will now show a normal mum and her child using the product in their modest surroundings as more people will be able to relate to the image, it becomes even more powerful if a group of mums similar to the prospect using the products.

How to execute the principle of Social Proof?

In order to carry out the principle of social proof on your website you need to be able to show that other people have taken the desired action, whether that be buying a product, signing up to a service or simply subscribing to an RSS feed or newsletter.

The most common way of implementing Social Proof is to add testimonials to your website. This is where your current users/readers write a short paragraph about why they are glad they took the desired and why they would recommend it to others. Here is a helpful tip for using testimonials, if you have some information about the visitor, use it! People are more likely to follow people that are like them, so if you know your visitor is male, show testimonials from other men. If you know that your visitor is called David and you have a testimonial written by someone else called David then show that. If you know the visitors age, make the testimonial from someone of a relatively similar age.

Even a similarity such as sharing the same name or being if the same gender can be a key to making the principle of Social Proof more powerful.

The Internet is becoming even more social thanks to the growth of Facebook, Twitter and Google+ so tap into as much data as you can from these sources. If you site has had lots of shares on social media websites show it off. If you have been reviewed in expert/industry leading magazine or websites, show it off. If you have won awards that have been voted for by the public or leading industry figures, show them off.

A great example of something that I have done in the past revolves around RSS subscriptions. A few months ago I wanted to test the effect of Social Proof on increasing my RSS subscriber count. Having people subscribed to my RSS feed means that I know when I post new content on my blog, others are going to see it, so this makes it a key metric for my blog. At the time of starting the test I had 920 RSS subscribers, I thought this would be a large enough number to encourage others to take a leap of faith and subscribe as well, so wanted to test if showing the number of subscribers would increase subscriptions.

I ran an A/B test over the period of one month to measure the effect. The variation that showed off the subscriber count performed 65% better than the version that did not show of my count. I would like to point out at this point that for this to be successful I would suggest that the number of subscribers be over 100.

I hope that you now have an understanding of the third principle of persuasion: Social Proof. If you are still struggling to understand then feel free to post your questions in the comment section below. If you are already implementing this principle why not share the approach that you have taken below so that others can learn from it. And finally if you are struggling to come up with that killer idea on how you can carry out this on your website then post your detail below and I will help you out.


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