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Persuasive Web Design, Part 22: Social Proof

When we're not sure what action to take, we often look to see what others are doing... and follow their lead. "If everyone's doing it, it must be good."

Social psychologists call this "Social Proof". And, harnessed properly, it's one of the most powerful and widely applicable of all online persuasion tactics.

Robert Cialdini gives a great example of Social Proof.* An infomercial included a typical call to action: "Operators are waiting, please call now."

This was changed to: "If operators are busy, please call again."

You might think such a change would make sales worse. After all, who wants to keep redialing a number and getting a busy signal? But in fact, this single change drove sales through the roof. Why?

Because of Social Proof:

  • "Operators are waiting" drums up visions of sales reps with nothing to do, i.e. low demand.
  • The revised message, "If operators are busy, please call again", makes the product sound wildly popular.

If a product is so popular that the seller can hardly keep up with demand, it "Must be good! I'd better get one before they run out!"

Using Social Proof to Make Your Website More Persuasive

There are countless ways to use Social Proof on your website. Here are a few:

  • Testimonials
  • Bestsellers
  • Reviews
  • Ratings
  • Number sold
  • General messaging: make your product or service appear in demand

Also, if you're selling products through an online auction, it's usually better to start with a low rather than high price. More people will bid, making your item look popular.

One final tip: Social Proof works best when it comes from people we like and trust. And, as I wrote in that previous post, the people we like the most are those who are similar to us.

Next week, I'll cover the fascinating phenomenon of Negative Social Proof.


* Noah J Goldstein, Steve J Martin, and Robert B Cialdini. Yes! 50 Scientifically Proven Ways to Be Persuasive.


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