"96% of designers agree" - the effects of Social Proof in design

They like it, so I must like it too.

Remember the last time you toiled between two products on Amazon, one product with 5 star reviews, and the other with only 2 stars? You (probably) choose the item with the 5-star rating and happy customer reviews. This is social proof in action.

Social proof is a powerful marketing tool, especially with the rise of online shopping and social media.
In it’s most basic form, social proof is when a person assesses and matches their behaviour to the behaviours they see around them. If someone says something is good and buys a product, then another person also assumes it is good and is more likely to buy the same product.

When it comes to advertising, this can be broken down to the influence of:

  • The individual
  • An expert
  • A celebrity
  • Friends and acquaintances
  • Wisdom of the crowd

The individual

Customer reviews or testimonials are the most powerful tool in a marketer’s arsenal. User storytelling is a very effective device as anyone reading is able to easily imagine themselves doing or experiencing what they are.

How to use this yourself?

Get a client to write a testimonial and share it on your site, or give your new product away free to a few users to get an honest review.

Product review by customers on Boots Product reviews by customers on store Boots' website. Great reviews increases sales.

An expert

Using an influencer to endorse a product increases people’s belief in the product. If I was to see my favourite designer recommending a book, I’m more likely to consider buying it. This is called the halo effect – when we judge another’s opinions on our impression of them. In the case of the famous designer, you effectively think:
“If they produce amazing work and are recommending a useful book, then we assume the book will make our work amazing as well.”

A recommendation by Type expert Erik Spiekermann Typography expert Erik Spiekermann recommends a resource for designers, making it more likely to be used than another alternative

A celebrity

Celebrities frequently pop up in adverts and brand collaborations. In aligning a celebrity’s brand image with another, they share their brand values. It is important to choose a celebrity that has similar brand values, otherwise this can do more harm than good.
The psychology behind it is due to the concept of extended self, which suggests that we are made up of the self (me) and our possessions (mine). When it comes to buying your next pair of trainers, you may choose which ones to buy based on the celebrity that recommended them.

Kim Kardashian frequesntly promotes products and brands on her social outlets.

Friends and acquaintances

In ‘keeping up with the Jones’ we are affected by the social proof of our nearest and dearest. The need to have the same quality of products, brands and things as those we know is strong. Especially now that a facebook like is shown to all our friends and brand loyalty promoted to all.
People subconsciously like things that resemble them, this is known as implicit egotism. As our friends tend to have similar likes, beliefs and behaviours, when they buy something, ‘like’ something on facebook or follow a brand on twitter - we are more inclined to do the same.

Social proof from friends liking brands When friends interact with brands on facebook it is shared with you as well. Increasing your interaction and future engagement with the same brand.

Wisdom of the crowd

The fear of missing out makes people jump on the bandwagon when they see large numbers of people doing the same. Effectively thinking, “if everyone does it, I should do it”. The effects can be subtle, like automatically following a twitter user with a huge following, or subscribing to a blog that advertises their 200,000 subscribers.

Amazon using social proof to recommend items others bought with your product Amazon uses product recommendations of what other customers bought next based on what you are looking at.

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This article is a part of the Advertiser's psychology toolkit - the psychology of selling and marketing in design.
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Form for thought - A blog about design psychology and design thinking for graphic designers, web designers, ui designers, ux and illustrators. Looking into the psychology of colour, user behaviour and advertising psychology.