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Hacking Human Nature, Part 1: Social Proof Theory

Watercolor of human brain

Leveraging Behavioral Economics to improve performance and user experience.

This is first in our series co-authored by myself and Zach Gay exploring how understanding Behavioral Economics can- and should- inform your marketing strategies. With each blog post we’ll dig into an individual theory and show how an understanding of these principals can help you develop strategies that accommodate the human brain, influence behavior, and how you can implement these tactics in your website from a technical and development perspective.

Social Proof Theory: The theory in Behavioral Economics that states the influence exerted by others on our behavior, generally showing that people will tend to do what the masses do.

Imagine you need new siding on your house. You have no idea where to start the decision-making process, but you know your neighbor replaced their siding a few years ago so you ask them about their experience and whether they would recommend the product they chose or the contractor who installed it.

Imagine you see a pair of shoes pop up on Instagram. They’re different from what you usually wear, but you kind of like them and you send the post to a few friends to get their opinion of them before you decide whether or not you’re going to buy them.

Imagine you’re at a park on a summer day and there are food trucks lined up around the edge of the park. Most of them have long lines, but two of them right in the middle have no customers at all. Do you assume it’s because they don’t have good food and you get into one of the busy lines?

These are all examples of Social Proof. The behavior, recommendations, trends, and advice of others affect our decisions every day, even when we’re not conscious of it.

The types of Social Proof fall into six broad categories:

1. Expert: This is when an expert in an industry recommends specific products, services, or processes, like when a doctor uses a certain dietary supplement.
2. Celebrity: This is when a celebrity or influencer endorses a product, like a basketball player promoting a specific kind of shoe.
3. User: This is when everyday users recommend a product based on their experience, like anonymous Amazon reviews.
4. The Wisdom of the Crowd: This is when a large group seems to be endorsing a brand or product, like if a brand has a large vocal social media following.
5. The Wisdom of your Friends: This is when your friends and social acquaintances validate or approve of your choices, like receiving compliments.
6. Certification: This is when an authoritative figure gives some sort of indication of approval, like the blue “verified” checkmark on Twitter.

How can you leverage Social Proof to improve your customers’ experience:

• Include testimonials, reviews, and endorsements on key pages within your website, using names and titles whenever possible.
• Use schema markup on any aggregate or individual reviews so that they appear as rich snippets on your search engine results page.
• Include case studies with data points and the performance of a product or service you provided to a client.
• Allow sharing on all social media channels and save positive comments for use in promotions.
• Add logos of any trusted organizations you’re a part of, such as the Better Business Bureau, or publications you’ve been featured in.
• Promote the volume of business you do- number of clients, years in business, followers, etc.

Give your users lots of evidence that others like your brand and use your product- whether they’re influencer endorsements, 5-star reviews, or testimonials of everyday people. Give them the ability to share content and ask others for their opinion, ideally on different types of devices. Your customers will make more confident decisions and your business should see a boost to your performance.

Now that you know the WHY, it’s time to learn the HOW. Jump over to this article by Zach Gay, Senior Technical Consultant, where he will teach you how exactly to implement some of these strategies on your next Sitecore project.

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Megan Jensen, Senior Solution Architect

Senior Solution Architect at Perficient. Sitecore Strategy MVP. Marketing Strategy enthusiast. Behavioral Economics nerd. Experience Design fan. SEO geek. Dataphile. Consultant, idea-haver, figure-outer of things.

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