Social proofing essential in persuasion, studies confirm

By Chris Lee

Social proofing – the opinion of web users, such as reviews or social media shares – is incredibly important in encouraging others to answer calls to action. Just to what extent has been investigated in two recent studies.

Positive voting

According to a study by the American Association for the Advancement of Science, pre-existing votes and comments on websites can dramatically influence the activity of others when interacting with that content.

The study found that if a user read a comment with a positive score they themselves were almost a third (32 per cent) more likely to provide their own positive vote, leading to an accumulative positive increase of 25 per cent.

The report’s author describes this “positive herding” as being topic-dependent and affected by whether individuals were viewing opinions of friends or others.

“A mixture of changing opinion and greater turnout under both manipulations together with a natural tendency to up-vote on the site combined to create the herding effects,” the authors wrote. “Such findings will help interpret collective judgment accurately and avoid social influence bias in collective intelligence in the future.”

Reviews sites more influential than social media

In a separate study of more than 1,400 consumers by London-based communications company Kaizo PR, reviews websites were found to be four times more influential in instigation consumer purchasing than social networks such as Facebook or Twitter.

Kaizo studied electronics buying behaviour, finding that 44 per cent of consumers reported that reviews websites assisted them in deciding what to buy. News stories (21 per cent) were also influential, but in stark contrast social networks failed to perform. Only 12 per cent of consumers said they were influenced by Facebook content and just five per cent by Twitter.

Consumers were more interested receiving news in computer products, specifically PCs and laptops (50 per cent) than about smartphones (36 per cent), cameras (30 per cent) and mobile phone brand news (26 per cent).

Quoted in The Drum, Rhodri Harries, managing director of Kaizo, said: “We wanted to find out more about the part that social plays in a consumer’s decision to buy. Brands that look at numbers of Likes and expect that to correlate directly to sales aren’t getting the full picture – recent investigations into click farms show just how meaningless Likes can sometimes be. What really works is when brands use Facebook to interact with people who already have a relationship with them and create opportunities for their community to reach out to others – usually not even online.”

Kaizo also found that, although 32 per cent of Facebook users Like a brand on the network, one in five (22 per cent) do interact with a brand “once a month or more” on Facebook.

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