While social proof is not a new phenomenon, its manifestation in the digital world has interesting effects and implications in terms of commercial attitudes and behaviors.
Evidence of the new power of social proof in commercial situations is everywhere—take Yelp! or Rotten Tomatoes for example. Millions of people now use social and interactive sites like these to help them make decisions about the products and services they buy. What is significant is that these digital opinions now have the power to upset the impact of traditional marketing and sales techniques.
Let’s look at Rotten Tomatoes. They have a score system that gives movies ratings by percentages. Having 75% positive reviews from registered movie critics makes a movie “Certified Fresh”. From a small startup in 1999, Rotten Tomatoes’ reviews and ratings are now “known to substantially affect the commercial success of many films,” and “Certified Fresh” stickers are now placed on the packaging of DVDs as a marketing tactic (Ross W. Martin).
The success of Rotten Tomatoes and similar sites shows us a couple of things. First is the growing distrust we have of traditional sources of information. Rather than listening to corporations who are always going to say their products and services are great, consumers are now starting to prefer to choose their purchases based on opinions they see as being more authentic and credible. This type of shift spans all industries and markets. In essence, consumers everywhere know they don’t have to listen to the industry equivalent of the ‘greasy car salesman’ anymore.
Consumers now want to feel educated and empowered when making buying decisions, and that cannot happen when they feel that they are ‘being sold’. As sociologists Gary Allen Fine and others have noted, “even when information becomes available from official sources, it will be believed only if people regard these sources as credible. When people view official sources as suspect or untrustworthy, they become increasingly likely to seek information from informal or unofficial sources.”
This brings us to the second thing sites like Rotten Tomatoes show us—the power of using social proof as a sales and marketing tactic. By letting other ‘indirect’ or ‘unofficial’ sources do the talking in your marketing content, you gain instant credibility. “Certified Fresh” stickers are a great example, and today’s smart companies are now finding many other new and inventive ways to leverage social proof through their sales and marketing campaigns.
Many companies who are using social proof in this way are doing so because they are seeing certain market trends develop:
- Over 70% of Americans say they look at product reviews before making a purchase. (Social Commerce Stats)
- Nearly 63% of consumers indicate they are more likely to purchase from a site if it has product ratings and reviews. (Search Engine Journal)
These statistics show that social proof is now a strong motivating factor in purchase decisions, and companies who demonstrate this through reviews and other means have an advantage over companies whose marketing tactics are purely promotional.