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Dec 8, 2010 | 4 minute read

The 5 Dimensions of Social Proof On Ecommerce Sites

written by Linda Bustos

Social proof, in the context of e-marketing, is the communication that your business or products are liked by real people - not just puffed up by manufacturer descriptions or clever quips from your marketing and sales departments.

Social proof is effective because today's post-modern, Internet savvy consumer is tired of swallowing marketing dung, and increasingly depends on the wisdom of the crowds and the power of the search engine to size up products and brands before buying.

The 5 Dimensions of Social Proof on Ecommerce Sites

  • Lots of people like this / us.
  • Someone important likes this / us.
  • People like you like this / us.
  • Your friends like this / us.
  • You like this / us.

Lots of people like this / us.

Showing off blog or email subscribers, Twitter followers, Facebook fans or other sign of "social cred" helps any website's reputation. Youtube recently ran this banner, claiming 1 billion subscribers:

Remind you of another brand? (Photo credit)

The ecommerce equivalent to the big McD's sign is the Facebook "Like" button. For example, PC Tools incorporates both Facebook Like and industry mag reviews on its product page:

The pro is it's easy to add one to any web page. The con? No one's impressed unless the number is relatively high.

Someone important likes this / us.

There's nothing like an endorsement from a celebrity or industry expert. For example, Rampage shows off its item featured in O Magazine:

Etsy artisan Kat Swank boasts her handmade headdress was worn by Courtney Love on the cover of Spin Magazine:

Celeb plugs are not easy to get - they require money, a PR team on steroids, a fantastic product or sheer luck. For the rest of us, consider leveraging any rewards or industry recognition you've received.

PC Tools shows off its many industry awards:

Because endorsements are not easy to get, they can make powerful and persuasive value propositions for your brand or product.

People like you like this / us.

Product recommendations labeled "Customers who viewed X also viewed Y" or "Customers who viewed X ultimately bought Y" are fairly common. Because they're "crowd sourced" rather than picked by a merchandising team, they may be trusted more or pique more interest. (However, this doesn't mean they are better suggestions).

Advanced personalization tools can integrate known demographic information, purchase history or profile data to match recommendations based on similar customer behavior.

Moosejaw allows you to filter product reviews to those submitted by customers of your age group, gender or experience level.

Backcountry has built a unique feature into its category pages - "Bubblelicious." Shoppers can see instant updates when an item has been added to cart or purchased.

Though someone may not buy an item just because someone else has just snapped it up, it does give the appearance of activity on the site. In traditional retail, the busier a store is, the more people it will attract. When I worked in a shoe store, we were told to "make a mess" when the store was "dead" to give the appearance that something was happening in the store. Otherwise, people will look in and walk right by. It works. Bubblelicious gives the sense that Backcountry is an active site that many other people are shopping right now - which may have the same effect.

Backcountry also provides customers the opportunity to create their own "Field Test" stories, along with a list of gear used on their excursions. (Great idea for SEO, too!)

Your friends like this / us.

If any of your Facebook friends "Like" Get Elastic, you'll see their mugs in our Facebook widget:

Here's an example from a product page:

These widgets enable "passive word-of-mouth." People no longer have to actually speak to their friends to evangelize products and brands. The widgets will do that for them, and at the very right time!

Likes appearing in a Facebook feed or Tweets in a Twitter stream also lend some social cred. Even Google incorporates tweets from friends (and even friends of friends) in search results. Making it easy for visitors to Like and Tweet with one click boosts your visibility.

Don't forget email sharing. SWYN (share with your network) and FTAF (forward to a friend) buttons are quite common practice. According to Responsys, 56% of retailers now include at least one of the above in their email campaigns, with FTAF more common - though SWYN has greater potential reach.

You like this / us.

Some ecommerce sites recognize returning visitors and display items viewed in previous sessions on the home page:

Other ways to remind customers they "like" (or atleast showed an interest in) products on your site are wishlists, carts with saved contents, personalized merchandising zones (think Amazon's "You Might Like" sections) and "email me when item back in stock" or "email me before this item sells out" reminders:

Does your site "need more proof?" Some of these tactics are simple to employ. Facebook plugins are fairly simple to add - and free. Some are more challenging - like getting a celebrity endorsement. But having a social proof strategy could help you raise your profile and win trust of customers. Make it a New Year's resolution to raise your social credit!