What is social validation?
Social Validation is the process whereby we look to what others are doing in order to help make a quicker more decisive decision. This could be choosing which product to buy, or which company we should go with for a particular service. We see the choices of others as strong indication that a particular product, service, choice or course of action must be good, after all it was good enough for them right?
How do we take advantage of social validation on the web, what tools can we use and what exactly does social validation look like?
A simple form of social validation could be a series of customer testimonials displayed on a web page, whereby customers who have already purchased services have then gone on to share their thoughts and experiences. However testimonials are open to abuse, often filtered by the company in question presenting them and seldom communicate all the information necessary to make a testimonial substantially credible or useful.
What are other people buying?
Online retail giant, Amazon make incredibly effective use of social validation. Have you ever sat back and paid attention to their product pages? Head on over to their home page right now and you will be presented with “What other customers are looking at right now” . This is real time browsing information from their site. Reload or refresh their home page and the space represented below will update with new items.
Ask yourself, how often do you buy something based on what others are buying? Why is Amazon constantly showing you the behaviour, buying patterns and what’s popular with their other customers? It’s because all these little tricks help to create a picture of what other people like. Furthermore, once you’ve spent a certain amount of time as one of their customers, they will show you what other people just like you are buying.
Social Validation through Online Reviews
Traditional customer testimonials can seem quite stagnant, however a customer review often holds a lot more credibility for a number of reasons including, they are often written on third party sites such as Google Places, Yelp or Review Centre meaning the company providing the services under review cannot edit, manipulate or distort the truth; furthermore companies offering review features, functionality and services have a legal obligation to ensure only credible trustworthy reviews remain in place.
Websites offering or selling third party goods should be providing the facility for its customers to be writing reviews. It’s one thing to be selling the benefits of your products, but it’s a whole lot better when somebody impartial is doing this for you.
Even if you’re selling your own products, you can provide a simple user poll using free software such as Survey Monkey. For example: “Which flavour of ice-cream did you like most?” or even “Which flavour do you prefer?” A single opinion on its own is not worth much, however when multiplied together the opinions of many others come together to form popular consensus.
Don’t like to follow the crowd? You’re still using social validation to choose what not to choose. It’s extremely difficult not to be affected.
Lets see an example
Let’s say I’m looking to buy a new Laptop computer. I head on over to the John Lewis website. I know enough to know that technology is constantly changing, being upgraded or improved and I also know I don’t really have the time or the desire to learn the precise ins and outs every factor I might want to consider.
I don’t even like Apple Macs and I’m now thinking I should buy one! Note that the more reviews a given product has the more secure you will feel in your decision and the better the social validation will influence a users’ decision. Once stars are level pegging we will then look to compare the number of people who have left a review.
Now let’s take a look at the same screen with the social validation stripped out:
Uh oh, it’s not so clear what I should buy now is it?
Shall I compare price, features? Which one looks the nicest? Apple Mac or Windows PC? Your brain can only compare and contrast so much information before it becomes overloaded. (Quick tip: display your ‘best’ products first; these may not necessarily be the most expensive ones either)
So ultimately what happens? You freeze, overwhelmed with choice you put it off and they in turn lose the sale.
The effects of social validation used correctly on your website will greatly increases the likelihood of somebody purchasing or taking that next step. Help your potential customers make a choice, or risk them not making any choice at all! We’re actively gauging and observing what other people are doing, not necessarily consciously. The more a potential customer can see what others are doing, the more they will be swayed. So it’s up to you to utilise both these forms of customer reviews to leverage sales and conversions.