Social proof featured image

Using Social Proof to build better user experiences

With hundreds of miles open to habitation, people still tend to build their houses close to the houses of other people. No matter the continent, culture or era, this is what we do. We are compelled from within ourselves to group together. Humans are social animals; it is our nature to be so.

Ever joined a queue waiting outside a restaurant because you figured out that the food was probably pretty amazing? If everyone is trying the food, it can’t possibly be all bad, right? That’s social proof in action. We form evaluations about something based on the actions of other people.

Surprisingly this is how people on the internet try new products/services as well. You try out that new food delivery app because you heard from your friends that they got huge discount on their first orders.

Social proof is a psychological phenomenon where people reference the behavior of others to guide their own behavior.

This tendency is driven by our natural desire to behave “correctly” under most circumstances — whether making a purchase, deciding where to dine, determining where we should go, what we say, who we say it to, and so on.

Social Proof in user experience design

Social proof is used for two reasons in user experience design:

1. To deliver credibility. People are more likely to believe that a source may be useful or credible for them if they see other people reacting in the same way.

2. To encourage adoption and acceptance. Volumes of people subscribing to a Facebook/Instagram page can encourage others to do the same. Seeing large numbers of people doing something is a psychological indicator to people that they should do the same thing.

Here is a list of online social proof examples that you see almost everyday –

1. User ratings

Social proof - User ratings

Search for a note-taking app on the AppStore/Google Play and you will find thousands of options available for you right now. How do you know which one is best for you? Clearly you are not going to install all those thousand apps and then pick the best one for yourself (don’t tell me you will! 😲). This is where social proof comes into the picture. You are going to see the user ratings and reviews and then decide which one are you going to pick.

A similar concept of user ratings can be seen on so many e-commerce platforms such as Amazon where you check the authenticity & quality of a product before buying.

2. Testimonials

Social Proof - Client testimonials

Humans just seem wired to put faith in our fellow citizens. That is a big reason why testimonials are such a good example of social proof, and many top companies now feature testimonials prominently on their home pages. Another alternative thing would be showing a list of clients with whom they have previously worked with.

3. Subscribers/followers

Social Proof - Subscribers

Here is a newsletter subscription form showing how many subscribers consume the content and hence giving a sense of credibility to anyone who is thinking of giving their e-mail to the company in order to receive relevant information in their inbox.

The same goes for the number of followers on social networking sites such as Instagram. Most people tend to follow a new account after seeing a large audience who is already following it. Of course, profiles with fake followers can be recognized easily after seeing the user engagement on the things they post.

4. Behavior (Social filters)

Social Proof - Behaviour

Here is Amazon displaying related books based on what other customers (who viewed the same book) also viewed. A classic example of how the behavior of other customers can affect our own.

If someone viewed this book, the others they looked at must also be something I would like.

These are just a few examples of social proof and how they impact our decision-making process. There are numerous other examples that you might come across while using online products in your day to day life!

Testing Social Proof

The power of social proof is undeniable. However, designers must consider the implications it involves. The most significant risk with using social proof is the perception that too few people approve of the piece of content, service, or product.

For example — You see a couple of articles on Medium titled “Fundamentals of Machine Learning”. One has 2.5k claps whereas the others have less than 100 claps, which one are you going to read? Pretty sure a large number of people will go for the one which is most appreciated but this doesn’t mean that the other articles are bad. There may be other external factors such as submission to a publication which leads to more people finding that one article whenever they typed in the search query.

The use of social proof in interfaces has become commonplace in many web/mobile environments. It can be a powerful tool to help you guide users to make specific decisions online and in mobile apps. However, you have to take care of how it is implemented and test the way it is implemented to get the greatest benefit.

Next article: Why you should design for peak experiences?