Social proof is a buzzword that has been floating around for some time now, and the term is gathering ever-increasing momentum in online marketing circles. The idea that someone else’s experience will somehow help us predict our own is something that online marketers or small business owners, should not be ignoring. However, there’s a growing consensus that being a star student won’t necessarily make you the most popular kid in school.

Why social proof is important

Sticking with the schoolyard analogy, social proof equates to buying a particular pair of shoes simply because the ‘cool kids’ are wearing them or getting Nike’s swoosh logo shaved into the back of our heads (this probably says a lot about my schoolyard).

So how does all of this fit into online marketing? If you can convince your potential customers that plenty of other people are using your product – service or software – and are happy with it, then you stand a much better chance of persuading them to get onboard. The message that we are trying to transmit is: a lot of people are wearing our shoes so it´s about time you were wearing them too. The shoes being our respective products, of course.

The folks over at Power Reviews tell us that more than 70 percent of Americans claim to look at online reviews before making a purchase decision and, reporting similar numbers, Search Engine Journal found that around 63 percent of consumers are “more likely to purchase from a site if it has product ratings and reviews”. To put it another way: if your product doesn’t have any online reviews, you could be sending away 60-70 percent of your potential market. 

At GetApp, we help people find the right SaaS (Software as a Service) solution and have seen the increasing importance of online reviews when it comes to making your purchasing decision. For example, app providers who have 20 or more reviews receive an average of 45 percent more organic visits to their GetApp listing page compared to those who have just one to five reviews. Using the same comparisons as above, those providers with more reviews also see lower bounce rates, longer time on site, and higher overall conversion rates.

Negative is the new positive

Image illustrating both a positive and a negative user review

Obtaining a good result from your consumer review efforts, however, is not quite as simple as getting as many positive reviews as possible. In their 2001 personality and social psychology review, when discussing how negativity can contaminate positivity, Rozin & Royzman quote the old Russian adage: “A spoonful of tar can spoil a barrel of honey, but a spoonful of honey does nothing for a barrel of tar.” According to the adage’s interpretation of human psychology, we should be fearful of any negative reviews as they could ‘spoil’ our ‘barrel of honey.’ However, certain research says that, not only should we not be fearful of negative reviews, but we should also be cautious of the perfect 5-star score.

The Guardian summed up this research quite well and suggests that 5-star reviews, representing the maximum star rating, could be ignored by online shoppers. The suggestion is that when we see a 5-star review we sub-consciously ask ourselves, “Can it be true that there is absolutely nothing negative to say?” If we were to answer this (albeit rhetorical) question, the answer would probably be “no” and we would therefore assume the review to be less credible.

What all of this teaches us is that we should refrain from curating our reviews and avoid the ‘sweeping under the carpet’ of negative comments. Instead, we should accept negative reviews as a way to create the feeling of a more honest, credible and an ultimately more ‘real’ buying experience. Essentially, your potential customers will believe your positive reviews when they know that negative reviews exist.

Something that we encourage here at GetApp, is for our app providers to proactively respond to their user reviews, especially the not-so-positive ones. Insightly, an online CRM app, has historically done this very well and provides some great responses to user concerns. A structured approach to responding to the users’ questions, some useful suggestions, and a contact email address at the end of the post seems to be the magic formula. Insightly, by the way, currently have a solid 4 out of 5 star rating on GetApp, so the strategy seems to be working well. Loretta Jones, the VP of Marketing at Insightly backs up the company´s approach by saying ¨there’s always going to be fans and detractors of every application. I think that feedback and lessons from both sides help you to continue moving forward and improve your product.”

A new approach to social proof

While psychology is far from straightforward, there are clearly some key things we can take away from the experience of businesses trying to get their product or service noticed in what is, undeniably, a very noisy space. When planning our strategies (and, yes, we should have them) for gathering more consumer reviews, we should try to think beyond just getting our happy customers to leave generic, positive feedback with a 5-star rating. Instead, we should encourage an open and honest discourse without the fear of hearing bad things about ourselves.

Working in a small or medium-sized business yourself, it is very likely that you use various cloud-based apps on a daily basis. Perhaps you use an HR management app to keep your staff processes organized or a CRM (Client Relationship Management) app to streamline your customer communications. If you’ve ever benefitted from another user’s opinion yourself, we would encourage you to share your thoughts about the apps you use on a daily basis. Head over to our How to leave a software review page now.