Using “social proof” to improve user experience

With many unpopulated areas to live in, people still tend to build their homes close to other people’s homes. It doesn’t matter what continent, culture or era, this is what we are doing. The need to unite within us. People are social animals; this is our nature.

Ever queued up outside a restaurant because you realized the food was probably going to be pretty good? If everyone wants to try this food, it can’t be bad, right? This is social proof in action. We form estimates about something based on the actions of other people.

Surprisingly, this is how people on the Internet try new products / services. You have tried this new food delivery app because you heard from your friends that they are getting a huge discount on their first orders.

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

This tendency is driven by our natural desire to behave “right” most of the time – whether it’s buying, deciding where to dine, determining where we should go, what we say, who we say it to, and so on.

Social proof in UX design

Social proof is used in UX design for two reasons:

  • To build trust. People are more likely to believe that a source can be helpful or trustworthy if they see other people react in the same way.
  • To make a decision. Many people following a Facebook / Instagram page can encourage others to do the same. Seeing how many people are doing something is an indicator that they should probably do the same.

Here is a list of examples of social proof that you see almost every day –

User ratings

App store ratings & reviews

Search for note-taking app in AppStore / Google Play and you will see thousands of options available for download right now. How do you know which one is better? Obviously, you won’t install all those thousands of apps and then pick the best one (don’t say you do that!?). This is where social proof comes in.

You will see user ratings and reviews, and then decide which of the options you choose.

A similar concept of user ratings can be seen on many e-commerce platforms like Amazon, where you verify the authenticity and quality of a product before purchasing.

Testimonials

Using
Customer Reviews

It seems that people just want to trust the same users. This is the reason testimonials are a good social proof tool, and many top companies now post testimonials on their homepages. Another alternative would be to show a list of clients they have previously worked with.

Subscribers / Followers

Using
Subscribers to the newsletter

Here is a newsletter sign up form showing how many people have already signed up, it inspires confidence to anyone who is thinking of handing over their email to the company to receive the newsletter.

The same goes for the number of followers on social networks like Instagram. Most people tend to follow a new account if they see that it has a large audience of followers. Of course, there are profiles with a fancied audience, but they are easy to recognize by looking at the post statistics.

Behavior (Social Filters)

Using

Amazon shows linked books, this data is based on what other users have viewed (who have viewed the same book). A classic example of how the behavior of other users can affect ours.

“If someone has looked at this book, then other books that they have watched, I may like.”

These are just a few examples of social proof and how it affects our decision making. There are tons of other examples you can come across when using online products in your daily life!

Social proof testing

The power of social proof is undeniable. However, there are many nuances that designers have to consider.

The most important thing when using social proof is to understand that too few people are evaluating a content, service, or product.

For example, you see a couple of articles on Medium called Machine Learning Fundamentals. One has 2.5k claps and others have less than 100, which one are you going to read? I’m sure a large number of people will choose the one that they rated the most, but that doesn’t mean that other articles are bad. There may be other external factors, such as submitting to a post, which leads to more people finding that particular article when they make a search query.

The use of social proof in interfaces has become commonplace in many web / mobile products. It can be a powerful tool to help guide users to make specific decisions. But you need to think about how to implement this, and test possible options to get the maximum benefit.

Translation: Yunusov Pavel

Author: Clark Douglas

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