Missed an episode of Chatfuel School—our podcast where we cover hot topics in the world of bot-building and marketing? Don't worry; we took notes for you. 🤓 The topic for August 14, 2020 was how to get more reviews and showcase social proof for your ecommerce store. Here's the full episode. 👇 Keep scrolling for a recap of what you missed. (Sign up to get a reminder when our next episode premieres!)

Human instinct isn't to trust brands and businesses. It's to trust other humans: faces, stories, opinions, and experiences. Your product may be fantastic, but telling prospects this usually isn't enough to win a conversion. Shoppers know that you're biased about your own offerings—how could you not be? 🤷🏻‍♀️

So instead, they want to hear what other people think about what you're selling. They want proof that real, unbiased customers who are like them have bought and been happy with your product. They want to see that others can vouch for your brand's legitimacy, trustworthiness, and quality. Buying a product from a new, unknown brand is a risk for shoppers, and social proof helps mitigate that risk.

Arguably, an ecommerce brand can't survive without strong, authentic social proof. First, let's find out more about what social proof looks like for online stores, and what forms it can take. Then, we'll hear from ecommerce experts on how to get more reviews and other types of social proof, and how to use it to increase sales.

What is social proof?

To give a more concrete definition, social proof is the evidence of other customers having interacted with a business, brand, or product. Social proof can come in many different forms: customer reviews, testimonials, photos, videos, social posts. It's simply a true story of a customer's experience and/or opinion in any online format.

We're talking about digital forms of social proof today because we're focusing on online sellers. But social proof itself isn't limited to the internet. It's actually a psychological shortcut for making "safe" decisions. Humans are hardwired to seek it, and we do it for more than just shopping. We instinctively look for stories from the experiences of others before making decisions, whether we're choosing a restaurant, a dog breed, or a school for our children. This concept is not new.

“Social proof has existed forever, it’s just evolving,” says Alon Eisenberg, Content Manager at Trusted Shops UK. “My professors at university always said that the best form of advertising is word of mouth. These days, that just takes the form of social media comments and online customer reviews.”

"Social proof has existed forever, it’s just evolving." –Alon Eisenberg, Content Manager at Trusted Shops UK

Why social proof is critical for ecommerce businesses

Before the internet, businesses had to compete with others in the same city or area. Now, the competition is a seemingly infinite number of other brands around the world. The challenge is similarly daunting for customers. With dozens, hundreds, or thousands of online stores selling the exact thing that they're looking for, which can they trust? If you don't offer real customer reviews they can rely on to inform their purchase decision, they'll leave and find a brand that does. 93% of consumers say online reviews impact their buying decisions, so social proof isn't something your business can afford to ignore.

“Think about your own habits, especially when you make a bigger purchase,” suggests Alon. “You want the good, the bad, and the ugly. You’re going to search for the negative reviews as well as the positive reviews. You look for authenticity and for detail.” As long as you're getting voluntary, unbiased social proof from real customers, these elements will exist naturally in your reviews.

Whether your customer reviews take the form of text, photos, or video, shoppers can use it to confirm three things:

  1. This business is genuine.
  2. This product is being used by real people.
  3. Real customers are happy with their purchase from this business.

Social proof and online reviews are an absolute necessity especially if you're targeting cold audiences. Over the years, internet users have built up a healthy skepticism regarding online retailers, and are hesitant to buy from an unknown brand that hasn't been vouched for. They don't want to lose their money, or end up with a low-quality item. That's why you need to show proof that people enjoy and recommend your brand and products.

How to earn and display social proof for your store

The next question, then, is how to get more reviews and other forms of social proof, and how to display and use it to your advantage. Read on for seven powerful social-proof secrets from digital marketing experts.

#1. Just starting out? Leverage your network. 👥

Chloë Thomas is a podcaster and best-selling author of five ecommerce books, and she also advises major clients like Trustpilot. As an expert on social proof, Chloë hears one question maybe more than any other: How does a brand-new business begin to generate the customer reviews that are critical for its success? It can seem like a chicken-and-egg scenario. To get sales, you need online reviews, but to get online reviews, you need sales.

The answer, says Chloë, is to get your product in the hands of any consumers you can find. Even if they're family, friends, or influencers: Give them your product to try out, and have them leave you an honest customer review or testimonial.

Be transparent. "Just say, "My sister tried this out—she’s a harsh critic of my work, but here’s what she had to say’,"” suggests Chloë. “You can be honest that it’s a friend or family member. The simple fact that you’ve got someone else saying how they liked your product is going to be super powerful.”

Street performers don’t start with an empty hat for tips. They get things started by throwing in some of their own coins in first, to encourage others to do the same. Just make sure your reviews are real, and that you’re transparent with how you got them. Then this form of social proof will be every bit as effective as the kind you'll get later from paying customers. It can be just what new businesses need to kickstart their initial sales and start getting more reviews.

#2. Opt for visual proof. 📸

Jameela Ghann understands the benefits of social proof and online reviews better than most. For starers, she runs her own successful ecommerce business, Alora Boutique. Plus, she also works as the Marketing Manager at Fera.ai, a tool that helps ecommerce stores win trust through customer reviews. Fera itself has a 4.9-star rating and thousands of positive reviews on the Shopify app store, so you know they're practicing what they preach!

According to Jameela, a picture is worth a thousand words. Written customer reviews are good, but visual reviews are better. Whereas professional shots of your products don't offer much variety (the same model, background, lighting, etc. in every one), user-generated photos certainly do. That's why Jameela uses photo walls on the Alora site. She displays images from social media of happy customers wearing her jewelry. “Having customer photos with different products, especially for fashion, really helps to show people what the product looks like," she explains.

 tag Dr. Martens on social media
Dr. Martens invites customers to tag them on social media to be featured in their galleries, which are displayed on each product page on their site.

Plus, photos of diverse customers using the product in diverse situations are more trustworthy. It's a way for shoppers to understand who is enjoying your products, and how. People want to see your items out in the wild through real photos snapped with smartphones—not professional, retouched images. Charlie Brook, Content Marketing Manager at Photoslurp, explains why this works. “It’s authentic because we’re used to seeing people post pictures of themselves; we enjoy seeing that. Even when it involves your product, [the message] remains authentic.”

#3. Let the numbers do the talking. 🔢

Jameela also uses customer reviews and testimonials to highlight just how popular her business is. “I run ads that say things like, 139 people recently bought this product!along with a highlighted five-star customer review," she says. "That helps other people to think, "Oh my gosh, I really want this product too!" It’s one of the most effective forms of social proof.”

several forms of social proof
Jameela uses several forms of social proof on Alora's product pages to highlight the popularity of the items.

It’s the same psychology that makes a busy restaurant seem more attractive than an empty one. People want to find out what all the fuss is about. And when done right, it can become a positive cycle:

  • The popularity and positive reviews attract and convert new customers
  • Those customers have positive experiences of their own
  • They leave online reviews
  • Those reviews and the resulting popularity attract more prospects

#4. Use social proof everywhere. 📍

To make online reviews and social proof really benefit your business means following best practices—but it also means avoiding common pitfalls. Chloë Thomas highlights one to watch out for: only using customer reviews on your product pages, and nowhere else.

“Reviews have an important role to play in helping people make buying decisions when looking at your product page," Chloë confirms. "But they also have a secondary role to play, which is almost more important: helping people trust your business. Putting your reviews on social media, in your marketing, on your website’s homepage; it’s all going to help convince people that you're a business they can trust.”

social proof in the form of mentions in their Instagram ads
Beverage brand Recess showcases social proof in the form of mentions in their Instagram ads.

Nuno Sancha, in charge of Marketing Operations at Fomo.com, agrees. “There are a lot of different ways to showcase social proof—why just do it on the product page? You can do it within the cart, at checkout, through notifications like Fomo does; everywhere in your website," he recommends. "If you have a way to build trust, use it! Test it, and see what works.”

A Trustpilot case study found that adding a customer review to a re-marketed ad increased its click-through rate (CTR) by about 45%. It proves the point that social proof works, and that it's versatile. Add it to blog articles, social media posts, email newsletters, Messenger bots. Wherever you can use customer reviews, you should use customer reviews.

"Putting your reviews on social media, in your marketing, on your website’s homepage; it’s all going to help convince people that you're a business they can trust.” –Chloë Thomas, Podcaster & Author at eCommerce MasterPlan

#5. Use online reviews as a resource for shoppers. 🤔

Here's another benefit of online reviews: They can save you time. Honest, detailed reviews from other customers can answer a shopper's questions. That way, they don't have to waste time contacting you with the inquiry, and you don't have to spend time answering it—win-win! “In fact," says Jameela Ghann, "they can answer questions that you didn’t even know your customers were asking!”

Jameela gives the example of a dress on a fashion brand's website. If a customer leaves a review saying that this particular dress is perfect for the beach, it might inspire another shopper to buy it for that same purpose. "That thought may not have crossed your mind [as the seller]," she explains, "but someone looking for a beach dress will really appreciate that review."

Collect lots of reviews and display them the right way (or better yet, give search/sort options), and your customers won't just be answering one another's questions. They'll be actively selling to each other! That's the power of social proof.

Amazon offers the option to search and sort reviews
Amazon offers the option to search and sort reviews. The result: Shoppers can find the ones that answer their questions or address specific topics they're interested in.
“In fact, [social proof] will answer questions that you didn’t even know your customers were asking!” –Jameela Ghann, Marketing Manager at Fera.ai

#6. Personalize social proof to each shopper. 🙋🏽

A new trend in social proof is to ensure that what you show each customer is personalized to them. Jameela gives geographic location as an example. She lives in Canada, so seeing something like Sarah from Toronto just bought this product helps legitimize her decision to buy. Seeing that someone from across the world has made the same purchase simply won’t have the same effect.

“It’s not that I don't care about people from other cities or countries,” Jameela clarifies, “but they're not like me. They're not similar enough to me. That’s why I try to personalize everything I can on my website.”

Tools like Fera allow you to display this kind of proof on your website. You can also integrate social proof into your Messenger chatbot and add a personalized element that way. Let's say you're selling athletic shoes, for example. During the conversational marketing experience, your bot can ask the user if they want them for walking, running, hiking, or field sports. Depending on what they choose, you could then show reviews from users who have bought the shoes for that purpose.

use social proof in your store's Messenger bot
You can use social proof in your store's Messenger bot, too.

#7. Incentivize customers to share social proof. 📣

Some brands are lucky; they have enthusiastic customers who are quick to jump on social media and tell the world about a product as soon as the package arrives. But most ecommerce brands need to put in some extra effort to secure valuable social proof. The key? Offer incentives.

Contests and giveaways, for example, can be great social-proof generators. You could send a post-purchase email to customers that says, Share a picture of you using your new [product] on Instagram with [hashtag] for the chance to win [relevant prize]. You'll start growing a collection of user-generated content that will help prospective customers see how much others are enjoying your product.

“Those kinds of competitions are low cost, and you can do most of the legwork through automated systems,” says Chloë. For example, you could set up the Comments Autoreply Entry Point in Chatfuel (coming soon! For now, use the plugin). It sets up your Messenger bot to automatically respond to comments on your Facebook page posts. So just post about the giveaway, invite people to comment to enter, and your bot does the rest! It can tag users as contest entrants so you can view them and choose a winner. Plus, it can engage users in other ways later on (like offering personalized product recommendations that day, or notifying them of a sale in the future).

Note: Be careful with other forms of incentives, though! Check the laws for your country about offering incentives for reviews, and find out what you have to disclose to your audience. Here are some ideas on how to work with influencers to get legitimate testimonials for your products that way.

Earn proof, get sales

Consumers want to see that others trust and like your brand before they make a purchase themselves. That's where social proof comes in. Whether you're a brand-new shop or a six-figure ecommerce store, authentic online reviews and other forms of social proof are absolutely vital. Source them, personalize them, display them, and watch your sales spike! 📈

Facebook Messenger bots are a useful tool for generating and benefiting from social proof. One of the functions of Chatfuel is to make bot-building easy, so you can get started right away—no code or experience required. Sign up for your free account today. Then, upgrade to Pro when you're ready to scale to unlimited users, enjoy priority support, and access exclusive perks like our private community. 😎

Want more expert advice on marketing your ecommerce business? Get a reminder when our next episode of Chatfuel School drops.