The Power of Social Validation in Web Design

Few of us are renegade enough to make decisions without social validation— in life and in our virtual behavior.  More often than not, we look to others to determine how we should behave.  Our sense of self is largely dictated by social constructs, and we are all arguably two people; our social selves and our true selves.

It is this behavioral pattern that has made social validation such a strong converter on websites.  Online ratings and product reviews have an enormous effect on our subconscious.   A study by De Vries Pruyn suggested that products with customer reviews can sell up to 20% better than products without reviews.  We gauge credibility and trustworthiness through collective judgment, so seeing a brand or website that our friends “like” makes us more likely to do the same.  If a source we trust has vetted this site, it provides us with the necessary validation and rationalization to make us take the next step.

Content is also very important.  As humans we long to relate to others and find emotional buy-ins into our relationships— both with products and people.  Reviews written as stories seem to be the most compelling because they give life to the writer and give us a glimpse into their drivers to purchase and psyche.

Not only does social validation motivate us to purchase, but it also effects what we purchase.  Utilizing tools such as “other customers also bought,” “most wanted,” or “most popular” are huge converters.  Showing consumers what others are doing in real time on your website effects what we purchase and how quickly.   For example, showing consumers which products are in the carts of other shoppers is known to convert very well for ecommerce sites because we are called to act when we see others taking action.   The emergence of social buying and flash sale sites like Groupon, Lifebooker, and Gilt Groupe has proved the success of this theory.

Most of our actions are initiated by parts of our subconscious brains and we react to the idea of scarcity, belonging and group-think.   Thus, much of our decision-making processes are governed by a series of actions we aren’t even aware of.   Social validation is one of these processes.  As consumers, we think we are making purchases because we’ve made conscious deductions about value, quality, and points of difference but it’s our subconscious brain that is driving here.  And the subconscious, in this instance, is a follower not a leader.  We are not always in conscious control of our thoughts, emotions and actions so when it comes to encouraging website behaviors don’t depend on logical presentations, create subconscious appeals through social validation to get consumers to buy in.

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