Social Validation: How Web Visitors are Influenced by Others

by Susan Weinshenk, PhD

You are browsing a website to decide what to? boots to buy. You see a pair that looks good and then you scroll down to see the ratings. Several people say the boots are cheaply made and uncomfortable. What will you do? Will you buy the boots or not? If you are unsure, then chances are you will listen to the reviews and not buy the boots, even though the people writing the reviews are total strangers.

Uncertainty tips the scale

Uncertainty tips the scalesIn my book,? Neuro Web Design: What makes them click? I write about the tendency to look to others to decide what to do. It’s called social validation.

Is the smoke dangerous? — Latane and Darley conducted research – they set up ambiguous situations to see if people were affected by what others around them were or were not doing. Participants in the research would go into a room, supposedly to fill out a survey on creativity. In the room would be one or more other people, pretending they were also participants, but who were really part of the experiment. Sometimes there would be one other person in the room, sometimes two others or more. While everyone is filling out their creativity survey, smoke starts coming into the room from an air vent. Would the participant leave the room? Go tell someone about the smoke? Just ignore it?

Only if others think take action — What action, if any, the participant took depended on the behavior of the other people in the room, as well as how many other people there were. The more people, and the more the others ignored the smoke, the more the participant was likely to do nothing. If the participant was alone, they would leave the room and notify someone. But if there were others in the room not reacting, then the participant would do nothing.

Testimonials and ratings are powerful — Online, social validation is most in evidence with ratings and reviews. When we are unsure about what to do or buy, we look to testimonials, ratings, and reviews to tell us how to behave. The most powerful ratings and reviews:

  • Include information about the person writing the review – a mini “persona”. This is effective because the person reading the review will give more credence to a review written by someone who is like them.
  • Tell a story about the product or service. Because stories “talk” to our mid, or emotional brain, they are very powerful.
  • Ratings from other readers you think are like you are more powerful in influencing behavior than ratings from experts or from the website itself.

Although people don’t like to admit that they are easily influenced by others, the truth is that they are.

About the Author

Susan Weinschenk, PhDSusan Weinschenk has a Ph.D. in Psychology from Penn State, and over 30 years of experience consulting in usability, user experience, and interaction design for Fortune 1000 companies, non-profits, and educational institutions. Susan has written 4 books on user experience. Her recent books are: Neuro Web Design: What makes them click?, (New Riders, 2009) — applies the latest research on neuroscience to the design of web sites, and 100 Things Every Designer Needs to Know About People (New Riders, April, 2011). Susan is a highly rated speaker and workshop leader. She is Chief of User Experience Strategy, Americas, at Human Factors International and writes a popular blog:

Join Susan and Conversion Conference for a session on “Mind Games: Brain Science & Conversion” March 14th, and a special 1/2 day workshop on Neuro Web Design March 16th. Save $100 on the workshop with Promo Code WEINSF11

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