In the psychology of marketing and consumer behaviour, social proof is a concept used to describe the actions and behaviour of consumers when exposed to online stories and experiences. In essence this is an outside voice or voices expressing what they think and feel about a product or service through social media platforms, influencing other potential buyers.

One extreme form would be online ‘influencers’ who advertise products to their hordes of followers on Instagram or Facebook, where consumers connect with what they already feel about the ‘influencer’ and are guided by those connections to make purchasing decisions.

But in the world of online ubiquity the best example is online reviews. Consumers’ decisions are framed by the experiences of complete strangers and are guided toward (or away from) businesses’ products and services. That’s the behaviour in a nutshell and the social proof aspect is the part that business owners need to understand and action, to ensure their businesses capture and realise consumer desire.

But first, some backstory. Each year BrightLocal publishes its much heralded report on online reviews and evolving consumer behaviour, developed from a rigorous and comprehensive survey. For online reputation marketing experts, the survey often affirms much of what they already know but it also serves as an educational resource in explaining consumer behaviour and online reviews. I’ve written pieces based on its findings before but it takes a while to unpack all of the information and although it’s nearly a year since the last survey’s results were published, I still find new things to ponder and write about.

One thing that got me thinking about last year’s report again was the amount of reviews consumers read (on average) before trusting a brand – 10. Now that doesn’t mean as business needs ten reviews – far from it. The survey also says that consumers overwhelmingly need to be presented with recent reviews. No, what that means, is they will read, on average, ten reviews before they TRUST a business enough to want to go to the next step. The step being the action businesses hope for the most- contact, leading to sales.

Those ten reviews cement the social proof aspect of online reviews and illustrate the reasons behind consumer behaviour to feel the trust needed to want to engage a business’ services or purchase their goods. Those minimum ten reviews are the story that develops trust and if businesses to not connect to that desire then they are under-utilising their online reputations and losing sales – all for the lack of reviews.

Remembering how vital social proof is and how much faith consumers have in online reviews should be all that any business owner needs to know to then do all they can to encourage customers to leave feedback online. After all, reviews are not a one stop shop, they are an evolving, dynamic representation of a business told through the stories of past customers. Potential new customers want to see certain things develop as themes in reviews, for example, consistency of great service and top products that deliver what is promised.

So it’s not enough to accrue a number of reviews and then stop, it’s crucial to develop consistent, recent reviews that satisfy consumer demand. This is what creates a successful business, through boom and bust.