William Hinch
William Hinch 26 February 2019

Can a Negative Be Positive? Social Proof in 2019

Getting a 5-star review isn't the be-all and end-all. In fact, consumer psychology is ever-changing and so should your approach to consumer reviews. Social proof not only attracts new potential customers, but also allows you to improve your product or service to gain that fifth star organically and authentically.

In the digital marketing sphere, online reviews are changing. In the past, organizations were focused on stockpiling as many positive reviews as possible, focusing purely on pushing their overall rating towards that illustrious five-star mark.

Today, the psychology of marketing is phasing that idea out. The channel of online reviews is being replaced by a more holistic term – social proof. To take a more considered approach to how we consume online in 2019, you’ll need to think more about the authenticity of customers’ reviews of your product or service.


Social proof is the idea of persuading someone to try a product or service based on a positive review or expert quote linked to that product.

Before you make a purchase online, chances are you check out the reviews first. With 70% of Americans admitting to doing the same before making a purchase decision, you’re in good company. When browsing for reviews online, consumers are looking for two things:

  • A body of people that have used this product/service

  • What it’s like to use this product/service day-to-day

Ultimately, what consumers are looking for is authenticity, and a clean sweep of spotless, five-star reviews does not suggest this. People want a taste of what it’s really like to use that product or service. We know nothing is perfect, and not everyone is going to be happy, but weighing up the pros and cons is part and parcel of a modern buying process.

Rather than doctoring your brand’s online review presence in a quest for five-stars, embrace a wide variety of opinions about your product or service. It’ll add credibility to your brand and make it much more likely that customers will trust those reviews and engage with your product.

Having authentic reviews is one of the most powerful and cost-effective ways to spread the word about your business, and the fact that people are feeling compelled to go online and speak about your brand should never be underestimated. It can be a great gauge of how well you’re delivering your service and can provide you with that authenticity that every online shopper is looking for.


The number of reviews your product has is still of vital importance to consumers. According to business software review site GetApp, app providers who have 20 or more reviews receive an average of 45 percent more organic visits to their app pages, as well as lower bounce rates, longer time on site and higher overall conversion rates.

But quality matters, too. The key when considering social proof is how genuine those reviews are. A review page filled with exclusively five-star reviews, with little or no detail, appears disingenuous and will likely be ignored by potential customers. Rather than fearing a negative review, brands should take a broader approach, analysing them all as part of a bigger picture.

Less favourable reviews of your product are inevitable, but customers understand this. Turn that negative into a positive by applying the psychology of social proof. Your product or service may not be perfect, but real-world customers are adding credibility to it purely by showing they have used it.


When those negative reviews do crop up, many brands wrongly opt for the “sweeping under the carpet” method.

Negative reviews do still have an impact on the likelihood of someone making a purchase. According to Small Business Trends, 22% of consumers would decide against a purchase if they saw just a single negative review. Reviews are a chance to talk directly with your customers, and no brand should be passing up the opportunity to win someone over or show other potential customers you’re willing to help customers with any issues they are having.

Ultimately, it’s best to get ahead of the game and engage with those who are negatively speaking about your brand online. Always head into the exchange with the objective of turning that customer around. Remember that this is playing out in the public sphere, so it’s a chance to show how dedicated your customer service really is – something which potential new customers will be on the lookout for.


Reviews come from all corners of the internet. Aside from traditional review sites, social media sites are a hotbed of opinions which will sometimes include your business. Monitoring them can be a plate-spinning nightmare, but given the importance of online reviews in the buying process, it’s best to have a process in place to monitor and respond to them.

And that also means getting ahead of the game. Brands should welcome social proof and seek to give customers as many opportunities as possible to talk about your business.

Aside from social media channels, consider monitoring the following sites (if relevant):

  • Yelp - Business reviews of everything from restaurants to dentists  

  • Tripadvisor - Travel reviews that include hotels, restaurants, and excursions

  • Google My Business - Claim your business on Google, allowing you to set up a profile on the search engine and allow customers to leave you a review.

  • Glassdoor - Employees past and present leave your company a review regarding their employment

Social proof is something we’ve all been engaging in for years, long before our digital habits took over. Think about passing a busy restaurant and thinking “it must be good; it’s full.” People trust the honest, genuine actions and opinions of their fellow consumers. Embracing and maximizing their use can be a fantastic, cost-effective way to boost your marketing funnel.

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