Social Validation: How Testimonials and User Reviews Influence our Choices

That humans are party to a complex social environment is of no question. Now take this social environment online and place it under the influence of designers and marketers. The marketers are the architects of the wry smile that creeps onto your face when Facebook advertises products “Liked” by your friends; the designers are the ones providing easy access to the opinions of your peers on any commodity under the sun. And that’s just the tip o’ the berg.

This is not manipulation; this is about applying the concept known as social validation to our purchasing habits to inform our decisions and make better choices about whatever awesome product we’re currently coveting—water resistant iPad for the shower? Yes please!

Jason Schwartzmann. With iPad. In the shower

When browsing online, the most helpful applications of social validation take the form of testimonials and user reviews. Did you know that if a particular item is accompanied by a user’s recommendation it sells 20% more often by volume than items without a recommendation? And while we rarely think of e-commerce sites as social networks, it should be of no surprise that nearly all of the decisions we make about products and services online are influenced by these subtle indicators of social validation.

Social Validation at work

It’s astounding to consider that these reviews are written by complete strangers, many of whom have no stake in whether you buy whatever they’ve bought. Free marketers might like to chime in with a favorite Ayn Rand quote, but there’s definitely a science behind these observations—and where abouts might you find scientists in the field of good design? (Hint, starts with a K, ends with andM!).