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The Psychology: How Reviews Can Be As Powerful As Influencer Marketing

Roisin Henden

There are multiple Psychological mechanisms influencing our decisions – and your customers are driven by these factors to either purchase from you or not. There’s something that Reviews and new trends like Influencer Marketing have in common – and it’s that they use the same mechanisms to guide your customers to your business and convince them that you’re valuable and trustworthy.

The Magic Of Social Proof

Cialdini’s Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion takes a look at the principle of social proof, where he finds that “we view a behaviour as more correct in a given situation to the degree that we see others performing it”. So basically, we assume that the people around us have more knowledge about how we should behave or what decision we should make. Social proof is most prominent in ambiguous situations, where people are unable to determine the appropriate choice – so they’re driven by the assumption that other people possess more knowledge and can make this decision for them.

For example, you find yourself standing outside an unfamiliar cafe, a cafe with a long line, lots of reviews is likely to persuade you into walking in to try it. An empty cafe with no reviews on Google – maybe not so much (It doesn’t mean it’s bad – maybe they’re just a newly opened business!) Social proof is an essential marketing strategy for any business – but it isn’t often that people know how to take this information and turn it into concrete actions. 



When your current customer base recommends your products and services based on their experiences.
E.g. Praise on social media or positive reviews for your business online.


When an Influencer or even Celebrity endorses your business.
E.g. Having a popular food critic make a Youtube video about your restaurant.  



When an expert in your industry recommends your business or is associated with your brand.
E.g. A medical professional endorses your latest diet e-book.


When a large group of people is seen to be endorsing your brand.
E.g. that little pop-up window when shopping online that tells you that 81 people are viewing the same product.


When people see their friends using your service or product.
E.g. Hearing friends rave about the new Dyson vacuum.


This type of social proof is when you are given a stamp of approval or officiality by an authoritative figure in your industry.
E.g. Anything from the blue checkmark on Twitter to a Canstar rating sticker.

So, why social proof? You might be wondering – can a bunch of reviews really have such a serious impact on how my business is perceived? The answer is yes, and here is why:

The Expert Opinion: When surrounding people are perceived as particularly knowledgeable about a situation or are even just slightly more familiar with the situation than the consumer, they are likely to trust their choice.

On Uncertain Territory: When faced with an unfamiliar situation, such as not having used your business or product before, people feel the need to refer to others for guidance.

By Virtue Of Similarity: Ambivalent consumers are more likely to adopt the behaviour and attitudes of people who are perceived to be similar to them and are easy to relate to – this can be anything from age and gender to common experiences. This is why reviews on makeup websites like Sephora are likely to be trusted – women trust other women with similar interests to know which products are better quality.

Power In Numbers: It seems that the greater the number of people or who find something to be correct, the more correct and valid the idea will be for more onlookers. This is why review volume and recency is so important – having 10 5-star reviews hardly seems like an accurate representation of your business. After all, it’s not hard to please 10 people. But pleasing 150, that’s a serious sample size to go off.

(Tip: Remember that it’s always better to have no proof than low proof, because low social proof says 1 of 3 things about your business: That it isn’t trustworthy, it is too new to place any faith in yet or it isn’t being used by anyone because, frankly, it might suck!)


A Persuasive Narrative

Researchers Pelham & Mirenberg found that people gravitate toward people, places, and things that resemble them, also known as “favourable self-associations” or “implicit egoism”. In other words, we like things that look, sound, or resemble us in some way and we’re pretty good at making these connections, even subconsciously. When it comes to valuing the opinions of others, we place more weight on those we deem to be the most like us, which is why influencer marketing is so effective, they’re enviable enough for us to want to listen but relatable enough for us to trust their choices.

Have you ever come across someone who hated a business they never used? Well, it’s likely that they heard a crazy story about a bad experience from their brothers girlfriends sister and for some reason, this story really stuck. Green and Brock, say that this is due to transportatiob which is “a mechanism whereby narratives can affect beliefs… transportation entails imagery, affect, and attentional focus.” So essentially, a review that reads like a story is likely to evoke transportation into that particular narrative, which affects persuasion-related outcomes, such as being persuaded to try (or to avoid) your product or service. Check out this mattress review:

An office worker who is active and even those with scoliosis or with kids who don’t sleep through the night will relate to this review and be transported into the narrative as if it was their own – which might cause them to picture themself sleeping on this mattress or imagining how comfortable it feels. This can happen subconsciously too! This is also why you need to be wary of long winded stories in negative reviews – yes people read them – it’s because they are invested in the story the moment they hear read something they relate to.

When using testimonials and case studies, steer away from generic quotes about service or product descriptions and instead opt for sharing a real story that speaks to peoples pain points, even going so far as detailing the specific pain that they solved with your product or service. Essentially, try to find a customer-story that truly represents what your ideal customer looks like to capture and emotionally driven story that people will relate to.

A Remedy To The Phenomenon Of Overchoice 

As we mentioned, uncertainty enhances the effect of social proof and as it turns out, modern life presents an overwhelming amount of choice. The online landscape has played a major role in the amount of decision fatigue we have, not only do we have to decide between a few choices, we now have access to and have to choose between hundreds of different brands or businesses for each. Decision-making can be exhausting, and this increases that likelihood that we will look to our peers for recommendations and advice.

According to a study by George Miller, a consumer can only process seven items at a time. After that the consumer has to create a coping strategy to make an informed decision. This can lead to being indecisive, unhappy with every choice and even discouragement from even making the choice (or purchase) at all. Having others’ opinions or insights can remedy this through process of elimination. Let’s say you only feel comfortable using businesses with a 4-star rating, well you just ruled out a lot of choices for yourself. When searching for a product or service online, this is why we have so many filtering options (and people love to filter by ratings).


A Bridge For The Knowledge Gap

Not all websites have all the details you need to make a purchasing decision, and often reviews can fill in those knowledge gaps much better than a company’s product description or FAQ’s can. The official information about a product or service is always provided by the business which, like standard advertising, means it’s often more akin to a pitch rather than information – and that’s because it always partly is. Reviews offer a valuable alternative to this because people believe that they are mostly impartial and honest. While we know this isn’t always true, in reality, it is how they are viewed because reviews come from people without a invested interest in the consumer making a purchase.

Influencers you perceive to relate to might have insights about a product or service that are more relevant to you than the general information that doesn’t include all of the nuances. Similarly, Online reviews from real people that actually speak in the average consumers language often touches on the things consumers care about most. This could be practical details the business has glazed over, like the fact that a moisturiser might only work for people who aren’t sensitive to fragrance or that a venue isn’t wheelchair accessible. 

Social Proof, Persuasive Narrative, Overchoice and the Knowledge Gap are all very real and tangible psychological principles that govern consumer behaviour. Your online reviews are a major player in how your business is perceived through these often sub-conscious lenses.