Evidence #71: Social Proof That Didn't Work

Thanks to Daniel Bridges from findsomeone.co.nz for sharing Evidence Test #71. This New Zealand's dating site test suggests that sometimes social proof (in this case profile photos) might actually backfire. (Note: we ran this test over 2 years ago).

What Can We Learn From This Test?

The variation with the profile photos on the homepage showed a possible -6.6% decrease to searches. We aimed to increase searches as an interim metric to signups (if people search more, they should find more interesting profiles, and have a reason to signup - which is required for making contact). Here are some thoughts as to why this test went slightly south:

  • Too General Profiles

    Perhaps in the context of dating sites, where faces may be an early selection criteria, showing general profile photos doesn't evoke interest. Perhaps people wish to first express some other criteria (ex: gender, age) before seeing more relevant profiles to them. Perhaps by showing profile photos too soon, this may even evoke opposite emotions.

  • Diluted Attention

    Could it be that profile photos also take attention away from the higher up calls to action?

  • Any Other Explanations? Share Your Comments Below


  • Tim

    Tim 6 years ago 00

    Here's an interesting thought. Based on this article (see below for link), scarcity (I know, not social proof, but I will get there), has two ways of showing itself. Either by 'almost sold out' and 'limited edition'. It turns out, only for people who have a 'high need for uniqueness' the 'limited edition' works. They figure it's because if you want to be unique, you want something no one else has.

    This of course comes back to some kind of negative social proof. In a way that 'almost sold out' is also a sign of social proof (a lot of people have bought it). If you want to be unique, social proof is going to be a negative thing.

    The same was found in another article (which I can't find right now), they tested priming for 'sex' (by showing a romantic comedy) and the effect it had on two kinds of appeals: scarcity and social proof. Turns out, scarcity (in 'limited edition') worked way better (and social proof worked way poorer).

    Psychology :D


  • Lisanne

    Lisanne 6 years ago 10

    My guess: it may trigger the question "what happens with my image when i sign up?" or visitors may think "Does my profile image show up on this homepage when i sign up myself?". I can imagine that in dating market, privacy is a thing. For sure I would run a usability test on this concept before development/launch.

  • Ash

    Ash 6 years ago 00

    Just to add to this. Social proof is working -> just not in the way intended.

    The one thing that we can take away is that social proof negatively impacts conversion. I would suggest following up with a test removing other social proof or profile photo instances on the website to check the Elasticity of social proof. It seems the elasticity of that change is high so why not try removing instances of example pictures or other forms of social proof. It may increase conversion since we now know that visitors are turned off by it!

  • Sheldon Gay

    Sheldon Gay 6 years ago 00

    I think I would add to your thoughts on "distraction" and "too general" the fact that these faces aren't really "social-proof". They aren't examples of happy daters. They're a bunch of random faces that the user may or may not be interested in and is probably at least a little confused with since it has multi-gendered examples. Most users we could assume are primarily heterosexual and therefore aren't looking for pictures of both genders at any given time. If these were true "social-proof" examples instead, the multi-gendered photos would be acceptable because it would be conveying the idea that many people are happy rather than some possibly irrelevant grouping of faces I'm not actually interested in.

  • Ty Cahill

    Ty Cahill 6 years ago 20

    Doesn't look like social proof to me. Just looks like a bunch of low quality head-shots that don't even match the style of the website. Are these real people? Nothing tells me who they are or where they're located. All I know if they're "recently online."

  • Loren O\'Laughlin

    Loren O\'Laughlin 6 years ago 50

    The provided photos may be a poor match for those who are turned away. I know it's supposed to be "social proof" but in this context it's actually a preview of the product... kinda like restaurants that put bad photos of food on big menu boards—instant turn off.

  • Ali

    Ali 6 years ago 30

    Interesting. My first thought was that the difference is so low that it's almost negligible. I'd like to see this test carried out over a longer period of time to account for any anomalies.

    But if I were to indulge more in this, I would guess along the following lines:

    - social proof tends to have more influence during instances where people are uncertain about making a decision, and see similarities in others who are taking or have taken an action in a similar instance.
    - if we put ourselves in the shoes of a prospective user who is deciding on whether to sign up for this service or not, it's important to understand why. What are their biggest doubts and questions? Is it that they're unsure whether others are also using it? Whether the people on it are attractive enough for them?
    - with the above in consideration, version B may not actually be delivering any more certainty to them. Are these profiles the only people on the site? Are they just a few of a small group? What would happen if the site said something like "Join 12,000 other soul searchers!" ?
    - furthermore, the profile pictures may not have appealed to some visitors because they were predominantly male/female, which brings your point about perhaps getting some more information from the user before displaying pictures
    - version A may also be compared to a fridge that someone wants to open in order to see what's inside, whereas version B is a fridge with a transparent door that someone can peek through to see some of the content, and so the curiosity to open the figurative door subsides.
    - a last thought that came to my mind was that perhaps some people were turned off by having pictures being displayed! Some people may not like the idea of having their pictures potentially displayed on the front page of a dating site. Could be a privacy issue.

    At the end of the day, I don't think its that social proof is not working but rather the specific form of it here is not in alignment with what the user is looking for.

    • Jakub Linowski

      Jakub Linowski 6 years ago 00

      100% on the specificity of this implementation of social proof. There are other examples or implementations of social proof that could encourage instead of deter.

  • Charlie Hathaway

    Charlie Hathaway 6 years ago 30

    The banner image at the top of the page is quite emotive, drawing users in the 'idyllic relationship' whereas the profile images are a stark opposite of this. They lack the element of fun and excitement that is seen in the above image as often the profile images are just plain, ordinary head shots. In a way, the site seems 'less professional' with the profile pictures owing to the lack of consistency between the images - seeing them stacked in search results, this would be much less evident and more expected. Furthermore, you'd also hope that the images used are of their best candidates, so these profiles may not be the best representation of what the dating agency has to offer.

  • Darek Markiewicz

    Darek Markiewicz 6 years ago 20

    I am assuming the generic profiles were selected randomly. This will cause unanticipated focal points to show up and grab attention, for example the highest contrast image (dude in a hat on a white background in the middleleft) is the top image in the visual hierarchy of just the profile photos. Well I happened to be a heterosexual guy, so a photo of another male does not appeal to me on a dating site, it's not my target it's my competition. Just a thought, which is really variation on "Diluted Attention" but more specifically pointing my attention in a wrong direction, my competition instead of my target audience.

  • Auke

    Auke 6 years ago 220

    I also think showing the photos could increase worries on privacy and provoke questions like "Will my photo show up here when I sign up". Questions which can lead further down the path of worrying about sharing personal info online.

    • Jakub Linowski

      Jakub Linowski 6 years ago 00

      Agreed. Privacy could be a solid objection / fear.