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If friends, friends-of-friends or like-minded people in your network value something, that could arguably be useful:

We are talking about something called ‘social proofing’ which commentators claim could be particularly relevant for last-minute bookings via mobile. Here is why: If a mobile user is on the verge of booking a room, then it is potentially helpful to know that friends, or friends-of-friends or any other social group in their network, have had a previous positive experience of this particular offering.

Indeed some travel brands are working out how to capitalise on this. In early December, for example, Hot Hotels stated that it had become the first ‘last-minute hotel booking app’ to enable a social booking experience on its mobile app. Users can now login with their social network profile (Facebook or LinkedIn) to see which of their friends have been at the hotel or in the vicinity. The company has tied up with SeatID to offer social booking experience. 

Eran Savir, the chief executive and co-founder of SeatID had this to say: “In some cases, social proofing is more important on mobile apps.” This is down to the fact that last-minute booking has different characteristics to planned booking. “The location parameter is very important, and decisions are made quickly. People have less time to do a research on a specific hotel and they won’t spend time reading reviews. They need highly visual data that can help them choose. This is where social proofing becomes highly valuable for both the users and the mobile app developers.”

EyeforTravel’s Ritesh Gupta spoke to Savir to find out more about how social proofing can be used to help move users closer to booking.

EFT: This is a relatively new area, so what would you say are the new trends in social proofing?

ES: My three trends would be:

·        Trend 1: Just collecting Facebook ‘likes’ and Twitter ‘followers’ is no longer enough: Facebook ‘like’ boxes are ubiquitous on websites. But entrepreneurs recently began to understand that this is not sufficient. Using Facebook to upload pictures and run campaigns or using Twitter just for support is already quite mundane. Brand owners are rethinking their social strategy and are looking for the next big thing – something that will get their users more engaged, something that will differentiate them from their competitors.

·        Trend 2: Users are now more social than ever: When planning a trip or considering what event to go to, users chat a lot over social networks. A few years ago, when searching for a good hotel in Rome, many users would simply write a status on Facebook: “Can someone recommend a good hotel in Rome?”, and then they waded through the dozens of responses that came in. This is social proofing – users want a positive endorsement from their social connections to confirm that what they are doing is the right thing. This is a problem for traditional commerce and e-commerce organisations because contemporary marketing channels can simply not contend with the complexity of social proofing at personal and individual levels. Actually this is no big deal. All that is required is to bring the social proofing experience to businesses’ websites and mobile apps so that users will have access to all the desired data just when and where they need it most.

·        Trend 3: Users expect to see innovation: Users are in favour of innovative brands. They appreciate inventive organisations that constantly think out of the box and lead the way to beat the competition. In the case of social sites, users expect the brand-name organisations to do something meaningful with their social network profiles. They need to do more than just ask for access to their profile and give nothing in return. Users agree to login with their social profiles when they get something out of it and – whatever it is – they get it immediately. Thus brands and businesses must constantly look for new trends to be innovative and stand out – in short, they must be ahead of the competition.

EFT: Can you explain how social proofing can play a role in the booking funnel?

ES: If this is my first time in Bangkok and I’m looking for a nice four-star hotel in the center of the city, and I have a budget of around $100 per night, I’ll find more than a hundred hotels that fall into this category. How can I possibly make an intelligent decision? I can read reviews, visit the hotels’ websites and, after all that, it still feels like a guess. Many users would simply ask friends or upload a status on Facebook asking for a recommendation – this is social proofing. What we’re doing at SeatID is bringing this experience of social proofing exactly to the point where decisions are being made: on the hotel’s website or on the OTA website or mobile app. We’re showing which of the user’s friends, friends-of-friends and people with shared interests stayed at this hotel in Bangkok in the past, or which ones were in the area. As a user, when I see five familiar faces next to one of those hotels in the list, I feel comfortable choosing that specific hotel because I know that this is where people like me go.

EFT: Give us another example…maybe in the airline space?

ES: Take another example from the airline industry. When users search for flights, they usually look at two specific parameters: schedules and pricing. What if we could show them who’s on the morning flight versus who’s on a later flight? Who’s in Economy versus who’s in Business? Will this help them make up their mind? Would they prefer to choose their flight based on where their peers are flying, or where they might have a business opportunity? Yes, they would. Most people would say ‘yes’ if you ask them a simple question: “Do you want to know who’s on the flight?” Also most users would prefer to get as much information as possible about the flight before making up their mind. All airlines offer information about the type of airplane – for most users this is useless as it means nothing for them. On the other hand, they would prefer to see who will be on the flight with them, and if possible even choose who they sit next to.

From the opposite perspective, social proofing will provide an indication, via your social networks, in regard to what you’re doing or about to do (make a reservation or buy a ticket).

EFT: How can such concepts be used as key differentiators in terms of usability and user experience?

ES: Users expect to see innovation and ‘out of the box’ thinking. They want businesses to re-invent themselves and to adjust to how we do things. For example, what makes one OTA better than another? The way to stand out is to offer a superior online experience and make people feel more comfortable on the OTA’s website or app than on those of the competitors. Well, you can be absolutely certain that in five years from now everything will be social and social proofing will be everywhere. Small companies can turn into leaders through increased engagement, conversion and some very positive buzz.

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