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How to Use Social Proof

If you don’t know what social proof is, then you probably think that the world’s hottest nightclubs limit the amount of entries because of safety concerns, that your neighbor bought that new sports car because he likes driving fast, or that the celebrity endorsing that product on TV actually uses it and loves it.

Truth is humans are social animals, and we react according to the way that others behave around us. We certainly trust those we deem to be expert, in-the-know, or just more knowledgeable than us in most situations in life. On top of that we put on displays of wealth, knowledge, and status to help us stand out in society, drive up value, and make others envious.

Night clubs want to look so exclusive that they make people wait outside even when there is plenty of room; your neighbor bought that car to impress everyone in the neighborhood; and that celebrity is leveraging the trust you have in her to get you to buy what she is selling.

With the explosion of social media, understanding social proof for marketing is more important than ever, so let’s delve into what social proof is, how it helps your business, and how to use it to drive customers crazy.

Social proof defined

In short, social proof is the idea that we as a species assume that other people know the correct way to act in a situation and follow accordingly. More simply it means we follow the crowd.

When it comes to digital marketing, the concepts surrounding social proof shift a little bit. Online marketers look to display the actions of large groups of people or the reputation and accomplishments of a high-level business to prove to prospective customers that they are the real deal. They are trying to build that long line outside of their nightclub.

So a better definition of social proof when it comes to marketing is “the act of leveraging social behavior to influence other customers”.

How does social proof help your business?

During the buying process, 61% of consumers read online reviews and they are 12 times more trusted than your own spiel about your stuff. It makes sense, though, right? Who would you believe more:

  1. The guy who told you he makes $1,000,000 a year or
  2. The guys whose friends tell you he makes $1,000,000

Both are far-fetched, but I bet you picked option B! Social proof helps your business because people are social animals and when we lack information about a certain thing or situation we trust other people’s experiences. Word of mouth advertising is still the best advertising there is, but 88% of consumers still trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations! And when it comes to trust, one of the most important factors in Ecommerce, one of the top 3 drivers of it was that someone else a consumer knew had done business with a site.

It’s safe to say that social proof is the best way to not only get people to trust you, but for you to drive sales.

The Forms of Social Proof

Like people themselves, proving your brand, products, or services to the crowd comes in many different shapes and sizes. You can see it all across the web in many different forms, and some have even argued that social proof has become so ubiquitous, that it has blended with general marketing to the point that it’s hard to tell the difference.

  • Authority – if your grandmother tells you that she has a cure for your ear infection, you probably won’t believe her. If someone in a white coat with a stethoscope around their ears tells you that same cure, you will go to the store and buy the remedy. That’s why every American medical advertisement has an actor playing a doctor. Authority is a powerful(and terrifying) human concept. Also known as expert social proof, being an authority(either self-professed or via social proof) on a subject adds weight to your words. That’s why bloggers, professionals, and experienced companies leverage their knowledge and experience to recommend so many things.
  • Celebrity – for reasons still unknown to science, people place a great deal of trust into celebrities that usually have no connection to the products they are selling. Although their effect on selling unrelated products hasn’t been proven, they are a powerful tool for selling highly-related products or championing causes.
  • Testimonials – you know the old adage “it’s hard to find good help these days”, don’t you? Truth is that good quality is always hard to find, so when someone tells you that they just got their lawn cut by a kid who showed up on time and did the job well, chances are you’ll go with them. Same with E-commerce. Consumer testimonials are one of the most valuable assets a company can have.
  • Group-think – humans tend to think with the group. It’s just how we are. That’s why you see so many companies showing how many people they’ve helped, how many friends they have on Facebook, how many millions of dollars in revenue that they do, or how many have bought a product already.

The Most Effective Social Proof Strategies

  • Front-page customer testimonials – displaying your customer testimonials proudly on the front page of your company’s website is a great way to get some third-party credibility. The fact that someone else is telling the consumer how great you are and that it isn’t coming directly from you is what makes it so powerful. 90% of customers say their buying decisions are influenced by reviews. Supercharge yours by attributing it to a real person or company and not an anonymous source.
  • Consumer ratings – just like testimonials, these objective, third-party ratings are gold for your company. The point system is an easy, simplified version of review that is easy on the eyes. In fact, consumers look at them even if they don’t read the reviews.
  • Getting endorsements from powerful people – when powerful people endorse a candidate for president, a team in a championship game, or a brand, it weighs heavily on people’s perceptions. The more well-known they are within the industry, the better. Ever wonder why films pay a lot of money to get critics to give them two thumbs up?
  • Badges and certifications – Go to any reputable website, and they will proudly display their badges of honor as if they were wearing a boy scouts uniform. Whether it is being part of a local chamber of commerce, the better business bureau, a national association of craftsmen, or the Fortune 500, a badge, certificate, or whatever you want to call it are what gets consumers to trust you the most. One of the biggest fears a consumer has online is the fear of theft of their data. Displaying badges from trusted security companies, secured processors, or other major certifications will do wonders.
  • “As seen in” logos – if you have been featured in big time media outlets, then you need to let people know about it. If you’re good enough to get into one of the biggest media outlet there is, most customers will assume you are good enough for them. Displaying photos of easily recognizable, reputable media is a must.
  • Show you network – ever been around someone who can’t help but name drop? You know, that kind of guy that constantly tells you about the people he knows, how many connections he has, or where he can get you in? You need to be that guy. Show how many followers, subscribers, friends, or connections you have across social media, and share your social links on your site. 74% of consumers turn to social networks to guide their purchases!
  • Counters – social counters are widgets next to your content that show how many people are sharing you across social networks. When views, shares, likes and other related actions are piling up, you best bet you’ve got to tell everyone what they are missing out on. One caveat, though: if you don’t have a solid following, then don’t show everyone how little action your post is bringing. Wait until you build a decent following.
  • Display your clients – if you have the choice of two lawyers, one that has represented Walmart in a dispute over pollution and one that has only represented your local supermarket, which one are you going to choose? Displaying the logos of your clients will make people trust you. Integrate the logos with testimonials and ratings and then you’ll really be cooking!

Whether we want to admit it or not, a lot of our purchases are guided by emotion and built-in psychological impulses in our brains. Everything from color and shape, to our deep-seated desires to fit in influence the decisions that we make. Leveraging social proof, that is, how other members of the community at large have acted in regards to you, to your advantage to drive sales is the best way to get customers to trust you and buy what you are selling. Now that you know how to use social proof, go start showing off!



  1. Gloria John says:

    Hey, Melissa!
    Nice article. Very interesting and well explained. Social proof is very important for business, especially for e-commerce businesses. People believes in what others are saying about the products or services and then make their decision. Always add positive reviews to your website that will build trust on other users. Thank you for sharing such a great content. Keep doing a good job.

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