Social Proof in Marketing: Follow the Crowd

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To understand what social proof is, consider how you go about making a decision. How much research goes into deciding what restaurant to try for dinner?  What’s the tipping point when deciding between two different lawn mowers? Why do you choose to take the highway when other options are available?

Every decision we make – whether it be about purchasing a product, hiring a service provider, or deciding what movie to watch on Netflix – is influenced in some way by other people. The likely reason you’re interested in trying that restaurant is because a friend went there last week and had an awesome experience. The lawn mower you end up buying probably had better reviews. The decision to hop on the highway can be driven (pun intended) by traffic backing up on city roads. Even the Netflix you choose to binge on is oftentimes the result of a Facebook friend’s raving. In a roundabout way, this is the definition of social proof.

Social Proof, Defined

Social proof is the concept that people will conform to the actions of others under the assumption that those actions are reflective of the correct behavior. Recent studies show that 70% of consumers say they look at product reviews before making a purchase, and product reviews are 12x more trusted than product descriptions from manufacturers. These statistics give us insight into the value of social proof when it comes to marketing.

Despite the fact that the most recent advances in digital marketing have bolstered our ability to rely on social proof, it’s a psychological concept that’s well ingrained in our consumer behaviors.

Types of Social Proof

To that end, psychologists have studied the concept for years and determined five different types of social proof. We’ll go back to that example of selecting a movie to watch on Netflix and apply it to each of the following types:


Roger Ebert gives the movie a rave review. This type works because of a cognitive bias called the halo effect in which we judge someone’s opinion based on our overall impression of him or her.


Kim Kardashian gives the movie a rave review. This type of social proof works because of the extended self, which is made of up the self (me) and possessions (mine). It suggests that, intentionally or unintentionally, we view our possessions as a reflection of ourselves. This is why consumers look for products that signify group membership and mark their position in society.


“KatLuvsTacos1989” gives the movie a rave review. This type works because we tend to imagine ourselves in other people’s shoes when we read or hear a story. Individual examples stick with us because we can relate to them.

Wisdom of the Masses

Box office ticket sales show that millions of people would give the movie a rave review. This type of social proof works because the Fear of Missing Out is a real thing. It’s a form of social anxiety, and it’s a compulsive concern that one might miss out on an opportunity.

Wisdom of Friends

You asked what movie your best friend watched lately, and she gives it a rave review. This type works because of implicit egotism – the concept is that most people subconsciously like things that “resemble” them in some way. We value the opinions of people we perceive as most like us.

Ideal Opportunities for Using Social Proof

In the book, “Influence,” Robert Cialdini describes social proof as “the tendency to see an action as more appropriate when others are doing it.” Cialdini claims it is more powerful when we’re uncertain what to do.

Utilizing social proof is a tactic best served in situations where a customer may have reason for concern before purchasing; whether you’re marketing a new product or re-launching a service that may have needed some tweaks, social proof marketing is at its best when customers are skeptical about what you’re offering and need to be persuaded.

What To Avoid When Implementing Social Proof Marketing

Be wary, however, of how you’re using it. Not using it at all has been proven to work better than using negative or low social proof.


Check out the following failed advertising campaigns that were mentioned in a study done by psychologists Noah Goldstein and Steve Martin:

  • “Four years ago, over 22 million single women did not vote.”
  • “This year Americans will produce more litter and pollution than ever before.”
  • “Your heritage is being vandalized every day by theft losses of petrified wood of 14 tons a year.”

If your sales page warns potential customers of the dangers of missing out on your product, but supports your claims by citing negative action by the masses, you’re in trouble. Trying to claim that an activity is “wrong” by saying that lots of people are doing it is the key trait of negative social proof.

By claiming that lots of people are doing it, you’re more likely to get your target customers to climb on board with this “wrong” activity as well – since that’s how social proof works in the first place. Instead, focus on positive, affirmative social proof use.


Social proof can actually hinder a post or page’s ability to perform properly if it makes the product or service seem unpopular. Not surprising, right? In this post, author Anne Stahl writes:

“The slight decrease in engagement suggests that the primary problem with this social network integration was … the low ‘likes’ rather than the distraction factor.”

Search Engine Optimization expert Rand Fishkin also suggests that a lack of social proof can decrease conversions as people assume that your company either:

  • Isn’t trustworthy
  • Is too new to place their faith in
  • Isn’t being used by anyone because it sucks

In cases where you’re either missing positive reviews or simply any reviews at all, it’s better to eliminate social proof from your marketing entirely.

Using Social Proof in Your Marketing Plan

Brand marketers can effect change in the public perception of their products or services either by instigating or capitalizing on any combination of the five social proof types.  These are the top ten most common ways to utilize social proof in your marketing plan:

  • Testimonials
  • Ratings and Reviews
  • Influencer Endorsements
  • Badges
  • Media Logos
  • Subscriber Accounts
  • Social Connections
  • Social Shares
  • Client Logos
  • Test Results

 If there’s ever a point at which a non-brand voice can have a hand in promoting your product or service, use it. Positive social proof has been proven to be more influential than language around cost savings in various marketing studies, especially when placed near the bottom of the sales funnel. This is because customers are growing more and more concerned with “saving time” and headaches over saving money.

Using stories from real people with whom your target customers can relate has also been proven to work best. Naturally, humans feel connected to other humans when they can visualize themselves in the same situation because of our mirror neurons. This is why the development and maintenance of user personas is so popular with marketers. Once you’ve nailed down your true target customer, you’re better able to emphasize how your company solved their problems.

If you’re interested in learning more about how a marketer might use social proof in your project, we’d be happy to take a closer look! Get in touch with us to learn how Oneupweb can help.

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