Decades ago, social psychologist Robert Cialdini coined the term “social proof.” In his book “The Psychology of Persuasion,” he listed it as one of the six fundamental principles of persuasion.

Even though Cialdini published the book back in 1984, social proof still plays an important role in today’s digital marketing landscape.

What Is Social Proof?

Have you ever visited a restaurant because your best friend told you the food there was incredible? Have you ever gone to see a movie because everyone in town was talking about it? That’s social proof in action.

Social proof is the idea that shoppers make purchasing decisions based on what other people think of the product or service. Or, as Cialdini puts it, “We view a behavior as more correct in a given situation to the degree that we see others performing it.”

Types of Social Proof

Social proof takes on many forms. Here are five:

  • Celebrity Endorsement: Michael Jordan’s endorsement of Nike, and Nike’s willingness to give him his own signature shoe in 1984, made them both a lot of money. This is just one well-known example of how a celebrity’s opinion of a product can influence consumers. These days, celebrities can make their views known via social media. Influencers – popular social media figures in a specific niche – also have a lot of sway. According to research by Twitter, 40 percent of its users have purchased an item after seeing an influencer tweet an endorsement.
  • Expert Endorsement: When a known expert in a certain field suggests consumers buy a product, that endorsement can boost sales. An example of this is when the American Dental Association places its seal on a product. The trust that consumers put in those experts can carry over to the brand receiving the endorsement.
  • Consumer Testimonials: When you’re really fond of a product or service, it’s a good idea to share your satisfaction via an online review. Online reviews can have almost as much weight as personal recommendations, especially among younger consumers. So go ahead and post a short movie review, give a product five stars or tweet out your personal endorsement of a restaurant.
  • Wisdom of the Crowd: When you hear lots of people discussing the latest episode of a television show, you might begin to wonder what you’re missing out on. When you see lots of people following an influencer on social media, you might be more tempted to hit “follow” as well. That’s the wisdom of the crowd calling to you. People tend to go where there’s already a captivated audience.
  • Wisdom of Friends: Niche social media influencers might sway you into buying a product. But who’s more influential than those influencers? Your friends. About 56 percent of consumers trust recommendations from their friends’ tweets, while 49 percent trust endorsements from influencers, according to Twitter. Should you go see the new superhero movie playing at the theater, or wait until it’s on TV? Just ask your BFF.

Why Does Social Proof Matter So Much Online?

We’re living in an age where people are increasingly doing much of their shopping online. By 2020, over 2 billion people will be purchasing goods and services online, suggests Statista.

Ordering items from behind a screen is just more convenient for most people. But online shopping has a few downsides, as well. One is that it’s harder to actually see what you’re buying. Will that shirt fit? Is that table sturdy enough? Which brand of cleaner  gives you the most bang for your buck?

Opinions of your friends, experts and other shoppers serve as a guide. This is great when you can’t touch the product or see it in action.

Of course, this has long been the case for certain products and services – even before the Internet came about. Newspaper reviews of restaurants and movies have helped people make decisions for decades.

How to Apply Social Proof to Your Marketing Strategy

Social proof might sound like a pretty straightforward concept, but how do you apply it to your marketing strategy? Here are a few tips:

Show Off Your Stats

Let the wisdom of the crowd work in your favor. If you have thousands of followers on social media, mention that in your business bio. This strategy also applies to how many customers you’ve served. Just starting out and don’t have many followers? Skip this step. You don’t want to show off low numbers; potential customers might turn to your more established competitors instead.

Work With Industry Experts

Host industry experts and engage them through interviews and discussions. Customers will see your brand as more legitimate if you’re making efforts to work with trusted and authoritative individuals.

Work With Influencers

Speaking of trusted individuals, spend time working on your influencer marketing strategy. Your small skateboarding business might not attract the attention of Tony Hawk, but you might find that plenty of popular Instagram users love your products. Use these influencers to spread the word.

Get Feedback

Whether they come in the form of lengthy paragraphs, short sentences or star ratings, reviews matter. Ask satisfied customers to leave feedback on your social media page. Present the best testimonials on your official website. Let people know that others love to buy what you sell.