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What is Social Proof?

Effective marketers often turn to the field of psychology for insights into human behavior. For example, psychology can tell us what motivates consumers to trust a specific brand and what causes consumers to overlook other services.

Social proof is one concept that every digital marketer should get to know. It’s the idea that people tend to make decisions based on input from certain individuals or groups. Have you ever bought a pair of shoes based on a recommendation from a fitness coach? Or perhaps you’ve booked a flight to a destination that all your friends have raved about. These are both examples of social proof in action.

social trust

The Power of Persuasion

We’re living in an age where people are increasingly doing much of their shopping online. By 2021, over 230 million people will be purchasing goods and services online in the United States, 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.

Psychologist Robert Cialdini uses the term social proof in his 1984 book “Influence.” The book examines six principles of persuasion.

  • After receiving something, people often feel obligated to reciprocate.
  • People often feel compelled to take actions that are consistent with past commitments.
  • People are more likely to trust and do business with people they already have a liking for.
  • People tend to trust and rely on information from people of authority.
  • Things that are scarce tend to seem more valuable.
  • And finally, there’s social proof, also known as consensus. In the face of uncertainty, people tend to follow the actions of other people. 

Each one of the six principles is worth getting to know more in-depth. They can teach you how to persuade others and avoid being persuaded when it’s not in your best interest.

Types of Social Proof

Social proof comes in many forms. Here are several common types:

Wisdom of Crowds 

Sometimes influence is all about numbers. People sometimes gravitate to products or services that already have large followings. More than eight million consumers and businesses rely on PNC, the company claims. With that level of popularity in mind, a person may conclude that the business’ services must be worth consideration.

Wisdom of Friends

In some cases, the actions of strangers aren’t exactly persuasive — no matter how large the group. However, the actions and opinions of a small group of your friends can be incredibly persuasive. If most of your friends offer a positive review of an online store, you might be more inclined to check it out. You value your friends’ opinions because you have a lot in common with those individuals.


Experts can be very persuasive. We often assume their level of knowledge about a particular subject adds weight to their recommendations. After all, they may have some insights that the average person lacks. If you’re looking for new workout equipment, who would have a more reliable opinion than a certified fitness instructor?


Whether they’re also an expert on a certain topic or not, celebrities can be very influential. Your favorite celebrity — whether they are a movie star or online influencer — might talk you into trying out a product or service. Of course, if the celebrity’s endorsement seems disingenuous or half-hearted, it might not resonant.

User Reviews

The approval (or disapproval) of other consumers who’ve had firsthand experiences with a brand can influence your behavior. This is especially true if they can sum their experiences up in the form of a story, says FastCompany. If someone shares how a product changed their life, you might relate to that personal anecdote. You can better imagine the product working wonders for you too. And if someone goes into detail about how a product’s poor quality ruined their day, you might be dissuaded from buying it. A strongly negative review might even outweigh a product recommendation from a friend or expert.

How to Use Social Proof to Gain Trust With Audiences

Understanding the concept of social proof is useful, but you’ll also need to know how to put it into action. Take these actionable steps to begin building trust with your target audience.

Rely on social media influencers.

Influencers can serve as experts in a niche or simply charismatic social media personalities. In either case, their endorsements can inspire consumers who trust their opinions or find them likable.

If you’re an athletic brand, pair up with fitness YouTubers for promotional content. If you’re a cybersecurity company, ask industry experts to write a blog post for your brand’s blog or join you for Q&A sessions. Taking actions like these will establish your credibility and might even expand the reach of your content. The influencers also have something to gain as well. You can pay them for any social media endorsements, and their name recognition can also improve.

Influencers don’t necessarily need to be celebrities with millions of followers. Micro influencers, social media personalities with relatively small audiences, are often seen as more trustworthy than their more popular peers. This is because micro-influencers present themselves as more relatable and engaged with audiences. An added benefit for you is that micro influencers are typically willing to create and share sponsored content at more affordable rates than celebrities.

Show off your numbers.

If your brand is already fairly popular, let potential customers see proof of that popularity. On your official site and at your storefront, reveal the number of customers served or products sold. Social media accounts have a built-in way to show off your popularity. It comes in the form of your follower count. Aim to boost your online following by consistently posting content that engages audiences and inspires them to share the post. 

Remember to share your milestones with audiences too. If you’ve been in business for an impressive length of time, post that information online. Consumers will conclude that you’ve attracted enough customers to maintain your business.

Ask for reviews.

If you’re a newer brand and don’t have many impressive numbers to show off, turn to customer reviews. Five-star ratings are excellent for your brand. But remember that storytelling is vital here. You want to collect detailed accounts of how your products or services have affected the lives of your customers.

Ask customers for this kind of in-depth feedback on various platforms. If positive feedback comes in the form of a tweet, retweet it for everyone to see. You can also share snippets of that positive feedback on your product description pages. Find creative ways to share those stories.

For a more personal touch, you might want to consider user-generated video or image content. You could ask happy customers to submit videos or photos of themselves using your product, and then use this content to expand your audience.

Aim for verification.

Here’s one more tip: Seek verification on social networks. For example, on Twitter, you’ll receive a blue checkmark for authenticity. This will lend you credibility and let customers know they’re following the right brand.