Written by Caroline Cox on Aug 3 , 2022

Get to know the psychology concept that doubles as a popular digital marketing tool.

Here, you’ll find:

  • What social proof is all about
  • Six social proof examples
  • How it can benefit your marketing strategy
  • Tips for using social influence in campaigns

There’s a scene in the classic film Dead Poets Society where Robin Williams’s character, a professor, explains the concept of conformity to his students. 

He asks three students to walk in a circle while the rest watch, then notes afterwards how quickly they all conformed to marching in a single pace. He also notes how the onlooking students all began clapping in unison without prompting. 

This also illustrates the psychology concept of social proof.

Social proof basically means copying the actions of others when you lack your own experience. In a questionable situation, people often attempt to imitate another person’s behavior to achieve desirable results or fit in.

What does this have to do with marketing? Surprisingly, a lot. 

This psychological phenomenon is also one of the reasons people choose products or services that others have already tried and liked. 

Curious how to use social proof in your own marketing? Let’s take a closer look.

grocery carts

70% of online shoppers read 1-6 reviews before making a purchase decision. (Image: Unsplash)

What is social proof in marketing?

Social proof is the process of assuming the actions of someone else in a situation where you’re unsure of how to behave.

Imagine you’re walking down the street. Suddenly, you see a group of scared-looking people sprinting the other way, as if they’re running from something terrifying.

Would you continue ambling along on your way, or would you turn around and sprint along with them, just in case?

In marketing, social proof works the same way. 

Someone who’s looking for a vacuum cleaner but doesn’t know much about them is likely to choose the product with hundreds of reviews and a 5-star rating over a backpack with no reviews and a 3-star rating.

Common types of social proof in marketing are:

  • Expert’s opinion – An expert in the industry speaks highly of your brand (in articles, on social media, in interviews).
  • Endorsement – A celebrity or influencer recommends your product or service (on social media, in interviews, on TV).
  • Another consumer – Users of your products and services recommend them to other consumers (on social media, through customer reviews, or in-person).
  • Crowd – A large group of people endorse your brand through follows, reviews, or posting favorably about your brand.
  • Friends and family – Someone a consumer knows (such as a friend, family, or co-worker) personally recommends your brand.
  • Certification – An authority certifies your brand as trustworthy (like a blue checkmark on Instagram or a Better Business Bureau accreditation).

Many of these types can fit into your marketing strategy. Not only that, but the majority of them are suitable for a limited marketing budget.

Why is social proof important for marketing?

Social proof is one of the most powerful marketing tactics available. According to behavioral scientist Robert Cialdini, social proof is one of the six major principles of persuasion.

To truly understand how powerful social proof is as a marketing or persuasion concept, we can simply look at how one of the most commonly used items in grocery shopping was created: the shopping cart. 

Sylvan Goldman, owner of a small supermarket chain in Oklahoma, was the first person who tried to promote the shopping cart. He saw it as a way to reduce grocery store trips and make life easier for his customers (while making more sales at the same time). 

To his surprise, this tactic backfired. Customers said pushing the cart made them look bad and that it reminded them of a baby stroller.

It wasn’t until he paid professional models to push the shopping carts around his stores that people adopted the idea and started using them.

Still not convinced? Let’s look at the stats:

The modern-day consumer is pressed for time. What’s more, the majority of your potential customers don’t have the opportunity to study a product’s characteristics or contrast and compare it with alternatives. They opt for trusting other people’s experiences.

Teen girls taking selfie, enjoying summer together in Venice Beach, Los Angeles

Online reputation management is key to leveraging social proof. (Image: Rawpixel)

How to leverage social proof in digital marketing

Ready to put social proof into action with your digital marketing campaigns? Here’s how to do it.

1. Use testimonials and reviews

Many consumers are willing to share their experiences with others, but they may need prompting, reminding, or an incentive.

As a brand, you can use emails, social media posts, and things like gift cards to motivate people to pen reviews. (Just make sure you’re not bribing customers, which is both unethical and can seriously hinder your brand’s credibility.)

Once you get these quotes, you can then post them on places like your website and social media profiles. 

2. Explore influencer partnerships

Influencers are excellent for leveraging social proof. These online personalities generally have a large, dedicated following of people who engage with and trust their opinion.

Now only do micro-influencers (who have less than 100,000) followers usually charge less than those with counts in the millions, but they often have a higher engagement rate.

3. Celebrate milestones

On social media or product pages, don’t hesitate to emphasize milestones that beef up the social proof. For example:

  • We now have 1,000 followers on Instagram!
  • 100 people bought this product in the past month.
  • 10 buyers gave our latest addition 5-star reviews.
  • 50 people shared this post (read this blog, visited this page).

These milestones are a way to “show” rather than “tell” when it comes to your offering, and they’re an excellent display of the social proof phenomenon.

4. Reply to reviews

Online reputation management is key to leveraging social proof. 

Once a user leaves a review, a testimonial, or a comment, try to reply in a timely manner, even if it’s just to briefly say thanks. 

This doesn’t just make the consumer feel appreciated and heard, but it shows others that you care about their experience and are paying attention as well.

5. Use numbers in CTAs

When putting a call to action (CTA) on your ads or web pages, use numbers as your proof. For example,

  • 5,000 people have already signed up for this newsletter. Join them!
  • Come see why we have more than 2,000 5-star reviews (and counting).
  • 500 people are already using this product. Try it today.
aerie website social proof

Retail brand Aerie leverages UGC on their social media, product pages, and elsewhere on their website. (Image: Aerie.com)

6. Take full advantage of UGC

User-generated content (UGC) is one of the most popular ways to leverage social proof in marketing today. 

That’s because this content is created by clients organically, and leveraged by your brand, rather than you planning and having the content created directly.

Similar to reviews or testimonials (which are also part of UGC), try to demonstrate all types of user-generated content whenever and wherever possible. Besides sharing UGC on social media and mentioning it in blogs, you can make it a part of your marketing assets.

This type of social proof is so popular that a startup recently raised more than $4 million with the aim of making it easier for e-commerce sites to embed UGC like TikTok videos directly onto product pages. 

7. Make your content easily shareable online

There’s a reason why Facebook, blogs, and YouTube videos make the number of shares or views publicly visible. It’s social proof, and it can have a snowball effect on good content, even potentially helping it go viral.

If your goal is to expand your market reach and brand awareness, make sure you allow your audience to share your content easily.

The takeaway   

Social proof is a highly useful psychological phenomenon that can help streamline your marketing strategy. 

By leveraging your existing consumers’ actions and behaviors, you can generate leads and convert a new audience.

Caroline Cox

Caroline Cox

Caroline is HawkSEM's content marketing manager. She uses her more than 10 years of professional writing and editing experience to create SEO-friendly articles, educational thought leadership pieces, and savvy social media content to help market leaders create successful digital marketing strategies. She's a fan of seltzer water, print magazines, and huskies.

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