What is Social Proof?
Social proof is a psychological phenomenon where people tend towards the actions of others in order to assume the correct behavior in any given situation.
So what does social proof have to do with marketing, you might ask?
Why Social Proof Matters
Offline or online, people are influenced heavily by marketing strategies that leverage social proof to affect their behavior as consumers. Social proof relies on the fact that people will gravitate towards products and services to which they’ve been referred, read positive reviews about, or have viewed positive endorsements from celebrities they respect.
This influence over our consumptive habits, where we transfer our positive impressions of people to something associated with them, isn’t a new concept, and goes as far back as the Solomon Asch conformity experiment that took place in 1951. Over the years, social proof has become recognized as a form of cognitive bias coined by Edward Thorndike known as the halo effect. The halo effect provides the psychological push consumers need to buy into the credibility social proof strategies lend a product or service.
In order to understand the modern impact of social proof on marketing tactics, let’s explore seven core sources of social proof, with examples of brands that have leveraged each type of social proof as a core component in their marketing to build brand credibility and drive growth.
Social Proof Comes from Every Direction
In some models of social proof, social media platforms are considered a unique source separate from other examples. However, a deeper dive into the concept of social proof reveals that in the modern parlance, social proof is made possible only through social media platforms. Through social media platforms, the internet has created a level of cultural connectivity and exposure to marketing not previously possible, allowing social proof endorsements to ring out from every corner of society to champion the services and products vying for our attention.
Our experiments show great improvements (14% increase) in CTRs as well as an average lift of 8% in conversion rates when we include social proof in ad campaigans.
What’s also interesting is that our experiments show that different types of social proof resonate well depending on the buyer’s journey stage.
For example, rating stars and average rating scores work particularly well during the awareness stage (top of the funnel), probably because they stand out and are easy to understand.
On the other hand, customer success stories work well for our middle-of-the-funnel campaigns. We often use video success stories as ads on Facebook and LinkedIn.
Finally, short testimonials give us the best results for the bottom-of-the-funnel campaigns where prospects are already familiar with our brand and services and need just a small push to validate their decision to convert. – Djordje Milicevic, Digital Marketing Manager, StableWP
Social Media and the Wisdom of Friends
When we start our search for a service or product, we often start our search for validation in our consumer behavior with those we know best—friends and family. You can probably scroll through any of your social media platforms right now and find a post from a friend asking for local recommendations for services or products. The algorithms on social media platforms also tend to fill our feed with products and services friends have liked or followed, creating an interconnected web of feedback based on the recommendations of those we trust the most.
I found that including social profile links in your email signature can increase the average response rate by up to 9.8%. This is thought to be because social media helps validate you as a ‘real’ person and not another faceless e-mail. – Craig Anderson, Co-Founder, Appliance Analysts
In 2019, I became serious about using social media and other online resources to build my professional reputation online. Why? Because when someone is in financial and emotional distress, they are seeking someone who they can trust for professional financial advice. They want someone who will have both a reputation for being knowledgeable, professional and honest.
I’ve successfully used social media and online reviews of my professional practice as social proof to build that trust. In May 2019, I hosted a Reddit Ask Me Anything session about filing for personal bankruptcy proceedings. Since that session, I’ve had several new clients that have told me that they contacted me after reading through my answers to the various questions raised in that post. In general, my business activity (i.e. number of inquiries and number of new clients) has steadily increased since I started my online credibility campaign. – Victor Fong, President, Fong and Partners Inc.
FOMO and the Wisdom of the Crowd
Social media interactions have left us obsessed with not wanting to miss out on experiences or products strangers tout as “amazing” or “a must have.” There’s even a term for how we feel about it—“Fear of Missing Out”—and it’s triggered when a significant number of social media interactions causes the platform to generate a post in your feed, drawing your attention to a product, event, or service. The social proof springs from the logic that if so many people are experiencing an event or purchasing a service or product, then it must be worth your time and money to invest in it also.
Ever since we started using conversion notifications, we managed to get 34% more conversions. Essentially, every time a conversion happens on our website, the visitor who is online will see a notification about that conversion. We tried out other forms of social proof such as testimonials, but conversion notifications seem to be performing the best. – Carsten Schaefer, Founder & CEO, crowdy.ai
Influencers, Experts, & Celebrity Endorsements
One way we use social proof is by collaborating with influencers in the health and beauty space. When others provide an honest and positive review of our product, it gives customers greater confidence that our product will be right for them. – Rebecca White, Director of Marketing, Prana Brush
While seeking advice from friends and family is always helpful, some services and products are of such a caliber that you would rather rely on more qualified sources for advice. Expert endorsements come from industry leaders or influencers and come in the form of social media posts, quotes from interviews, and other media showing their support of a product. Simply referring to corporate users can have a significant social proof impact. The company Voices.com found that listing its corporate customers on its website contributed significantly to a 400% increase in its conversion rate.
In addition to experts and friends, we tend to put a significant amount of value on endorsements from celebrities and influencers across social media. In fact, according to influencer and content marketing software Tomoson, influencer marketing is the fastest-growing channel relative to other marketing methods.
We create social proof through social media and influencer marketing. We’ve amassed over half a million followers on our Instagram page. Our target audience includes fashion-oriented people who attend music festivals and enjoy electronic dance music. We engage in influencer marketing in a variety of ways. We find popular accounts that meet our criteria for selection, and we start a conversation to gauge whether or not it’s a good fit. Oftentimes, we will send one of our products to an influencer for free, in exchange for an honest review that is posted to their blog or social media followers.
In the case of Instagram, this leads to a ton of new followers for us, as well as sales. For us, the most important element of an influencer package aside from cultural fit is the overall reach of their blog or social media accounts. We measure our return on investment based on the number of new followers we receive, the number of impressions we receive, how much referral traffic we get, and of course, how many sales come as a result of the campaign. – Brandon Chopp, Digital Manager, iHeartRaves
As a business resource for companies to create functional websites on the WordPress platform, WPBeginner has released a series of educational videos targeted at new users of the platform that effectively leverages the endorsements of blogging industry experts to give weight to its services.
Online Reviews and User Testimonials
Social proof is a powerful mechanism for growing your business. That’s because when people are free to do what they want, they often imitate others. They look to other people to determine what is good or right about a product or situation. That’s why we assume that the longer the line at a restaurant, the better the food.
When used correctly, testimonials are one of the simplest and most powerful ways to leverage social proof to grow your business. For example, I wanted to get more people signing up to the newsletter on the homepage of my company, Life Reimagined Ventures. After a few experiments with new copy and design that gave me a single-digit increase in conversion rate, I wanted to figure out how to 2x my conversions. So I turned to social proof.
Under the signup form, I had a trust bar with credible organizations who have recommended my work, but I wanted to see what would happen if I included even more social proof. So I started with a simple experiment: I added a single, candid testimonial from a newsletter reader below the signup form and above the trust bar. I chose a testimonial that highlighted the real value that I believe readers get out of the newsletter.
That single testimonial resulted in an 82.5% increase in signups with 100% significance. I’ve since added the testimonial to exit models and in-line newsletter signup forms throughout the site, and in each case, the testimonial leads to a 40%+ lift in conversions.
That’s the power of social proof. – Calvin Rosser, Founder, Life Reimagined Ventures
As Dr. Robert Cialdini, author of Influence, states, people doing tend to do what they observe other people doing. It’s safety in numbers. They look at what others are doing for clues as to how they should act. In this example, when they see 50+ people that have left positive reviews on our Google Business listing it is a strong signal that we know what we are doing and might be able to help them with their small business as well.
Looking at the statistics from our Google Business page, in the last 3 months our business has shown up in 3,257 local searches. Of those searches, 77.4% were from people who didn’t yet know about our agency but were looking for the types of services we offer. That resulted in 106 visits to our website and 8 phone calls from our Google Business page directly.
Our top search results were digital advertising agency near me and digital marketing agency, and I’ve heard first-hand from new prospective clients that they decided to reach out to us due to the high ratings and positive reviews. Social proof is a powerful social trigger, and if you leverage that by building your online reputation, that social proof can result in more website traffic, more inbound leads, and more new customers predisposed to want to do business with you. – Kyle Battis, President, NH Strategic Marketing, LLC
Aside from friends and family, industry experts, and celebrities, we tend to crowdsource public opinion on services and products through online reviews. According to findings from HubSpot research, 88% of consumers give as much weight to user reviews as they do personal recommendations. Consumers are extra meticulous with the review process, and can refer to as many as 10 online reviews before deciding to purchase. Ratings play a huge role in this process, with 57% of consumers only choosing products that have at least a 4-star rating or higher.
To date we have 100 Google reviews. We also use our success stories extensively. These success stories explain how we took a client from point A to B, and how it affected their traffic overall. They are simply provided to potential clients in a PDF format. Especially in times like these, potential customers want to be assured they are working with a company who has the track record to get things done. – Stephan Boehringer, Business Development Representative, Get The Clicks
We started encouraging our customers to leave feedback on our Capterra page (right now, we have about 17 reviews on the platform). We use customer feedback on landing pages and in other promotional and sales material.
Right now, our Capterra page sends us around 180 highly engaged website visitors a month. People also find us through Google search queries like Kreezalid reviews. Based on our average sign-up conversion rates, about 14 people will sign up to Kreezalid from our Capterra page every month. These visitors have found us thanks to our social proof, but we suspect that even more people decide to sign up with us thanks to having seen our social proof in our other content. – Charlène Guicheron, Founder, Kreezalid
How much can leveraging the social proof of user reviews drive traffic to your website? Yelp enjoys a top spot in popular websites, with more than 72M monthly visitors using the page an average of three times daily. How many of their visitors go to Yelp intending to make a purchase?
I use reviews as testimonials in Facebook ads to generate more leads. When your sale page has social proof such as reviews and testimonials, then it encourages other people to purchase from you. They see that others have bought your goods or services and loved them. The same will probably happen for the new customer! – Becky Beach, Owner, Mom Beach
Social proof has definitely helped us scale our business because we mainly rely on social media marketing, email marketing, and word-of-mouth to get new clients. We include customer success stories and testimonials in our marketing messages, which helps us establish as the real deal in our industry. We’ve generated many leads and turned them into customers by leveraging our user-generated social proof. Plus, we also include quotes from other industry experts about our services, which helps us build credibility. – William Taylor, Career Development Manager, VelvetJobs
As a social media consultant, I’m compared to many others out there in my field, and one of the quickest ways to determine who to hire is to look at their own social media. For example, I have 60k+ Instagram followers and 50k+ TikTok followers.
If you need help building an effective social media strategy, who are you going to use—the person with 200 followers or the person who has built a community of thousands of followers who know, like, and trust them? – Austin Iuliano, Social Media Consultant, Austin Iuliano inc.
When I was first starting in sales, I believed that prospects would be turned off knowing that we work with other similar companies. Therefore, I purposely omitted any mention of client names in my cold outreach. Unfortunately, my outbound sales campaigns struggled to gain traction.
Looking for answers, I read Robert Cialdini’s book, Influence. The book talks about the principle of social proof, meaning that we often decide what to do based on what other people like us are doing. With that insight, I started running experiments. The A/B test was to include client names from industries similar to the prospect in one group and no mention of client names in the other.
The campaign with social proof produced a 2-3x higher positive reply rate than the campaign without it. The social proof-inspired call to action in one of my top-performing emails is: Would you be against a chat to learn how clients like Johnson & Johnson and UL overcame ‘digital chaos’ and saved $2.4MM+ in the process?
Due to this success, I have since shifted. I now include relevant client names for social proof in all of my cold email, calls, and social media outreach, which has resulted in millions of dollars in pipeline and closed/won new business. – Christian Banach, VP of Business Development, Genuine Interactive
User statistics, page visits, customer engagement, and other metrics are statistics you can leverage to lend weight to the validity of your product or service. Customers want to know as much about your operation at a glance as they can. HubSpot’s landing page provides potential clients with a snapshot of its user base and the scope of its impact on the business-to-business (B2B) marketing community, lending weight to the quality of the services they offer.
When we A/B tested, having our (recognizable) client names above the fold of the home page provided the best conversions. – Andres Lares, Managing Partner & CEO, Shapiro Negotiations Insitute
Social proof is extremely important in lead generation. Many users are hesitant to share contact information online, but social proof can help answer that skepticism.
While working with a landscaping company with a 50+-year history, we created a new website that integrated social proof in various ways. We made sure their history was highly visible on the site. Generally speaking, social proof is thought of mostly as testimonials and awards, but being in business for half a century is social proof in it’s own right.
This was highly successful, and online leads essentially doubled immediately and have held since. – Aaron Luther, Senior Growth Manager, AlltimePower
We are in the website design and digital marketing business where the very first question from a potential client is about the past work done. Screenshots of testimonials, traffic generated and rankings achieved for previous clients are the best way to convince them of our expertise and credibility. Our No. 1 priority is to increase traffic to our client’s website, which is why we share those details with the potential client rather than screenshots or stats from the Page 1 rankings we have achieved for our clients in the past. Those details are almost always enough to seal the deal. – Ashish Thakkar, Founder, Jimmy Thakkar
Earned Media Endorsements
We worked hard to get featured in a number of different publications relevant to our industry by offering insights and providing content through guest posts. Once we had been featured in a few different well-established publications within our industry, we created an ‘As Featured In’ banner to display on a number of our website pages. We noticed an immediate improvement in metrics like bounce rate and CTR to our shop pages just from this small change. Showing that your business has been featured in a variety of publications related to your industry shows your customers that you’re respected in your field, and builds trust. – Sam Williamson, Owner, CBDiablo UK
Ever since we started our website, we’ve been focusing on writing guest posts, and our goal was to get on high-level publications. We published articles on Hubspot, Marketo, Entrepreneur, Inc.com, and many others. As soon as we got published, we put their logo on our homepage as social proof, showing that we were featured there.
Over time, we noticed that our landing page and home page started converting much better—we went from 1.8% to 4% over the period of 6 months. We put our social proof icons just below the fold so that it’s very hard to miss. If you’ve collaborated with some big names or if you got mentioned in some well-known publications, using this to your advantage is an excellent way to get some credibility and nudge your visitors one step closer to converting. – Jane Kovalkova, CMO, Chanty
We have used our regular press coverage to methodically generate quality backlinks and propel our search rankings. Some of our top linking domains include businessinsider.com, adweek.com, nbcsports.com, inquirer.com, and nbcphiladelphia.com. Those efforts have secured first-page rankings and Google local pack inclusion for many key, competitive search terms and produced a steady flow of organic website traffic, inbound leads, and consultation requests. – Brian Hart, Founder & President, Flackable
The Internet tends to take notice when a company does something well. Algorithms designed to capture trends and positive mentions capture the attention of media and influencers across industries. So when your organization receives industry-specific recognition or a reward for “Best Product of the Year,” the best thing you can do for your brand is to then leverage that recognition to attract more attention to your brand as an industry-leading product or service.
My strategy has been to build social proof across different channels, including bylines in leading publications, such as Entrepreneur Magazine, The Next Web, Crunchbase, etc. I also give talks and workshops on content marketing and related themes at industry events and conferences. On top of this, I do my fair share of interviews and webinars. The effect has been cumulative: the more I put out there, the more opportunities I have to share our ideas.
We’ve landed five or so clients as a direct result or certain publications and talks. We’ve also seen an increase in web traffic and a slight boost in page rank, but it’s less clear whether that’s related to these efforts.
I’d say one of the biggest benefits of building a presence online is that leads who are considering hiring us can Google my name or my company and see where we’ve been featured. They can also see the press logos on our website, which serve as markers of trust and legitimacy—and definitely give us an edge over our local competition. – George Chilton, Creative Director, Hubbub Labs
The social proof at this stage is circular and self-sustaining: people seeking top products will find that your brand has been awarded for excellence, and they will add their patronage to your client base, further providing social proof to future potential clients that your brand is an industry leader. Educational platform Udemy.com does an amazing job leveraging media coverage to give weight to its product and draw in students.
A great way to build up social proof is becoming visible as an expert in the media. This may look like seeking out guest posts or establishing relationships with writers to be featured in their outlets. It’s important to offer unconventional wisdom as well as story-based pitches to really become the go-to experts.
My first feature in Thrive Global gained me a new public speaking coaching client, and being featured in Forbes skyrocketed my traffic. It might take a while to get there though, so start where you can and keep building your expertise and your credibility! – Maryna Shkvorets, Public Speaking Coach, marynashkvorets.com
The Social Proof is in the Potential Results
Social media trends have forced marketing and advertising agencies to put traditional marketing sales tactics on the back burner, or at least reevaluate their approach to engaging their audience. Consumers desire a more genuine connection with service providers and the products they consume. The proof is in the statistics.
No matter how you incorporate social proof into your marketing and internet presence, the important thing is that you understand the vital role it plays in your brand’s future success. Get out there, generate buzz, get people talking about your brand, instill trust and establish credibility, and watch the leads come pouring in.