Social proof is an individual influencer or group clout that gives “proof” to a product. It is based on the principle that people tend to follow and conform to an influential person or a majority. They do this to be validated — a result of a need for safety.
People covet security and acceptance and will always naturally find themselves in a place where they are trusting the evidence of good things.
It works similar to the bandwagon effect.
People have a cognitive bias that makes them act a certain way when they see others doing the same. When influential people in a social circle have a particular ideology, people tend to adopt the thinking, and the more people assume it, the more substantial the clout of the doctrine becomes.
In marketing, companies use this principle to bring people to patronize their products.
For example, when you see YouTubers endorsing a product on their videos, they are social proof that the product has value.
When you see a highly rated product on Amazon, the crowd behind the ratings left statistical social proof that the item is exceptional.
When you browse a conversion rate optimization (CRO) website and an expert that you respect has left a positive review, that is social proof that the service is useful.
Let’s examine 10 kinds of social proof strategies — and how and why they work.
This information can deepen your understanding of the foundations of why people follow people, and you can use these in your own marketing strategies.
1. Expert’s Approval
When an expert, a renowned company, or a government agency approves of a product, people who follow the entity will believe in the offering. This is because people trust experts and institutions.
If an offering is FDA approved, people trust that it is safe; similar to when a doctor prescribes a brand of medicine, they feel safer about taking it.
When a critic that you follow poorly reviews a TV show, the most direct response will probably be not to watch it. The impression is that you are saved from a bad experience.
People listen to experts because the information they receive helps them feel secure.
Ratings are crucial numerical proof of product or service quality. Consumers are inclined to trust things that are positively rated, and they tend to stay away from negatively rated offerings.
This comes from the fact that people will follow the crowd and that humans instinctively find strength in numbers. Humans are social beings that identify with one another.
When movie ratings start low, they tend to continue losing audiences. But when the hype is excellent, and the prescreening numbers are up, a film is more likely to succeed at the box office.
3. Trust Badges
A security badge is like a stamp of approval given by a trusted security institution. These are commonly used on websites that enable financial transactions.
Consumers trust security providers like McAfee, VeriSign, TRUSTe, and others. Acquiring any of these badges helps people have confidence in a website because the badge (assuming it is legitimate) indicates that the security company has vetted the owner of the site to determine trustworthiness.
People like feeling safe with their monetary transactions and will avoid online stores that don’t display any of these badges.
4. Popular Endorsement
Many of us have an affinity for wealth, talent, beauty, acceptance, and status. People are magnetized to ideal versions of themselves and tend to trust the opinions of people who they wish they could be.
Celebrities are a powerful crowd driver. This is especially true to Hollywood performers, famous musicians, respected athletes, and models. It doesn’t matter if they have an excellent IQ or not; people who follow their clout will believe in their opinion.
In marketing, it is a common practice to advertise with celebrities. Some hire famous people for a video, some sponsor individuals, and some do a partnership for specific products.
One powerful example is Nike’s Jordans, which are a staple in the basketball scene, fanbase, and in the shoe enthusiasts’ market, thanks to the influence of Michael Jordan.
5. User Testimonials
Users listen to other users. If you eat this and you like it, I’ll eat it too. If people travel somewhere and love it, I’ll vacation there also.
We are all people who have the same basic needs, and we naturally believe in what others say, especially if many others profess the same thing.
Testimonials from regular people who use a product will give it a ‘real’ factor. Consumers know that testimonials from celebrities are probably paid for, whereas feedback from a real user experience tends to be more reliable.
Hotels are one of the industries most considered by people through testimonials. A good or bad review from a single person can uplift or damage a hotel’s reputation.
You wouldn’t want to undergo surgery operated by an unlicensed individual, would you? Would you ride a plane piloted by a tractor operator?
People believe in the evidence of capacity. When you have business credentials on your website, your service will be perceived as professional and authentic.
Businesspeople looking for digital marketing consultancies tend to research the credentials of the people running the service. They want to know if it is run by experts who have significant experience in CRO.
By doing this, they can avoid paying for lousy service that has no positive impact on their enterprise. Clients do not want to lose money, and they want to feel confident that they will be given excellent service.
They prefer companies that have proof of an excellent portfolio, clientele, reputation, track record, and business affiliations.
7. Earned Media
This is media activity not directly generated by a company. It’s not paid for; it just happens organically.
Some examples of earned media are:
- News media coverage
- Mentions in professional media outlets
- Backlinks in professional websites or blogs
- Mentions in online communities
- Mentions on social media like status updates and tweets
When people notice that reliable media are naturally pushing a product, they will associate the brand as “mainstream.”
Masses rely on and believe in mainstream companies because they are perceived as dependable sources of information and service.
8. Social Media
Social media is now a standard form of community where you’ll find all different types of social proof.
Celebrities, experts, users, communities, friends, and other clouts are prevalent on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Reddit, and other social platforms.
If you have a business, you should engage in social media to gain more leads and conversions.
People believe in shares (endorsements), likes (consider them as ratings), and comments (testimonials) on postings about your products.
Aggregated answers that are provided by a large group of people for questions involving quantity estimation, general world knowledge, and spatial reasoning are generally as legitimate as, and are often better than, the answer given by any individual in the group.
The solution that results from the wisdom of the crowd will be something that most everyone in the group will agree upon.
People will follow the wisdom of the crowd because we agree with things that other people agree with. The more people approve of your product, the more people you will entice to buy.
10. Family and Friends
Family and friends, especially the long-term ones, provide the most profound social proof.
One example is growing up using a particular toothpaste of your mom’s choice, and still using it now.
Whatever drinks your friends are having, you have.
This principle can be used in customer experience (CX). When you plan your business and marketing, consider all aspects of your target market’s life. See how you can make them social proof of your products for their family and friends.
Plan for years ahead, and you’ll create a stable and long-lasting relationship with your clientele and their families that results in business longevity.
One of the most critical parts of the other end of social proof is product or service integrity. If you don’t have quality offerings, no one will say anything good about them.
Always make sure that what people are hearing, reading, and seeing is what they will get, and nothing less.
Understanding these principles is essential for your business and marketing. The more you know how human behavior works, the better you can find who will buy your products.
Exude security. Everyone covets it, and people are attracted to things they trust will make their lives better.