The Power of Social Proof

The Power of Social Proof Windy Lawson

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If you’ve ever asked a friend for a recommendation or checked out reviews before making an online purchase, you’ve experienced the psychological phenomenon of social proof as a consumer. But are you leveraging social proof in your small business? In this blog post, we’re digging into the power of social proof.

What is Social Proof?

Robert Cialdini coined the term in his 1984 book, Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion. Also known as social influence, social proof refers to humans’ tendency to look for evidence of what other people think is correct or desirable before taking action in an uncertain situation.

Think back to your first day in college or at a new job. As the new girl, you experienced a level of uncertainty, so you followed cues on how to behave based on those around you.

The theory of social proof is built on three principles: uncertainty, similarity, and expertise.

1. Uncertainty

We all experience a level of uncertainty or doubt when we are in new situations. And when we are uncertain of how to act or what action is appropriate, we look to others for guidance.

2. Similarity

The more similarities between the individual and the group, the more likely we are to respond in alignment with the group. If the group comprises people from a similar background, who share the same beliefs, have the exact needs, or are in a similar circumstance as you, you are more likely to follow their lead.

3. Expertise

We seek guidance from those who are viewed as experts when we are experiencing uncertainty and doubt. Since we desire to make a good decision, we rely on those who have more knowledge to help us make better decisions.

To be as efficient as possible, your brain is relying on the opinions of others to help you make a decision.

The more uncertain we are, the more likely we are to look to others for guidance. And we trust those who are most similar to us and those we believe to be experts.

Social Proof in Marketing

If the world were filled exclusively with good people who made terrific products and stood behind them, there would be no need for social proof.

But that’s not the world we live in.

There are many shady people and crappy products out there, and the internet has made it easier than ever to come across a traveling snake oil salesperson. Consumers are increasingly suspicious of parting with their hard-earned cash on just the seller’s word that the offering is impressive!

Bottom line: Social proof helps earn their trust and loosens their purse strings.

The Power of Social Proof Infographic

Types of Social Proof


The most frequent type of social proof is reviews, customer feedback in the form of a rating on a scale, typically from one to five on a product or service they have personally used. Individual customer scores are aggregated to create a final rating.

Reviews are the most accessible form of social proof to acquire since leaving a review requires ticking a box to rate a product or service.

Not only that, but consumers want reviews!

  • Customer reviews are the second-most preferred source of specific product details. (Statista)
  • In 2019, 76% of US consumers trusted online reviews as much as personal referrals. (BrightLocal)
  • 88% of consumers do their homework online before shopping either over the internet or in-store. (


Testimonials are the story of one person describing their experience with a product or service, including how it helped them. Testimonials are often used in conjunction with a review to further explain their reason for the rating.

Testimonials provide significantly more social proof than a review, mainly if the testimonial includes user details that foster similarity with the readers. Oh, she’s just like me, and she loved this product, so I probably will too.

Testimonials can be written or recorded.

ConvertKit features testimonials on their home page.

User-Generated Content

UGC, or User-Generated Content, is any content generated by a user of your product or service.

Common UGC includes photography, video testimonials, and user stories from customer’s personal lives using your offering on their terms. 

User-Generated Content is a potent tool, with 90 percent of users claiming UGC influenced their purchase decisions. While that number seems crazy high, from a consumer standpoint, it makes a lot of sense. Who is more trustworthy: a professional marketer whose job is to convince you that a product is the bomb dot com, or Hillary from Houston, who shared a video of her using the product? Hillary’s livelihood isn’t tied to whether the product is purchased, making her impartial and therefore more trustworthy. 

Overtone incorporates UGC throughout their website.

Brand Ambassadors

Brand ambassadors are advocates who receive some perks for promoting a company. The primary benefit of working with a brand ambassador is to extend your reach to their audience utilizing word-of-mouth marketing. Examples of brand ambassadorship include:

  • Referral programs: the referrer receives a non-cash benefit for sales
  • Affiliate program: the referrer receives a cash benefit for sales
  • Influencer marketing: the referrer is paid a fee to promote the product/service

User Counts

Sharing the number of customers who have used your product or service is a form of social proof. Remember when McDonald’s signs included how many billions of burgers they had sold? The implication, of course, is they must be good if they’ve sold that many.

Social Proof Notifications

Social proof notifications are used most frequently in e-commerce, but they can be used as notifications for any type of conversion, such as downloading a lead magnet or registering for an event.

When a visitor takes action on your website, social proof notifications display that conversion in real-time to other visitors. Announcements can run the gamut, from showing how many other people have placed an item in their cart to how many people have purchased an item.


Incorporating social proof into your marketing strategy helps build trust and increase conversions.

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