What is Social Proof and Why Does It Matter?

By Shelley. September 25, 2019.

Topics: Startup Marketing, Social Media Marketing

What comprises effective marketing has changed substantially over the past few years. There's increased consumer skepticism and plenty of new technology. As you develop your brand's marketing strategy you need to note what the current effective marketing tactics are and what  impacts consumer buying habits. Clever brands, business owners, and startup entrepreneurs realize that social proof offers vast potential for growth, and they're using positive social proof to influence purchasing behavior.

Attentive creative business team in meeting at office

Just what is social proof?

Social proof is the idea that consumers modify their behavior according to what other people are doing. It is the social and psychological phenomenon that our behavior is impacted by the influence of the actions, attitudes, and beliefs of other people, both in-person and online.


Underlying principles of social proof

When it comes to social proof, certain principles hold true, including how people react when they're uncertain, how we relate to those around us, and the idea of the herd mentality. As Oberlo details in their article on the subject, these principles of social proof come in to play when consumers are acting and making decisions.

Oberlo describes them as follows:

When we are uncertain:

We reference the way in which others react to a situation like one we are uncertain about.

When we experience something new or different than we're used to, we look for the responses of people we think are like to us:

We tend to follow the example of those we think are similar to us.

We like it when people have an expertise to draw from:

Those with more knowledge about a situation can steer the reaction of the whole group.

Numbers matter:

Also commonly referred to as the herd mentality, when a large number of people go through something together, majority rules, and what most people do or feel is considered the most correct.


Categories of social proof


Generally, people value the opinions of industry experts and thought leaders in their respective niches.

Expert social proof is when an expert in an industry recommends products or services, or associates with a particular brand.

It is expert social proof when an industry thought leader or influencer approves of a particular product. This can be in the form of a blog post, social media post, or being quoted or pictured as a user of the product.

Certification as social proof is when there is a stamp of approval by an authoritative figure in a particular niche or industry. Think of the blue checkmark on Twitter or Instagram.


Credentials prove expertise in a more quantifiable way than reputation. While user testimonials add value to a product, business credentials add trust. A business can promote credentials like how many customers are using its products and services, particularly well-known customers, or awards and certifications held by the business. If you're a sole proprietor, you can use your education and degrees as a credential that your customers should consider.


People often have a stronger desire for something if they see it worn or used by a celebrity. Marketing has always used celebrity endorsers. Now, they're called influencers.

This social proof typically involves a celebrity using a product and/or promoting it on social media. This is particularly meaningful social proof when the endorsement is unpaid.


Here the social proof involves reactions and responses to products and services by people who have purchased them. This is often user-generated content like reviews of the product or service that are hosted online, praises on social media, or positive ratings on review sites.

Any kind of testimonial can have the same impact. The social proof is generated by customer reviews on the business's website, a review on a third party website, a star-based rating, or a case study. Any of these testimonials creates social proof in the form of positive feedback from actual users.

Of course, it's necessary to keep in mind how your startup cultivates the sort of clients or customers who want to share their positive feedback for the masses.

As a marketing team, you can highlight the user experience and display it for prospects in the form of case studies, customer stories, and testimonials. You can feature this type of content both internally and externally, and it can be especially helpful for prospects to see on a landing page, when they are on the cusp of making a decision in favor of your brand and the products or services you are providing.

You can help your own cause by reminding customers to leave reviews or share their experiences. 

Wisdom of crowds

It is human nature to not want to be left out or left behind. FOMO, fear of missing out, is an established human reaction. This social proof involves buyers doing their buying because it seems like everybody else already is. This happens when a large number of people are seen to be endorsing your brand.

Just how important traffic from social media is varies from company to company, but nobody can afford to undervalue the influence social media posts about your brand can have on potential customers.

If any press has done positive reporting about your brand, this earned media provides an opportunity to build brand awareness, backlinks to your website, and social proof that you are a brand worth paying attention to. Likewise, platforms like Yelp and Glassdoor are quick ways for potential customers to determine what the crowd is saying about your company.

Wisdom of friends and family

It has been repeatedly shown that people trust the opinions of their friends and family. Most anyone is more likely to make particular buying decisions based on these people's actions and input.

When people see that their friends and family approve of your product, use your product, or follow you on social media, your company gains social proof. Recommendations from people who we know and trust carry more weight than other types of promotions or advertising.


Why does social proof matter?


1. Organic reach on social media is getting harder and harder to come by, and paid ads cost more than ever

Brands are seeking ways outside of social media and paid ads to showcase their products and services. Activating user-generated content, using your customers, and highlighting buyers using your product to generate social proof provides higher ROI than retargeting ads on social media.

2. Trust in all forms of media is declining

The skepticism created by efforts to fight false advertising, fake news, and fraudulent narratives will get deeper and more intense in the future.

Consumers know false narratives are increasingly common and that makes them wary of your marketing messages.

Content marketers have to be relevant and straightforward with their copy as they refine their brand messaging, and brands have to find ways to verify and increase credibility in their marketing. Social proof offers a way to do that.

3. More consumers seek user-generated content prior to making a purchase

It's human nature to want advice from a friend before you buy, but what if you're friends don't know anything about what you're looking to buy? You seek out someone who does know something about that product. The average consumer reads 10 online reviews before making their purchase decision.

Reviews are a form of social proof that sites leverage to help make sales. If users are posting social proof reviews, why not play a role as the provider of the product? As long as you are proactive in responding to each review and engage all customers, you can benefit from the user-generated social proof.

4. Ad blockers use is increasing

Consumers are clear: they don't want to see ads. Brands are seeking non-invasive ways to reach prospects and convince them to become customers. Social proof can help with conversion in a non-invasive way.

5. Influencer marketing is the fastest-growing consumer acquisition channel

As potential customers see others they respect or admire using particular products and services, they might be more likely to buy. Influencers are essentially celebrity social proof.

In Conclusion

So what does this all mean for your startup? We hope that this article on social proof is an eye-opening reminder of the importance of cultivating relationships. As a startup, you need to build your brand's credibility and establish trust with potential customers. You can do so by being genuine and interactive on social media. Follow up when people comment. Share information that has been shared by your followers. 

As HubSpot reminds us:

The first step [of cultivating people who will create social proof] is knowing how customers feel in general. Next, you need to take action to improve their results. Then you need to build a relationship with them. Finally, you need to ask them to participate. These are the bones of an advocacy program focused on customer success.


So, when people start purchasing your widget or utilizing the service you provide, be sure to ask what they think and ask them to leave a review. Make it easy to leave feedback and respond accordingly. If you want customers to be champions of your brand, you have to be a brand that's worth championing.

As far as Celebrity/Influencer marketing, keep in mind your target audience and think about the sort of partnerships that make sense. The type of influencer you tap in to will vary greatly depending on your market. As we always say, it pays to know your buyer personas so that you know were potential customers are spending their time and what their interests are. That way, you ensure that any marketing dollars you spend on recruiting an influencer to your side won't be wasted.

Keep in mind, too, that anything too forced or sales-y will come across as just that: disingenuous. As we mentioned above, the value of an un-paid endorsement from a "celebrity" figure in your niche speaks volumes as do the reviews from every-day customers who know you and your brand and appreciate what you have to offer them. 

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Shelley's been in Seattle practically since the dawn of time. She enjoys having fun (seriously) with research and writing. In her off hours she reads and walks, although not at the same time -- because tripping over sidewalks is embarrassing.


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