Social Proof: Using Psychology to Convert

Do you remember the last time you were in a new country or city? Perhaps you wanted to go out for dinner but didn’t know which spots had delicious meals. Most of us like to stroll and glance into a café or restaurant and see how many people are eating and drinking. If you only see a couple of people sitting around without eating, you’ll probably assume that the food is not good.

Even if the restaurant looks fancy and is located in trendy part of town, you’ll keep walking. On the other hand, if there’s a line in front of the restaurant, you know the dining experience is exquisite.  Even if the restaurant looks run-down, odds are you want to check it out.

What both of these scenarios describe is social proof. Sometimes referred to as informational social influence, social proof is a belief system universal to all humans that sees actions of others as correct the more times it’s observed. We are wired as humans to think that if a large number of people are doing something, then it must be correct.

This restaurant example is only one instance of social proof. If you buy a product because your friend recommended it, this is another example. Or browsing through a website and reading a testimonial from a respect industry leader is another common example.

Social proof is an expression of our human nature: we are pack animals. This is why we often look to others to determine the right course of action in an unfamiliar situation.

Clever marketers have leveraged this human trait to influence consumer behaviour. However, there are many different instances of social proof in the world of marketing. If you can prove that your product/service is popular, you can put prospects at ease and make them feel good about choosing your business.

In this blog post, we’ll take a deep dive into how successful marketers have effectively used social proof to dramatically increase conversion rates and grow businesses. After you read this article, you’ll understand how to use social proof in your marketing campaigns.

The Importance of Social Proof in Stats

Let’s look at the vital role social proof plays in the world of marketing and commerce:

As these stats show, businesses cannot afford not to incorporate social proof into their overall marketing campaign. Consumers are relentlessly bombarded with ads, making them highly suspicious of new brands. That’s why social proof has become an integral marketing tactic for many growing companies.

Main Types of Social Proof

Let’s now look at the most effective types of social proof successful marketers frequently use. While there are countless ways to use social proof, the underlying theme among all of them is showing that other people like the product/service and so should the prospect or customer.

Recommendation from Experts

A powerful form of social proof used by brands is expert endorsement. The expert can be anyone whose trust and opinion is valued – it could be a popular blogger or an industry leader.

For instance, if a foodie with a popular blog and social media following recommends using a cast iron skillet manufactured by a particular brand, then the business will certainly see its sales increase.

There are many different ways this can happen, including the following:

  • The blogger could write a piece of content about the product on their website
  • Make a post on social media
  • Posting a picture of themselves using the product

However, you shouldn’t limit yourself only to these forms of outreach. One great and easy way to incorporate expert social proof into your marketing strategy is to invite them as guest speakers to a Facebook Live discussion. This way, not only will your followers on social media benefit from expert advice from key people in the field, but your brand will be associated with industry experts.

These are only some of the ways that trusted voices in a field can use their influence to promote products/services.

Celebrity Endorsement

This is a very lucrative marketing strategy, which is similar to the previous type of social proof we discussed. Just like the expert, a celebrity typically endorses a product/service by making a post on Instagram, Facebook or tweeting about it. The power of this strategy is magnified if the endorsement is not paid by the brand at all.

The power of this strategy is self-evident: the brand is associated with the stardom of the celebrity. As a result, people who are admired increase the value of the brand in the eyes of their fans.

A powerful example of this type of social is Jessica Simpson’s endorsement of Proactiv, a skin-care brand. What made this strategy particularly effective is that Simpson got rid of her acne by using Proactiv’s products.


Jessica Simpson was Proactiv’s perfect celebrity for two reasons:

  • She actually used the product and was delighted with it
  • As a pop star, the beauty product was relevant to her field

Even though she didn’t actually produce her own endorsement, the message was authentic and powerful, which is why the campaign was a success. It’s important to choose the right celebrity who will get your visitors or prospects to excited about the product.

Customer Social Proof

Customer social proof is a perfect strategy for businesses that manufacture technical products or for those in highly competitive markets.

Consumers aren’t going to be convinced that a product/service works because the company that makes it says it does. This is why brands love sharing customer success stories. Consumers are more likely to make a purchase if they come across a testimonial from a satisfied customer.

In fact, some brands even encourage their customers to make videos showing how they use their product/service.

Another effective way of leveraging customer social proof is to ask customers to post on the brand’s social media accounts. Unfortunately, a lot of businesses hesitate to employ this tactic for fear of giving space to possible negative reviews.

However, this is a risk that you should be willing to take because even in the event that you receive negative reviews, it can still be used to your advantage. If the negative reviews are few and far between, then when they do pop up, it gives your brand an element of authenticity because it shows that you are honest with your audience.

This type of social proof is effective for another reason: it triggers an innate human “fear of missing out” or FOMO. If you emphasize the fact that heaps of people are enjoying your product/service, then you create an urge in prospects of not being left out, which will then spur the prospects to make a purchase.

Interestingly, it turns out that consumers are swayed more by quantity than the quality or the type of review. What is important is the number of people who have purchased the product/service. So, when a consumer sees an overwhelmingly large list of users, then it increases the chances that the consumer will follow suit and make the purchase.

Actively browse forums and review websites and keep track of what people are saying about your brand so that you can use any social proof content. When selecting testimonials to upload to your landing page, try to use those that address a common objection a potential customer might have. This way, you’ll push them closer to converting because you’ve taken away a worry they may have had about your product/service.

Friends as Social Proof

A marketing strategy more powerful than any other form of advertising is the recommendations we get from people close to us. For example, a famous experiment conducted by the psychologist Robert Cialdini discovered that it’s more probable that people take part in a door-to-door campaign if their close ones were on the donor list.

However, while this type of social proof is the most effective, it’s also the most difficult to use in an authentic manner. And digital marketers don’t have too many options to implement this tactic.

Some brands, like AirBnB give discounts for friends, which is a clever tactic because it acts both as social proof and a reason for the person to try out the service.

The other option is to display which email contacts and Facebook friends enjoy the service. Facebook suggests Pages and content for us by analysing our friends’ behaviour on the platform. Again, the idea is that we are more likely to engage with a brand if it comes from familiar people whom we trust.

Therefore, the best way for online businesses to use this type of social proof is to show users which one of their friends has signed up for the service.

LinkedIn shows people who signed up their friends or contacts on the platform.

Another popular example is when users log into their Facebook accounts from TripAdvisor, they are shown places their friends have visited along with recommendations.

Crowd as Social Proof

The final type of social proof is based on the principle that the more popular a product/service the more likely it will attract even more customers or fans. For instance, meals advertised as “most popular” on a menu generally get picked the most often.

Or to take an example from the digital world, a brand that has millions of followers on Instagram or Twitter is using relying on this type of social proof.

This tactic is great for blogs. The marketing analytics software company TrackMaven has a feature on their blog that uses crowd as social proof. Readers are shown a “Most Popular Content” text box which contains other popular blog posts with the readers.

Image Source: HubSpot

As a result, people are gently nudged into “going with the flow” by clicking on other interesting posts, and thereby spending more of their time on the website. This lets TrackMaven to suggest further content and CTAs.

Netflix uses social proof to entice viewers to continue watching their content by displaying which TV series or films are trending because of popularity. This is an effective way of keeping users on the platform after they’ve finished watching an episode or a film. Netflix uses social proof in this case to increase retention.

A Final Note

You now know just how powerful social proofs are, and how to use them. It’s time to experiment with social proof across different channels – from Instagram posts to your pages and email – and convince prospects that your brand has what they need.

As long as you continue to show the large number of people who are enjoying your product/service, you are making it easier for prospects to take the next step and convert.

However, if you recently started your business or you don’t have a large number of customers, then it’s better to avoid using social proof before you accumulate a substantial number. 

This is because not having any social proof is much better than having only a little. The Visual Website Optimizer carried out a test to determine the effect low social proof has on conversions.

They looked at how social media buttons that contained low share counts lowered the number of conversions. Once they got rid of the buttons, conversion improved. As a result, they concluded that low social proof indicates to consumers that the brand is not particularly good.

If you feel that you absolutely must include the few testimonials that you have, then try to make them as specific as possible to a particular product/service. It’s best to include them as quotes across your website as opposed to only focusing on a single page. This way the testimonials are in the appropriate context and can help you sell the product/service.