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The Definitive Guide for Understanding the Power of Social Proof

Last edited: 20.09.2022

Social proof is a roof-term for at least the following: user generated content (UGC), word of mouth, testimonials, video testimonials, reviews, fear of missing out, and many more.

It basically means that we tend to mimic the behavior of others in situations which are new to us. And successful marketers and sales people know how to use that to make us buy.

After reading this article you’ll:

  1. Understand the principles of how social proof affects us
  2. Be able to recognize and use different types of social proof
  3. Increase conversions on your landing page (and on all pages for that matter!)
  4. Increase your overall revenue

Defining Social Proof

This section will go over what social proof is and what types of social proof exist. In case you’re more of a listener than reader, we recommend trying these 9 best social proof podcasts to learn more on the topic.

Social proof is a psychological phenomenon that affects us all. We look at how others around us (re)act in an attempt to reflect correct behavior in a specific context. It relies on the notion that we assume (especially when we feel unsure of how to act)that everyone around us knows better than us how to act in that given situation.

For example, if you’ve never been to a formal dinner, you sit down and see all of this in front of you, ….

Source

… you’ll with 100% certainty not be the first one to start eating. You’ll wait for people next to you to pick up the cutlery first so that you can mimic them.

Robert B. Cialdini is probably the most cited person on this matter, because he’s globally referred to as the “Godfather of Influence” thanks to his extensive research on the psychology of influence.

According to him, social proof states that one way we use to determine what is correct is to find out what other people think is correct. The principle applies especially to the way we decide what constitutes correct behavior. We view a behavior as more correct in a given situation when we see others performing it.

principle of social proof

In other words, if someone else is doing something, we’re very likely to think that we should be doing that as well.

Early Studies about Social Proof

In addition to all the studies Caldini has performed, there is also plenty of other research done on social proof.

Muzafer Sherif: A Study of Some Social Factors in Perception (1935)

Sherif set out to research how individuals perceive their environment in terms of their own personal habits of perceiving. He takes into account that each individual’s cultural group plays a huge role in perceiving anything, because the groups differ in how they perceive social situations.

In layman terms, Sherif wanted to figure out how individuals’ group identity will affect their behavior. It was previously commonly thought that only the individual’s internal factors, such as, drive, attitude or emotional upset were affecting their behavior.

One concrete example he uses to justify his study deals with how each society perceives time.

Western culture is used to having seconds, minutes, hours, etc. and measuring long periods of time in weeks, months or years. However, for a tribe in the jungle of the Andamans, their calendar is a calendar of scents. Because of their connection to nature, they perceive seasons changing and time passing by smelling the air, as different trees and lianas bloom during different seasons.

social-proof-perceiving-time

In his research, Sherif asked subjects to estimate the speed and direction of a dot (that wasn’t in fact moving at all). He asked individuals to estimate these factors and then examined what groups of people estimate. He found out that when individuals are a part of a group, their perceived estimates of the movement are significantly changed.

How is this relevant for marketing and sales?

Every action we take is influenced by which social group(s) we identify with. This should be taken into account when creating marketing campaigns.

Solomon Asch: Conformity Experiments (1951)

Asch worked in the field of psychology and dedicated his career to figuring out how individuals yielded or defied a majority group and how doing either one affected their beliefs and opinions. His methods are still used today to study conformity effects of task importance, age, sex and culture.

The most famous experiment was the line experiment, where the participants were asked to do simple “perceptual” tasks. The trick was that only one person was actually the subject and other participants were actors. The subject was unaware that others were, in fact, actors.

(Photo courtesy of: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Asch_experiment.svg)

They were all asked to tell out loud which one (A, B or C) corresponded with the reference line that is on the left. It looks like a no-brainer task, but how would you react if everyone before you said with a straight face that they think A is right?

They alternated who answered first (the subject or actors) and found out that if subjects were the last to answer, they are likely to conform to the opinions of others even if they can see that they are wrong.

I’ve been in such a situation, where everyone thought one thing and I had the opposite opinion. I was one of the last people in a group of 20 to answer and I must admit that I was sweating bullets. My voice probably trembled, but I stood my ground and I remember blushing as everyone stared at me for having a different opinion. (Turns out that I was right, by the way.)

Nevertheless, the important thing to remember when using social proof is that if you get the public to your side, it’s highly likely that others will follow. Customer testimonials featuring a few people are a great way to convince people that you’re a good and reliable company.

Forms of Social Proof with Examples

Let’s then move on to going over the different types of social proof and examples of social proof.

The core idea of using any form of social proof is that you are aiming to give your potential customers more reasons to trust your business and to wipe away any possible suspicions about you.

Let’s go!

Expert Social Proof

We trust authorities and also the industry experts and thought leaders of our own industry.

By adding expert social proof to your website, you’re adding to your credibility. People tend to mimic the things the leaders of their industry are doing in order to improve their own business.

Nowadays, it’s a common practice to add the customer logos of big brands to one’s own website. Having them there probably won’t hurt, but people are becoming more critical and demanding in terms of knowing how and why they use your product or service.

I mean, everyone knows that Google is a huge player in the market, but rather than just having their logo on your site, tell people which services they are using and what type of results they’ve achieved.

It might be a good idea to add the person working in a key role as well as their opinion about you on the site to add the needed social proof in your marketing. Getting these sort of text-form testimonials might sound like hard work, but we can help you.

By using Trustmary, you’ll be able to get those comments that you might get via email (“I love the service as our sales have increased by 150% in three months, thank you guys!”) to be automatically gathered and published on your website without bothering your high-profile customers with review requests.

Celebrity Social Proof

We aspire to look and be like our favorite celebrities. In some cases, they also serve as authority figures. Nevertheless, we look up to celebrities and attach positive emotions to them.

If you have a product or service that celebrities can endorse and you think they have the right target audience amidst their followers, you can try to approach them to do a (paid) collaboration with you. Naturally, it works best if they simply promote your product or service, for example, in the instagram stories, because they liked it so much.

Pepsi is famous for creating high-end annual campaigns with celebrities.

In 2019, they partnered with Cardi B, who then promoted the collaboration on her Instagram account as well.

celebrity social proof

Luckily, you can also choose a little less known celebrity to collaborate with. If your budget isn’t cut-out for the big players, consider partnering up with micro-influencers that are have a very engaged follower base.

You can easily create a branded hashtag they can use that may or may not go viral or ask them to do honest product reviews. No matter what you do, if you get them talking good about you, it’s highly likely that their social influence will get more people to at least talk about you.

Celebrities often have a large amount of followers, which means that social proof works especially well in creating brand awareness.

User Social Proof

User social proof refers to all types of success stories. These can be case studies, if they’re created by you. User social proof can also be User Generated Content (UGC) which means that your real customers are filming video content or writing about their experiences on your products or services.

More and more companies have jumped on the UGC bandwagon and encourage people to create video content, blog posts, and user reviews, which can then be used by the companies themselves in marketing campaigns.

User social proof can be used on each social media platform to reach the social networks of the people that posted the content and to target new audiences.

user-social-proof-ig-story

Sharing Instagram stories of your existing customer base is a great way to:

  1. Show how the product is used
  2. Show that existing customers are happy using it
  3. Add visual social proof: Yes, people are using this and this is how easy it is

ExpressionMed is brilliant in sharing UGC across all their social media platforms. Furthermore, their entire page is filled with user reviews and they’ve really put a lot of effort into their online marketing.

If your product or service isn’t quite as concrete, you can try other ways to share more knowledge of your services. One great example is to share the concrete benefits one has gotten by collaborating with you.

Wisdom of the Crowds

important-numbers-social-proof

Wisdom of the crowds refers to the numbers:

  • Users
  • Downloads
  • Customers served
  • Countries covered
  • Most bought product
  • Most popular sound
  • Most liked/commented photo
  • Most read article
  • Share counts
  • Number of blog readers or email subscribers

Basically, it can be any numerical value tied to your business and its purpose is to tell others:

“Hey, this is how many customers have used our service!”

It’s used to build trust and it’s a great form to publish both on your website as well as on social media.

wisdom-of-crowds-numbers

Here’s an example of how GlobalGiving builds trust in new donors by showcasing all the relevant numbers on their website.

wisdom of crowds numbers

And here’s how they post the results of one of their campaigns on their Instagram account to raise awareness and to show everyone what they could be part of if they donated as well.

Wisdom of your Friends

We all trust the experiences of our family, friends and colleagues. We also tend to trust the experiences of our neighbors’ cousins, if someone tells a compelling story about that. Due to our emotional bonds to these people, we think we have shared interests and are likely to take their word for a product or service over the opinions of others.

By encouraging your customer base to share a positive review on their own social media will for sure bring you more traffic. Make sure that you use review sites that allow your reviewers to also share their experiences on social media simultaneously.

Have you tried sharing the share counts of how many times others have shared their experiences? This is a great way to motivate others to do the same.

wisdom of friends share count

People are much more likely to share content that has already been shared 1997 times before.

Furthermore, the next form of social proof is closely linked to both the wisdom of the crowds and friends.

Negative Social Proof

Negative social proof means that you try to achieve a goal with social proof, but it has the opposite effect. In other words, people adopt the opposite behavior than what you intended.

For example, if you aim to get many social media shares for your post and state:

“Only a few people have shared our story, but it’d help us out greatly if you could”

It’s highly like that they won’t share it either. Why? Because they justify their behavior by thinking that “most people” haven’t shared it either.

This phenomenon was discovered when three researchers – Robert Cialdini, Steve Martin and Noah Goldstein – conducted an experiment in Arizona Petrified Forest, where stealing petrified wood was becoming a real problem for the park.

They divided the park into three zones and posted two differently phrased signs and left the third zone without a sign to act as the control group.

The first zone’s sign said:

negative social proof experiment

“Please don’t remove petrified wood from the park, in order to preserve the natural state of the Petrified Forest.”

The second sign said:

negative social proof experiment

“Many past visitors have removed the petrified wood from the park, changing the natural state of the Petrified Forest.”

As a result, the number of thefts in the second zone tripled compared to the first zone.

power of negative social proof

Conclusion on Forms of Social Proof

6 forms of social proof

In conclusion, it’s important to evaluate which form of social proof works for your business.

Is it important to get industry experts? Be listed at the Better Business Bureau to appear credible? Or something else?

The most effective way to have all types of social proof in your marketing is to get current customer(s) to provide you with reviews and testimonials. That can then be easily posted on your social media, landing pages, pricing page and so on to increase conversions.

Together, we can increase your sales by 32% by placing social proof to where it matters the most.

6 Actionable Social Proof Strategies for Your Marketing

Next, let’s go over six effective strategies to boost your marketing with social proof.

Especially after the COVID-19 hit us, social proof has become even more important. Review interactions have gone up 50% compared to pre-pandemic times.

1. Tell a Story

From the beginning of time, humans have shared stories about their experiences with others. It’s still done by everyone all over the world, but you should also use social proof as a marketing tool.

We are 22 times more likely to remember a fact when it’s embedded into a story.

Use every type of social proof you have available to tell a coherent story on your website and across social media platforms.

How to Tell a Story?

  • Let your existing customers’ voices be heard – Make them the main character
  • Highlight the problem they had
  • Let your customers tell how you helped them
  • Focus on the emotional side, but include a few key numbers

Storytelling is more about raising emotions than about stating facts.

Here’s a great example from TANA on how to tell a compelling story by using both text and video.

Social Proof that Helps You Tell a Story

1. Video Testimonials

Your client is the star of the show and tells their story in their own words. Let them speak freely and don’t script the filming. Ask open-ended questions. We recommend outsourcing the filming of testimonials, so that they become more authentic.

Testimonials can and should be posted on your social media and on your website. Place relevant video testimonials on product pages to convince the people who’re already considering buying from you.

You can post a short clip of the video as an ad and guide the interested audience to go to a different page to watch the whole video.

If you don’t have any video testimonials, I’ve got good news for you. You can try using a social proof app to collect them.

2. Review Popups on Your Website

When you have someone on your website, let them know that other people have bought from you. You’ve probably seen this done by hotels and ecommerce websites (“5 people are looking at the same hotel” or “Madeline just bought this product. There are only 4 left in stock”)

Those are more about creating urgency and work with the principles of fear of missing out. Nevertheless, they focus on building trust by using the voice of your satisfied customers.

If you claim on your product pages that your services increase sales by x%, add review popups that prove your point. Not said by you, but by your happy customers.

For example, if someone is looking at our product page on measuring and reporting customer experience, it’s effective to showcase then and there that some customers actually have successfully used your product to do just these things.

Here are some ways you can customize the social proof popups shown on your website:

  • Show reviews from Google, Facebook, Trustmary
  • Page visitors
  • Content
  • Social media followers
  • Event feed
  • Videoplayer

2. Use Supporting Copy near CTAs

Call to actions (CTAs) are a way to get people to convert, to perform an action, such as, subscribe to your email list, go to your website, book a meeting or buy from you.

What you really need to do to convince people to act as you want is to add social proof as supporting copy next to the CTAs.

Let’s imagine that someone is scrolling through your site and sees the new product you launched. You added a “add to cart” CTA and hope that they see what a great product you have.

no supporting copy near cta

You drive traffic to your product page, but no-one clicks on the add to cart. You’re lacking proof that it actually works.

Try adding comments, reviews and testimonials from your real-life customers to boost the conversion rates.

supporting-copy-near-cta

Now your visitors have the masses to trust (favorited by Max and 8 more) and they have a real-life human being recommending the product.

When you add social proof near CTAs, keep in mind the following:

  1. Offer more information about the product
  2. Let your customers speak for you
  3. Highlight the comments that were the most surprising to you
  4. Do A/B testing to see which social proof boosts your conversion rates the most

3. Social Media Extravaganza

Social media is an excellent platform for spreading your social proof. Make sure that your customers and prospects feel that they can easily interact with you and to ask questions.

In addition to keeping your social media channels up-to-date, do at least the following:

  1. Make sure people can reach you through many channels (Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, Tiktok,…)
  2. Answer within reasonable time
  3. Thank everyone for their comments and feedback (even though they might be negative!)
  4. Share any positive feedback you receive
  5. Praise your advocates
  6. Consider having an industry leader or a celebrity to takeover your social media
  7. Try out influencer marketing if you’re in B2C

We all look for companies’ social media profiles to check their opening hours, reviews and offerings in general. Make it easy for your prospective customers to choose you over the competition by providing them with positive social proof in every way possible.

If you get someone to come to your social media channels, make it impossible for them to not buy from you by showing them how many people already love you and why.

4. Collect and Showcase Reviews

In order for you to develop your business, you need to know what people really think about you. Collecting reviews is an excellent way to gain insights on your business.

In addition to gaining insights, you’ll be able to showcase reviews to any prospective customers and to build trust in your brand and product.

A great way to do this is to import your existing reviews from Google and Facebook and use them lead generation popups.

statistics on effects of social proof

Trustmary is a great tool for both collecting feedback and showcasing it in multiple channels –automatically. You can find all case studies here to get your inspired to start improving your business while adding social proof to boost sales.

Talking about case studies…

5. Use Case Studies

Case studies will take a lot of work to create, but they’ll convince even the most doubtful potential customer. By creating data-driven and in-depth analysis of your services, you can make prospects relate to the problems your customers have had. At the same time, they realize that you are there to solve those issues.

After you’ve gathered the data and written it in a neat format:

  • Post them on your blog
  • Post them on your social media
  • Share them via newsletters
  • In case the case studies include information that is otherwise not widely share to public, create gated content to generate leads

6. Supercharge Landing Pages with Social Proof

Make social proof the cornerstone of your landing pages. Especially after the COVID-19 stopped us from meeting anyone face to face, being able to build trust online has become increasingly important.

With social proof, more is more.

Checklist for Adding Social Proof on Landing Pages

Consider having at least these forms of social proof on your landing page

  • Logos of industry leaders
  • Video testimonials
  • Social proof popups
  • Names and faces of satisfied customers
  • Key numbers (users, countries served, …)
  • Reviews and ratings from third party review sites
  • Press mentions
  • Celebrity or expert endorsements
  • Current influencer marketing campaigns
  • Customer favorites
  • User generated content (UGC)

One cool example I just saw from Granit was this UGC addition on their product page:

user-generated-content-example

Use A/B and multivariate testing to figure out which elements increase conversions the most. If you’re looking for a tool to gather social proof, place it easily on your website and landing pages AND to do the testing on what it works, follow this step-by-step on getting more social proof.

Conclusion on Using Social Proof in Marketing

The most important thing is to have as much content as possible to test out different approaches. Before you can start to optimize anything, you need to have a starting point to improve on.

Social proof marketing has been one of the fastest growing phenomena in marketing and will continue to grow in 2022. In order to be able to do social proof marketing, you need to have satisfied customers and you need to know why they’re happy. Furthermore, add consistency to your social proof strategy. It’s not enough to do it once a year, it’s a process.

Have a look at social proof examples in B2B marketing to get even more insights on improving your own strategy.

5+1 Actionable Social Proof Strategies for Your Sales

In the next section, we’ll go over 5 actionable social proof strategies you can use to increase your sales.

Before we do that, you need to understand two things:

  1. What does your sales funnel look like
  2. What stage your leads are at in your sales funnel

Here’s what a customer journey may look like for some companies.

define customer journey

Typical stages of customer journey

  1. Awareness
  2. Research
  3. Selection
  4. Delivery
  5. Follow-up

Not every message works for all audiences. If someone is at the need stage and not even aware that you might be a fitting solution, they’re most likely not interested in the fact that your NPS is 78. They’re interested in finding someone to solve their problem.

More importantly, try to shift your thinking from funnel-oriented thinking to the idea of a flywheel. Flywheel is a circle of continuous value production, where actions follow each other over and over again. Aim to prove your worth to your prospects at each stage of the process to ensure steady growth.

sales funnel for using social proof

Okay, now we’re ready to go over how to use social proof in your sales.

1. Counter Objections

Use testimonials from happy customers to counter any objections your potential customers might have. Research what are the most common objections prospects have about you and showcase them reviews or testimonials that counter these objections.

2. Imply that They Need You…

… Because so many industry leaders have needed you too.

Let them read between the lines that you’re the right choice to fix their problems too. Use testimonials from industry leaders and showcase the concrete benefits they have gained by using your services.

3. Add Reviews to Your Sales Presentation

Show the names, faces, titles and companies of your satisfied customers and include a short quote from them on your collaboration. In other words, bring your satisfied customers to the meeting with you! It’s better to see faces, names and companies rather than just the typical logos of most known customers.

People assume that sales presentations are just about going over the technical details, but you can surprise your audience by showing them what others think about you and your product. Sell them your product with emotional content!

If you have many great video testimonials, use them with caution when presenting. You can always attach the video to an email later on, but this might be your once in a lifetime opportunity to make an impression with the whole picture. Choose the video testimonial that this prospect can relate the most to.

Pro tip: Fo a little digging through LinkedIn to see if your potential customer is connected with one of the people featured on your video testimonial or reviews. Include the ones they’re acquaintances with as they’ll be the most impactful.

4. Attach Testimonials to Offers

If you’ve reached the stage where you can send an actual offer to a customer don’t lose this golden opportunity to add social proof.

They’re already at a stage where you’re a strong candidate. Give them more reasons to choose you. Spice your offer by sending them a short quote of what someone else in their industry has thought about working with you.

5. Include Happy Customers to All Communication

Every interaction counts and in the digital environment it’s easier to provide social proof examples than it is in face to face meetings.

Add Social Proof to:

  • Your email signature (short quotes, NPS score, reviews, logos,…)
  • Your short bio on social media
  • Check-out page
  • As an automated message to your chatbot while they’re waiting for you to answer
    • Helen from your area says: This product changed my life!”

6. Find Out Who’s Leaving You – Before They Even Know It

Measuring your NPS is a great way to track customer loyalty. Once you start measuring customer satisfaction regularly, you’ll also be able to reduce your customer churn rate.

How? By being able to solve their issues and to tackle any misunderstandings once they arise. You can’t fix what you don’t know is broken.

Conclusion on Social Proof Strategies for Sales

These were just some examples of how you can boost your sales with social proof. The more authentic and creative your communication is, the more of an impact you can make.

You can truly stand out from your competition when you stop blowing your own horn and let your satisfied customers’ voices be heard.

Improve Conversions with Social Proof

In case conversion rates are a new topic for you, we recommend reading our Definitive Guide to Optimizing Conversion Rate first.

Why is social proof important? The answer lies in conversions and improving them. Once you improve your conversions, it’ll down the line lead to more sales opportunities. The process is often referred to as conversion rate optimization, CRO.

Here’s an actionable check-list of things you can do to boost conversions with social proof.

Do at Least the Following to Boost Conversions

  1. Incorporate social proof into your CTAs
    1. “Enjoy the same benefits as our over 200k users”
  2. Place social proof near your CTAs
    1. Anything from logos to actual quotes from customers will work. If you have a video testimonial, your chances of performing better are 91%!
  3. Include social proof on your pricing page
    1. People who are already checking your prices are likely to convert into paying customers. Persuade them with some strategically placed social proof.
  4. Include relevant social proof on your check-out page
    1. It can increase your sales by 32% as it did for Körskortskolan.
  5. Constantly A/B test what works and what doesn’t
    1. You can read more about A/B testing in one of our previous blog posts
boost-conversions-with-social-proof

Trustmary is the best tool for incorporating all these factors into your business.

3 Best Software for Gathering and Utilizing Social Proof

If you’re looking for the best software for gathering and utilizing social proof, look no further. This comprehensive list will help you to choose the best software for your business.

1. Trustmary

best-software-for-gathering-social-proof

Trustmary is the number one testimonial tool for both collecting ready-to-use testimonials and to actually put them to use effectively.

It enables your business to:

  1. Gather feedback and reviews from customers
  2. Measure NPS
  3. Simultaneously collect (video) testimonials
  4. Import reviews from other review platforms, such as Trustpilot and Capterra
  5. Automatically publish testimonials and reviews on your website with popups and widgets
  6. Do A/B and multivariate tests on which social proof converts most

In other words, the software allows companies to turn positive feedback into testimonials. In addition, it’s a tool that can be used by all teams within a company thanks to its versatile functions. It can even be integrated directly with your CRM to automate the process.

social proof drives customer driven growth

2. Trustpulse

With Trustpulse, you can increase your website conversion rate with social proof by adding popups to your website.

Trustpulse enables you to:

  1. Track events in real-time
  2. Set up notifications that are actually current
  3. Track smarter with advanced targeting rules
  4. Customize the popups
  5. Get actionable analytics

It’s a great tool for setting up popups for your website that can create that fear of missing out-moment.

3. Smash Balloon

With Smash Balloon, you can:

  1. Create customizable social media feeds to your website
  2. Setup social feeds in WordPress without coding
  3. Get the benefits without having to compromise on site speed
  4. Leverage social proof to boost engagement, subscribers and sales

Smash Balloon is an excellent choice if you want to display the content from your social media directly on your WordPress website as well.

FAQ on Social Proof

Social proof is a psychological phenomenon which means that people adapt the behavior of others when they’re unsure how to act. They assume that the masses know what to do.

The limit does not exist. The more personalized social proof you can showcase to each customer, the better your results will be.

Yes, if you use the wrong type of wording it can lead to negative social proof. For example, writing “Only a few people have reviewed us. What is your opinion of us?” will most probably result in getting even fewer reviews in the future, as people tend to act the same as the majority.

Try phrasing it “Mike said that our products are really useful for him on a daily basis. Please let us know your thoughts on our product!”. Once your numbers increase, you can say “Hundreds have already reviewed us. What is your opinion?”

There are many fish in the sea when it comes to choosing the best social proof app to fit your needs. Here are 5 you should consider using: