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Social Proof, Social Media, and Customer Habits Online

There are nearly countless numbers of thoughts that go through someone’s mind before they say “Yes, I’m going to spend my money on this product.” In the social media world, the product that you’re trying to get people to “buy” is your account. Social proof is a concept that plays heavily into this decision as it is, essentially, a form of peer pressure that we put on ourselves.

Example of social proof online include:


  • Product review websites

  • Large Twitter followings

  • Many YouTube video views or subscribers

  • A large collection of pictures on Instagram

  • Pins that are repinned frequently on Pinterest

  • Massive share numbers for a post on Facebook

These pieces of numerical data are picked up on by web users, and form the basis of social proof online.

What are some real world examples of social proof?

Social proof is an old concept that has been around for decades, long before the Internet. Its basic premise is that if others are doing it, you will be safe to do it too. Examples of social proof from the real world include:

  • TV shows may be the most guilty of all when it comes to social proof. Canned laughter is one factor as the laughs are your cue to laugh too. Live shows do it too. A big flashing sign can direct audiences to laugh, proving that this is the appropriate social reaction, and telling the audience at home that they should laugh too.

  • Bars that force a line to form by not allowing people in right away. After working in numerous bars and clubs myself, I can confirm that some do. It is done specifically so that those walking by can see that the club is open and desirable.

  • “Exclusive” clubs force you onto a wait list before you’re a member, here's the Melbourne Cricket Club showing you how long their wait list is. This works to enhance your perception of the place as one which is hard to get in, and more desirably exclusive.

  • Have you ever noticed how restaurants always feature images of smiling, happy people? Go ahead, find a sad family in this image search. That’s your social proof that their restaurant is a fun place to be. More formal restaurants will skip this and instead show the somber and relaxed atmosphere that they want to convey.

Social proof itself is not a new concept, the first experiments were, after all, conducted in 1935 by social psychologist Muzafer Sherif. How social proof applies to social media, user-generated content, and the online world, however, is quite new.

The five types of social proof that exist online

There are five main types of social proof which exist online:

  1. User supplied social proof

  2. Crowd based social proof

  3. Expert testimonials as social proof

  4. Celebrity endorsement social proof

  5. Peer pressure via your friends social proof

1. User supplied social proof

This relates directly to your current users and their reviews of your products or services. This can be:

  • Testimonials that they send you in emails that you get permission to publish

  • Tweets that they send to you

  • Online reviews that you link to our distribute via social media

How people relate to social proof via user reviews is through stories. This gives potential users the chance to put themselves in the shoes of another person. In short, you experience empathy. People tend to react better to stories than statistics as they can imagine a real world application to them where numbers and stats are just things they can look at, but feel no connection to.

Here’s an example below where I take some reviews that we have on our website, and put them next to graphs depicting that information:

Social proof as stories

I know, my charts are AMAZING and the data must have wowed you. All those pretty colors, right? Or, more likely, you didn’t care to look at it forl onger than a second, and read the reviews instead.

2. Crowd based social proof

In a social media context, this comes down to a simple numbers game. Think of your Twitter follower number as the line outside the bar. A short line, few followers, is unappealing. A long line, many followers, is something that will catch people’s interest.

Crowd based social proof shows why it’s important to increase your Twitter followers, get more YouTube views, and have a large fan base on Facebook - people believe a social media account that has lots of followers and fans. The tricky part is, of course, having something of worth to say once they follow you and truly engaging them enough to stay.

3. Expert testimonials as social proof

This may be one of the most difficult forms of social proof that you can get. It involves a trusted industry leader giving advice to their followers about the quality of what you provide. In the social media world this commonly involves bloggers, and other users with large followers who are noted outside of the social media world as experts.

You will commonly gain social proof via experts through blog posts, news articles, videos, tweets, and other social messages which they send out. A way that you can capitalize on them is by sending them out yourself, or creating a banner like ours where we feature those who have mentioned our company:

expert endorsement as social proof

The whole reason that most experts have jobs is because people trust them to begin with. Their clout when it comes to social proof is nearly unmatched. If it wasn’t for the people in the next group, experts may actually get the credit they deserve. Unfortunately, pretty and popular people get the real cash...

4. Celebrity endorsement as social proof

Using celebrity endorsement for your social proof is tricky. Choosing the wrong celebrity for your brand image can lead to negative reactions. The potential for fallout when celebrity endorsements go bad is also high, I’m sure I don’t have to cite examples of poor celebrity endorsements, but for fun I’ll mention Luis Suarez (bite), Lance Armstrong (bike), Michael Phelps (toke), Tiger Woods (tryst), Kathie-Lee Gifford (sweatshop), and OJ Simpson (come on).

There are some examples of celebrity endorsement on social media that work well enough, but sometimes come across as spammy. Here’s Brett Favre promoting a sports social media site. He’s the right type of person, an athlete, but let’s hope he keeps it in his pants online now:

celebrity endorsement as social proof

5. Peer pressure via your friends social proof

“Say whaaaat? I’m a grownup, I don’t listen to peer pressure!” I’m not talking about overt ‘smoke this cigarette or you’re not hanging out with us anymore’ peer pressure. I’m talking about the kind of peer pressure that is perfect for social media. It comes in two types:

  1. Seeing shares, comments, likes, and other social signals from your actual friends.

  2. Social widgets which display the number of shares that a post has had.

The first one happens on the social media accounts of each individual user. You base worth on posts when you’re scanning through them based on who’s sharing them. I have two or three Facebook friends who always post great articles that interest me. I always stop and take a look at their posts.

The second one is happening right here on this page. Can you spot it? Go back up to the top of the article and you’ll see something that looks like this:

social sharing widget

That is a type of peer pressure as these are votes of confidence by people who you know are in your peer group - they’re here on this specific website, and interested in what you’re interested in.

How to use social proof in your social media marketing

Combining your social proof gained through social media, with your other online marketing efforts can yield powerful results. Here are five examples of what you can do:

  • Add a social widget to display your shares across each social network

  • Use a tool which allows you to show your number of blog subscribers

  • Display your follower numbers for other social platforms on your website

  • Share testimonials from actual customers on your social platforms

  • Work with an expert on content that promotes your products, services, or expertise

Social proof can be a powerful motivating factor in real life purchase decisions, and in the simple thought of “will I, or won’t I, follow this business account?” Use it to your advantage and see your follower numbers, and customer conversion, increase.

Feature image by Gerardo Obieta.
All others are author's own. No, I'm not quitting my day job to create graphics.

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