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Ever walked past a restaurant with a long line and thought to yourself: “The food must be good if people are waiting that long to get in.”
You assume that the food must be well worth the long waiting times. You might even make a mental note to try out the restaurant, or at least look it up when you have the time.
That’s social proof in action.
It’s a psychological phenomenon where as humans, we form opinions and perceptions based on the actions of other people. (And that’s despite how individual and original we like to claim we are.)
In this guide, we walk you through what social proof is, how to use it, and why it’s important to your sales and marketing strategy. We’ll also share plenty of real-life social proof examples to show how it can add fuel to your marketing engine.
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What is social proof?
Social proof is the psychological phenomenon that happens when people assume that the actions of others are correct depending on the frequency of those actions. We tend to think they reflect the best behavior for a given situation.
There’s a social psychology component of normative social influence: We tend to conform to big group behavior for social acceptance—even if what they do doesn’t line up with what we think is correct behavior.
You can imagine how much more powerful this effect becomes when you add social media platforms to the mix—a place where almost everything is public and accessible with a few clicks.
Social scientist Robert Cialdini explains:
“In our research, we’ve found that in more collectivist, communal cultures, certain kinds of persuasive appeals are more successful. Social proof is very powerful. If a lot of your peers are doing something, that’s a more powerful impetus for you than for people in more individualistic cultures, where one looks inside the self and doesn’t use the group as the standard for deciding.”
Take Apple as a well-known example. When the brand releases a new product, you’re bound to see news coverage of people waiting in long lines, or even better, pitching tents outside stores to be the first to get their hands on the newest release.
If you didn’t know anything about the Apple iPhone and you saw that, it would be easy to think there must be something amazing about their products that you’re missing out on. At the very least, watching crowds of people go to great lengths to get their hands on new Apple releases captures your interest.
It’s scenarios like these that show the power social proof can have. As you notice other people engaging with a popular product, it instantly becomes more attractive.
The beauty of this, especially for marketers, is that with social proof, you don’t need a sales agent to try to convince you of how “good” a product is.
Instead, marketers can lean on an online marketing approach that capitalizes on consumers seeing positive opinions and making assumptions. In essence, that’s how social proof marketing works.
How social proof impacts sales
There’s no doubt that social proof works across various points of the customer journey. There’s data to back it up.
Customers reviews can increase trust
Scanning sites like TrustPilot and Yelp before buying something new? You’re not the only one.
Data shows that nine out of every 10 consumers read customer reviews before making a purchase. Not only that, a whopping 79% of consumers say they trust online reviews just as much as they trust a friend’s recommendation. Friend and family recommendations are also how 40% of consumers find new brands to follow.
Customer testimonials form an important part of the sales funnel. Reviews about a specific product can increase conversion rates by 270%. They’re what helped My Supplement Store increase conversions on product pages, as Brian Anderson explains:
“In order to help provide more trust with visitors to our site, we offer social proof on all our product pages. Whenever anyone visits a product page with at least one customer review, they see a small slider near the footer of their screen with the name of the reviewer and his review of the product.
This helps the customer to trust not only in the product, but our company. Since implementing this strategy our conversion rates have increased from 2.4% to 2.8% on our product pages with customer reviews.”
It’s not just product pages you should use to collect customer reviews, though. Potential shoppers look to review sites like TrustPilot, Yelp, and Google My Business to form decisions before purchasing--hopping from your site to those aggregators multiple times before converting.
Peer social proof creates buy-in
If a peer came to you raving about how a new skincare product cured their acne, you’d be eager to try it, right?
You’re not the only one. Some 83% of consumers say recommendations from friends and family make them more likely to make a purchase—meaning a wave of new customers could be on the horizon if you’re encouraging happy customers to tell their friends.
Ecommerce brands can use this peer social proof on all touchpoints throughout a website. Everything from the homepage to a checkout page can nudge customers towards making the next step.
User-generated content (UGC) increases familiarity
You can’t forget about the impact user-generated content can have on sales. Some 79% of people say this type of content highly impacts their purchasing decisions. It makes sense considering that 85% of users find UGC to be more persuasive than standard photos or videos.
That’s what jewelry brand Faruzo did by sending PR packages to TikTok and YouTube influencers for exposure through UGC. Aviad Faruzon, its founder, explains:
“One of my most effective social proof strategies was to send PR packages to renowned influencers on Instagram and TikTok. Nowadays, social media influencers are an extremely cost-effective yet beneficial way to increase sales because they have a wide number of followers.
This was a huge success because the influencers wore our jewelry pieces and reviewed them positively—which got all their followers onto my website! The traffic increased by about 15% through her post!”
Celebrity endorsements increase sales
How about celebrity endorsements? Well, the Nike Air Jordans, launched in 1984, has been one of the most successful celebrity endorsement campaigns in history. Jordan sales increased by 31% even throughout the pandemic.
It’s pretty safe to say betting on Michael Jordan to sell sneakers is one of the best financial decisions Nike has ever made.
This type of social proof usually happens outside of a brand’s eCommerce website. Its social media profile, press coverage, and sponsored influencer content play a big role in using a celebrity’s endorsement to build trust.
“We use social proof by posting lifestyle images with a mix of influencer and customer-created content on our Instagram page. Specifically, it's our goal to build social proof by showcasing every day and aspirational individuals using our products. This builds instant validation and becomes even easier for first-time customers to trust us.”
Jameson Rodgers, co-founder of CBDfx
The 6 types of social proof (with examples)
There are countless real-life examples of how valuable the many forms of social proof can be to a business. Knowing which social proof is best suited for your business might take some experimentation at first. But, as you’ve seen, the payoff can be massive.
Below are the six types of social proof you should be using, backed up with examples to show how (and why) they work.
Expert social proof
Trying to make a buying decision on something you’re unfamiliar with? Chances are you’ll trust the opinion of an expert more than anyone else. It’s easy to think that since they’re the expert, they probably know better than you.
1. Manuka Doctor
Manuka Honey wants you to know that Dr. Fred Pescatore likes and trusts the brand enough to put his name to it. With this social proof example, the well-known and respected expert takes the time to write a guest post authored with his name. It also includes a tip to help you strengthen your immune system—using products from the brand he’s endorsing.
Look to the toothpaste world for examples of social proof in action. It’s a competitive industry where the contents of the bottle are largely the same, no matter the packaging. Expert social proof is what helps toothpaste brands get their products off the shelves.
As you navigate to Sensodyne’s About page, you immediately see the “doctor’s recommended brand” stamp. There’s also a short paragraph on Sensodyne being the #1 recommended toothpaste by dentists.
It even includes the study (albeit in smaller text) that backs up their claims. In other words, they’ve managed to crowdsource the opinion of over 200 experts into one statistic. Genius.
3. Hiya Health
Hiya Health is an ecommerce brand selling children’s vitamins. The kids’ health space is a tough one to break into, with parents naturally wanting to confirm that the supplements they’re giving their children are safe.
The brand uses expert social proof on its website to do this, as its co-founder Darren Litt explains:
“When a consumer is at the conversion stage — where they are actively clicking through your website — you want to give them more reasons to say yes to a purchase, and credible yet relevant endorsements do bring down defenses.
One of our best social proof quotes comes from Kelly LeVeque as she is both a nutrition expert influencer and a mom (we have a picture of her with her son). This endorsement intersects a nutritionist who would recommend our product and a parent who would and does provide it to her child.”
Celebrity social proof
Plenty of brands use celebrity endorsement to increase sales, especially when they want to appeal to a specific target audience. It’s the backbone of influencer marketing as a means for attention.
4. Christy Dawn X Leighton Meeister
You likely know who Leighton Meester is before you even know what Christy Dawn is. That’s especially true if you’re Christy Dawn’s target audience: Younger women who've seen Meester star in Gossip Girl as one of the lead characters.
As an influencer marketing move, getting Leighton Meester to collaborate on a collection makes a lot of sense from a sales generation standpoint. The Gossip Girl star was known for her trendy outfits. A fashion retailer collaborating with her makes those “OMG I want those clothes!” more realistic.
5. Alo Yoga X Kendall Jenner
Athleisure is in. And so is Kendall Jenner—one of the most influential social media and reality stars of this decade. Pair the two together and you make for a powerful influencer marketing campaign for Alo Yoga.
If you’re a Kendall Jenner fan, you can easily navigate to Alo Yoga’s page to “shop the look.” It includes an actual image of Kendall Jenner wearing their products. If you see a fashion supermodel wearing clothes that don’t cost the earth, there’s a good chance you’ll click “add to basket”.
6. Gymshark ambassadors
Who better to sell you gym clothes than athletes themselves? For Gymshark’s ambassador program, yet another influencer marketing strategy, the brand enlists the help of several well-known public figures to show off and speak about the product.
Especially if you’re focusing on Instagram, Gymshark proves this can be an effective way to increase brand awareness—and see a significant increase in sales if executed correctly.
Reviews and testimonials
These days, brands are taking social proof to a completely new level. It isn’t only about celebrity endorsements. Now, with the help of social media, you’re making your customers the star expert.
7. SCULPT Activewear
Customer social proof ads are increasingly becoming the go-to strategy for many consumer brands, and SCULPT Activewear doesn’t stay behind.
The brand shows how to use customer social proof in its Facebook ad campaigns. Once you look up its Facebook ad history, you see they’re crafted with user-generated images and videos. “8,000+ happy customers'' gives you confidence in trying it for the first time. If other people like their products, surely you will.
8. Partake Foods
Just like you can sell clothing, Partake Foods uses social proof to sell cookies. The raving product reviews make you want to try them, even after just reading two or three. (Especially “You can’t just eat one” with seven upvotes by other fans of the cookies.)
What’s interesting about this example, though, is that it uses social proof directly on the product page. It goes to show that visitors still need one final nudge before converting—even if they arrived on the site off the back of a social proof marketing campaign in the first place.
9. Tofino Soap Company
Similarly, Tofino Soap Company shares positive reviews from happy users on its product page. There are over 22 five-star reviews as proof of how good its soap is.
Previous customers can even add images of their soap purchases as an added social proof feature that doesn’t only include words. Think of it as a built-in Yelp feature that helps influence customer decision-making.
10. Warby Parker
Warby Parker is one of the fastest-growing DTC brands of the century. Part of its catapult to a $3 billion valuation? Strategically placing a revolving rolodex of reviews right beside its “Try before you buy” call-to-action.
Potential customers also have the option to “see more reviews” if they aren’t quite convinced about its line of eyewear (but want to be).
Looking up a brand on Trustpilot, a consumer review site, makes for a great example of “wisdom of the crowds” social proof in action. As you scroll down, you can see what “the crowd” is saying about the brand in question.
eCommerce retailer FramesDirect has a whopping 25k reviews on their TrustPilot page. And most of them are positive—easing any friction someone has about buying through their website.
If it’s a bestseller, it must be because it’s a standout product, right? That’s the logic Flourist plays on with its ecommerce website. You’ll see a category page that lists the bakery “best sellers”—a collection of items that makes you think if other people love it, you will too.
13. Kirrin Finch
Logically, the better star ratings a product has, the better it is.
Kirrin Finch plays on that notion by listing star reviews under each of its products. You’re able to see how many reviews make up the total. And, you can click on each review to read exactly what customers have to say about that specific product. Talk about making purchase decisions easier.
Fear of missing out social proof
The fear of missing out (FOMO) is a psychological phenomenon that causes 60% of people to make reactive purchases—usually within 24 hours.
Ecommerce brands can use FOMO as a type of social proof. Some 92% of people will trust a recommendation from a peer. Here’s how to induce the feeling of FOMO with evidence that other people have made the decision your new customer is about to make.
14. In The Style
In The Style uses group conformity psychology by adding “selling fast” and “over 100 sold!” stickers on their product images. It entices customers to buy popular products because their peers have—yet another effective way to use peer social proof as an inexpensive selling strategy.
Surely makes sure you know people all over the country are buying their beverage with a pop-up that appears every time someone buys their product. Knowing someone else has made the decision you’re about to make is much more comfortable.
Certifications and “featured in” badges
It’s not just experts that help ecommerce businesses build social proof. Certified products, or products that have been “featured in” high-trust and high-visibility places (like Vogue, CNN, or The New York Times), can gain from a boost in trust.
Not convinced? Data shows that 55% of consumers didn’t make a purchase because the website didn’t have a trust badge. Another 58% clicked the exit button because they didn’t recognize a logo.
Certifications are a form of social proof that drives sales. Let’s look at a few examples.
16. Well Before
Well Before does a great job of using “featured in” to gain credibility and trust for its products. In this case, it recruited the names of SFGate, Yahoo Finance, Newsweek, and the New York Post to help them make sales. Its product description also explains that the face mask is “FFP2 certified”.
Granted, if you’re going to use this social proof strategy to increase trust, you need to make sure to be featured in those high-profile publications first. Fake social proof is much worse than none at all.
Fragrance brand Bailly has adopted a similar certification-style social proof strategy. It enlists the help of Elle, Flare, Into The Gloss, and Refinery29 to seem credible and worthy of purchase through its “as seen on” banner.
As you scroll down the mention of high-profile publications helps the new brand build credibility and trust. That’s true even if it's your first time coming across their website with no prior knowledge about the ecommerce business.
Tentree is a Certified B Corp, meaning it meets the highest standards of social and environmental performance. The eCommerce brand uses that certification in its Facebook ads.
The retailer quotes one of its happy customers by using their quote in the ad creative. As you scroll through your feed, phrases like ”wonderful company” and “minimising your environmental impact” stand out.
The five-star reviews are just an added bonus in its social proof-driven advertising strategy.
Satya is a Certified Aboriginal Business based in Canada. This stamp of approval, albeit at the bottom of its website, lets people know that it’s a business worth supporting. This certification also implies that they have to go through a vetting process to be able to get such a certification, which increases transparency and trust.
It’s especially important for sales considering almost one in three consumers have stopped purchasing from brands because of ethical or sustainability-related concerns.
20. Kettle and Fire
Certified gluten-free, Whole30 approved, glyphosate residue-free? Kettle & Fire takes its certification approach seriously. With stamps of approvals like these, you instantly create a new level of trust with potential customers who are highly health-conscious.
21. Caldera + Lab
Caldera + Lab is a sustainable ecommerce brand through and through. Its co-founder, Jared Pobre, explains, “Our brand grew out of a passion for clean living and a sustainable lifestyle. And our wellness messaging extends throughout our social media with content that invites customers to join us on our journey.”
“Through rigorous testing, we've earned our Certified B Corp, ECO CERT, and MADESAFE eco-certifications. These certifications serve as social proof to help our customers know they can trust our products.”
Referrals are powerful. They’re inherently based on social proof because you’re incentivizing customers to share your product or service with their friends.
As we touched on earlier, a recommendation from a friend is one of the best ways to get introduced to a new pool of customers. Brands know this and use this as part of their social proof strategy. Here are a few brilliant examples.
22. A Box of Stories
A Box of Stories, a subscription box service in the UK, harnessed the power of referrals to reach new customers. How? By using word of mouth marketing software with its very first handful of loyal customers.
A Box of Stories knew that its product had the potential for more traction because of how appreciative existing customers were. Once the brand set up a referral system that gave customers and each of their referred friends $4 off their first and second purchase, it led to a referral rate of 7-8% in the very first month. Close to 5,000 customers joined through the referral program. We’d call that a success.
23. Christy Dawn
Referrals work great within the apparel industry too. Christy Dawn’s referral program, for example, generated a 26X ROI after starting a “give $30, get $30” campaign. With the use of social proof (a friend referring a friend), it becomes easier to find new customers with lower acquisition costs. The trust needed to make a new sale was already passed through the person recommending it.
24. Riff Raff & Co.
Riff Raff & Co sells a comforter-style sleep toy for babies and toddlers that helps them sleep better at night.
They have a unique referral program: Refer five friends and get a free sleep toy. While we usually recommend giving small rewards often, Riff Raff & Co found great success with this because they understood their customers—mothers—well. Through their referral program, they grew into a multi-million dollar business in just a few years. Almost one in every four customers came through a referral.
I always knew from my research when launching that a referral program was going to form a major part of our marketing. With much of our target market being mums, and me being a mum myself, I knew that the best people to promote our product were other mums - they are the ones they really trust.
Emma Kruger, CEO, Riff Raff & Co
Start using social proof today
There’s no doubt adding social proof to your landing pages, homepage, or even your social media marketing efforts is a powerful way to increase eCommerce sales.
If used correctly, social proof can be a powerful customer generation tool that convinces potential customers to take the next step in their purchasing journey. From review sites, social media, your website, and back again, using social proof at every touchpoint keeps them engaged.
The bottom line? Previous customer reviews, celebrity endorsements, and certifications give potential customers the trust they need to make a confident decision.