Smart marketing and the importance of ‘social proof’

Every so often, I’ll go on a costly book buying spree. While this adds to my already lengthy credit card bill, and to my even bigger pile of unread books, I suppose it’s not the worst thing to spend money on.

Last week, I was taking a look at some sports psychology related books, having developed an interest over the Summer. Maybe 10 years ago, I would have walked into Easons and picked up a few titles. Nowadays, that path to purchase looks very different.

I looked at user reviews, asked my Twitter followers and visited some authoritative industry blogs to get some recommendations.

While this is a very small, isolated example of consumer behaviour, it gives an indication of the new currency of the web, and the means in which we decide upon purchases these days.

Frictionless, real time access to information has pushed the social proof, testimonial effect to the top of the list of reasons why we buy. As marketers, it’s our job to understand and facilitate this.


I’ve been reading quite a bit recently about the way we make decisions and the world of cognitive bias. It seems we value prior validation, and short circuit our decision making to the path of least resistance.

Following in someone’s footsteps is far easier than the more difficult issue of making our own decisions.

With most of us  now increasingly cynical about what big brands are saying (and rightly so), it’s obvious why the concept of ‘social proof’ is growing in importance.

Quite simply, it refers to the mentality that if other people are doing something, and I trust those people, then I should be doing it also.

It’s the ‘well if he likes it, it must be good’ impact, a psychological phenomenon whereby people assume the actions and behaviours of others in an attempt to reflect the ‘correct’ behaviour for a given situation. 

It’s the reason we look to Tripadvisor before we visit a restaurant or book a hotel, it’s the reason why Amazon reviews are such an important part of book sales. It’s why startup owners create fake users to legitimise their products at the beginning.

Facebook and Twitter have built a multi million dollar ad stream based upon using other people’s actions to influence your decision through sponsored posts and sponsored stories, and it’s clear why – my friend’s advice is far more likely to sway me than a brand telling me how great they are.

For Brands

There’s a variety of options to create this testimonial effect, and it’s often a very powerful tool for converting customers. It’s about putting people at ease, removing the dissonance of having to make a decision with little information and defining why your brand stands out.

In fact, you’re probably using some in your own marketing efforts right now, perhaps without even realising it.

User Reviews

According to Harvard Business Review research , a 1-star increase in Yelp rating leads to 5-9% growth in sales, while a Linkedin recommendation (see it as a user review of your business skills!) will make it far more likely that you get your foot through the door. Embedding user reviews under your products can be hugely impactful.

Written Testimonials

Most brands will be doing this already, but getting a current or previous client to wax lyrical about you can be a highly effective to legitimise how good your company is at its role.

Video Case Studies

Pictures have been consistently found to increase trust among all participants, so a video can be an even better inclusion. Zappos do this very well for products, and reap the added SEO benefit too.

Celebrity Endorsement

An obvious one, but still effective, particularly if people feel the celebrity is an authority in that particular area or, more importantly, actually uses the product.

Social Plugins

We’re far more likely to engage with a brand if it already has a large social following, while recommendations like ‘your friend already likes this’ creates a motivation to act.


Perhaps becoming less impactful, as the amount of marketing awards grow, but still, emphasising that you’ve impressed others enough to be given an award can be powerful.

In this age of marketing overload, attention span deficit and inherent cynicism towards brands, social proof should be a pre-requisite for smart marketers, looking to set their brand apart.