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How to Use Social Proof to Fuel Engagement and Sales

Social proof is behind most decisions you make, whether you know it or not. Here’s how to use social proof to your marketing advantage.

Michelle Martin August 8, 2023
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Social proof starts when you’re envious of Little Johnny’s new kicks in first grade and ends… never. It’s the secret sauce in every successful marketing campaign. As marketers, we often measure KPIs like engagement rate, net follower gain, and reach without once thinking about the main driving force behind all of these: Social proof.

As in, the reason why someone takes the time to engage, follow, or even sees your social media content in the first place.

Before you have any followers to count, you’ll need to create an environment that makes people want to follow, engage with, and — eventually — buy from you. Social proof creates that environment. Here are 15 ways to build social proof into your marketing, and our top tips for the best results.

Bonus: Get a free social media strategy template to quickly and easily plan your strategy, track results, and share with your boss, teammates, and clients.

What is social proof?

Social proof is a psychological phenomenon that leads people to look at what others are doing or saying to guide their own actions or beliefs — especally when they’re unsure about something. It taps into our innate desire as social beings to fit in and connect with others.

The term ‘social proof’ first appeared in psychologist Robert Cialdini’s 1984 book “Influence,” detailing his decades-long research into the relationship between human behavior and persuasion.

What’s the role of social proof in marketing?

In marketing, social proof persuades someone to interact with or purchase from you.

Examples of the influence of social proof in marketing include:

  • Customers checking online reviews before making a purchase.
  • Thinking of a company with a large/active social media audience as more legitimate.
  • Feeling comfortable paying via credit card if a website uses a payment processor known for security, such as Shopify or PayPal, or displays other security icons.
  • Instantly having a positive opinion of a company you haven’t heard of before because you saw them mentioned on one of your favorite social media accounts.

15 examples of social proof

1. Customer reviews

One of the most basic and most important forms of social proof are good old-fashioned customer reviews and testimonials. Companies that put reviews from satisfied customers in the spotlight have an average 17.4% higher conversion rate than those who don’t, with some categories having a much higher rate, such as instruments at 47.3%, electronics at 38%, and gifts at 32%.

While reviews should feature heavily on your website, don’t forget your social media channels. Ask for feedback, then paste it into a branded template to share with the world.

2. Comparison websites

Reviews from actual people are always the most powerful, but comparison and review sites websites also hold sway. Which site to get featured on depends on the business you’re in. Capterra is a well-known place to compare software, for example, whereas NerdWallet reviews financial products.

Some comparison websites accept sponsored, paid posts and others don’t. At the very least, be aware of the relevant ones for your industry and where your target audience gets information. Then, do your best to get featured there.

most recent video user review for Hootsuite via Capterra

Source: Capterra

3. UGC content

UGC, or user-generated content, is organic content created by your customers. Yep, it’s really that simple.

The power of UGC content is in its simplicity: People are more likely to think UGC content is authentic compared to traditional paid advertising or influencer campaigns. That authenticity, combined with the fact that 76% of people use social media to search for new products, means UGC content is a key sales driver.

The easiest way to generate UGC content is to ask your audience to post a photo or video using a specific hashtag. You can run a contest to encourage entries:

Or, create a long-term UGC content strategy with a hashtag people can use anytime, like KitKat’s #HaveABreak:

4. Awards

Try not to come across too full of yourself, but showcasing your award wins or other notable recognition goes a long way toward building trust with existing customers and leads.

5. Case studies

Think of case studies as a really in-depth customer review backed up with data. A good case study needs to be relatable to a segment of your target audience, illustrate how your product or service solves a business problem, and highlight the awesome results they got from working with you.

The bulk of a case study’s content will probably live on your website, but consider:

  • Repurposing it into a video for your YouTube channel. (Bonus: Get your client on camera for an interview if you can!)
  • Turning that YouTube video into several small segments for TikTok or Reels.
  • Pulling out quotes for graphics or carousel posts for social media.

6. Customer results

Another way of proving your results besides customer testimonials and case studies is using cold hard data to communicate the benefits of working with you, or buying from you.

Universities use this a lot to attract prospective students by listing the impressive places their graduates go on to work, or how many grads find jobs in their field after graduation:

Vancouver Film School graduation prospects

Source: Vancouver Film School

How do you get this data? Talk to your customers.

Run surveys, collect feedback you get in one-on-one interactions, and leverage the information you already have from current case studies or other sources.

7. Statistics and data

What sounds more impressive to you:

A. “We help small business owners speed up accounting.”

B. “We help 100,000+ small business owners save 10 hours/week on accounting.”

B, right? Right.

When you read the second one, you instantly and automatically assume a few things: The company must be at least sorta good to have 100k customers, they’re not going to go out of business anytime soon, and that it would be amazing if their product saved you 10 hours a week, too.

The best part is you already have this kind of data. Big or small, obtaining a number of how many customers you’ve served is as easy as pulling up your invoicing software (or asking Bill in Accounting…). As for how many hours you save customers, run a few in-house experiments comparing how long it would take to do a task manually vs. with your product or service. Boom, there’s your stat.

8. Endorsements

Have any celebrity friends? Kidding. But maybe someone famous once said something about your product in an interview or on a podcast. Use it!

Endorsements are organic, non-paid brand recommendations. Not to be confused with influencer marketing, which are paid campaigns.

Just make sure to reach out to the person to ask permission to use their quote and/or likeness in your marketing materials. Yes, they may have said what they said “in public” but it’s polite to ask before using anything to promote your own business.

This strategy is also easier with physical products, where you can try sending samples to notable people in your industry, or even celebrities.

For example, sustainable cleaning company Blueland went viral after a celebrity endorsement from Kim Kardashian.

9. Influencer marketing campaigns

Earlier I mentioned how most people think UGC content is more authentic than influencer marketing campaigns, but that doesn’t mean you should ignore influencer marketing.

Influencers won’t be your main source of social proof. Everyone knows it’s a paid ad campaign, right? But influencer campaigns are effective for brand discovery.

Plus, they still have tons of social proof potential, as long as the influencers you partner with are known for being honest in their reviews and endorsements.

People find out about you on their favorite influencer’s profile and think, “Hmm, okay, that sounds pretty good,” so they click over to your website or social media channel. It’s there that the rest of the social proof puzzle clicks into place with your case studies, statistics, and yes, your general “authentic-ness vibes.” Now you’ve got a new brand fan, and likely, a potential customer.

Lara ate and left no crumbs. 💅 Shot by @Lara Jackson #600mmF4 #nikon #nikoncreators #wildlife #wildlifephotography #camera #MuskOx #Dovrefjell

♬ Snow Flakes – Colo Colo

10. Social media presence

Some marketing strategists may tell you size doesn’t matter. Yes, your audience appreciates you for your personality but honey, when it comes to social proof, size matters. #HardTruth

A decent number of social media followers makes you look legit.

You don’t need 100,000 followers or even 10,000 and there isn’t a one-size-fits-all answer to exactly how many followers it takes to “look legit.” As with a lot of things on social media, it’s kinda a vibe thing (another thing marketing strategists don’t want to hear).

Just… maybe wait on plastering your launch promos everywhere until you’re past the 10 follower mark, okay?

Need help scaling up a new account or your existing channels? Follow this 5 step process to update your social media strategy and watch the new followers start rolling in:

11. Proof of purchase

You know when you’re browsing a sales page and that little popup comes up saying so-and-so in Nowheresville just bought the exact thing you’re looking at? Wow, what a coincidence.

It may seem gimmicky, but that little reminder subconsciously reinforces the basic principle of social proof: Someone else thought this was worth spending money on, and that means it’s more likely I’ll think it’s worth it, too.

Source: The Luxe Lens

12. Media features

You’ve seen this everywhere: The logos of TV networks, magazines, newspapers, or other reputable media properties underneath a heading of “Featured In.”

Saying you, or your company, has been featured in a recognizable publication adds legitimacy to your reputation. The assumption is if these large or prestigious media organizations took the time to cover your story, then you’re worth paying attention to.

Heyday by Hootsuite AI feature

Source: Heyday by Hootsuite

13. Memberships and certifications

Usually displayed in a website’s footer, certification logos are big trust signals. Some common ones are displaying your Better Business Bureau or TrustPilot rating.

There are countless others that may also apply to you, depending on your industry’s licensing requirements. Those could be displaying your HIPAA compliance or membership in a national standards organization.

Stahl’s, a printing industry supplier, displays their relevant memberships to Promotional Product Professionals Canada and the Sign Association of Canada, along with payment provider and a security seal.

Stahl’s printing industry supplier memberships

Source: Stahl’s

14. Security icons

E-commerce is so common nowadays, it’s easy to assume everyone’s comfortable paying with credit cards online. But the truth is online payment fraud is still a big problem and estimated to cost businesses $343 billion between 2023 to 2027.

And people worry about becoming one of those fraud victims: 59% of shoppers are more worried about payment security now than they were a year ago.

Displaying security icons helps people feel comfortable shopping with you. They’re really a must-have if you take any type of payment online. Common ones are showing payment methods that don’t require storing a customer’s details, like PayPal, and any software you use to keep customers’ data secure, such as Verified by Visa, or others.

security verification icons Visa

Source: Temu

15. Word-of-mouth referrals

While this isn’t a “thing” you can add to your website, encouraging word-of-mouth referrals is still an important part of a modern, successful marketing strategy. Ideally, you want people to talk about your brand online on social media, and also offline, in what’s known as dark social: text messages, emails, face-to-face conversations, and more.

You can’t track all word of mouth, but you can use Hootsuite Insights to monitor brand sentiment, mentions of you from millions of online sources, and help identify opportunities to stand out from your competitors.

Insights - Brandwatch

Using social proof for marketing: 5 best practices

1. Be proactive

Instead of waiting around for a customer to say something nice so you can use it, go out and talk to your customers. Of course, you need to make the interaction mutually beneficial. Why should your customer give up their time to give you marketing soundbytes? What’s in it for them?

Invite your top, most loyal, or longest subscribing customers to a VIP focus group. Everyone likes being asked to join a secret club — another form of social proof in action, really.

Offer something in return for their participation: gift cards, product discounts, free swag, etc.

Also ensure you’re collecting both positive and constructive feedback. You don’t want your top customers to feel like their concerns are being ignored. Everyone has room to improve, and their constructive feedback should be equally, or even more, valuable to you.

Besides a VIP group, you can be proactive at getting social proof by:

  • Sharing and repurposing social media comments as testimonials.
  • Sharing UGC content from your customers.
  • Running a contest where people have to leave a review to enter.
  • Replying to all comments and DMs, even the negative ones, to establish your reputation as a brand that cares about all your customers.

2. Measure your results

How can you know what’s working if you don’t measure it? You’ve heard that phrase before, and you know it’s true, so if you’re still not tracking analytics or key objectives… why not?!

Analytics can be easy. Hootsuite Analytics tracks the performance of all your social channels in one place. Use our built-in reports, or create your own, to find out anything you need with just a few clicks — from a bird’s-eye view all the way down to single-channel specifics.

Analytics - Brand Awareness Report

Start free 30-day trial

As for what to track and how often, watch this to copy our entire analytics reporting process and learn everything you need to be a pro at turning a bunch of data into real, powerful insights.

3. Communicate with your audience

Social proof isn’t all about bragging, and neither is social media. Lasting brand recognition and loyalty comes from building relationships with your audience. That doesn’t mean you need to be their new BFF, but focus on connecting more often than converting.

Connection is what makes people want to talk about you — on social media, to friends and family, and everywhere else social proof lives.

An easy way to connect more? Track social mentions with Hootsuite Streams and reply to posts, share content, and measure engagement right from your Hootsuite dashboard.

Streams - Mentions, Tweets, Scheduled Tweets

Try for free

4. Repurpose social proof

Hot tip: you don’t need to make a social media post showing the payment and/or security icons from your website footer. Not too exciting, and not needed there.

But testimonials? Five star reviews? Award wins? Plaster that all over social.

Stuck on how to rewrite content to fit each platform? Want to make old news fresh again? Let OwlyWriter AI take over and save you up to 16 hours a month:

5. Quality is better than quantity

This rule is true for most things and social proof is no exception. Focus on building a library of the strongest social proof you can. Court big, reputable organizations for media coverage instead of sprayin’ n’ prayin’ to every PR contact in the world.

Promote one amazing, detailed, wildly raving customer review as an ad instead of ten mediocre, one-sentence reviews. You get the idea.

You can start using social proof in your marketing without any testimonials or fancy media coverage. Start by adding security icons and proof of purchase popups to your website. Try working with a few influencers or industry experts. Ask customers for reviews, or hold a contest to get a bunch. Soon enough, you’ll start getting social proof to work with.

FAQs about social proof

What is an example of social proof?

Social proof examples include customer reviews, media coverage, influencer marketing campaigns, UGC content, and more.

What are common types of social proof?

Common examples of social proof are social media comments, testimonials, payment trust and security icons, proof of purchase popups on ecommerce websites, UGC content, and more.

What is an example of social proof in psychology?

Social proof in marketing is based on the psychological principle that, when in a new environment, people subconsciously observe others’ behavior first in order to adjust their own to fit in.

Think of the last time you went to a party where you didn’t know many people. You walk in, look around, get a sense of the general atmosphere, and either adjust your conversational tone to be more formal or informal, depending on the party.

Plan, schedule, and manage all your social media accounts from one user-friendly dashboard with Hootsuite. Build and engage your audience and report ROI and wins to your boss, in the same place. Do it all, better, with Hootsuite. Try it free today.

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By Michelle Martin

As an ex-agency strategist turned freelance WFH fashion icon, Michelle is passionate about putting the sass in SaaS content. She's known for quickly understanding and distilling complicated technical topics into conversational copy that gets results. She has written for Fortune 500 companies and startups, and her clients have earned features in Forbes, Strategy Magazine and Entrepreneur.

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