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Social Proof: what is right is not always popular...

14th Jan 2015

We’re all guilty of it: following the crowd and looking to others before we decide what to do, or even what to think. It’s human nature to think that the crowd’s opinion and actions are the correct ones; this is a psychological phenomenon called social proof. 

Social proof influences decision-making in many situations, from picking the busiest-looking restaurant to eat at to only laughing at a TV show when others do, but crucially for marketers, it can be used to increase web conversions if harnessed in the correct way. 

I’ll walk you through some simple techniques you can implement in order to utilize social proof to your advantage. 

Display social media clout

To show visitors that they’re making a popular choice and buying into an accepted brand, display your social media following. Alongside your links to social media, implement extra modules to display how follower numbers, to poke visitor’s social anxiety that they may miss out on something popular. 


Use the Facebook ‘Like Box’ to display your current number of likes, so potential new fans can use this information to decide whether or not to click the like button, which won’t take them off the site. It even shows a selection of profile photos of likers. Get this from the Facebook Developers site.


Twitter has a similar feature, which displays current followers and following numbers, along with a few profile avatars. Find this in the Twitter for websites section of the Twitter developer site. 

Both of these modules can display visitor’s friend’s profiles, coupling the idea of “wisdom of crowds” and “wisdom of friends”. 

Reviews & testimonials

If you run an ecommerce site, the best way to show potential customers that they’re in good company, is to have public reviews. Amazon use reviews brilliantly to show the popularity of products, as they allow users to leave detailed comments, which tell stories. The comments of reviews are more persuasive, simply because they’re more likely to be remembered. However don’t rule out star ratings, a quick, easy to understand numerical rating can paint a picture too. Use reviews carefully though, if you have a low traffic site, with a review function but no reviews, your potential customers will become wary. 

Similarity and pictures

Social proof is even stronger when the group influencing is perceived to be more similar. Canberra University showed that canned laughter was much more effective at getting an audience to laugh when there was perceived common ground: people laughed longer and harder when they thought the track was of a group similar to themselves. 

The way to harness this is to give as much detail as possible about customers who provide testimonials. Helpscout, the helpdesk outsourcers, do this well, including a picture and company name alongside their testimonials on the homepage. The inclusion of company names give an authority and “expertness” to the quotations. 

Watch out for negative proof

No concept shows more definitively that people do what they think others are doing more than what they know to be right, than negative social proof. If you said to your site visitors “Don’t be one of the thousands of people who’ve missed out on our amazing 80% off sale!”, it wouldn’t matter that the sale is significant, it would just confirm that the norm is to decline the offer. 

Like this Wall Street Journal article shows, the main driver in changing behaviour is not saving money, it’s adapting to norms. 

So the secret to a successful website using social proof techniques? Just make visitors feel like they’re missing out on a great party with all their friends if they don’t join. Remember though, you can only make people feel this is the case if it’s in some way true!